the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, April 30, 2007

A 'vegetarian response'

I discovered last week that there is a linguistic corollary to the Israeli view that grilling meat on a traffic island is the highest form of patriotic activity.

In an article that appeared in the Week’s End section of Haaretz on Friday, Akiva Eldar wrote, in Hebrew, that a particular professor was critical of Israel's "תגובה צמחונית" - literally, its "vegetarian (tzimchoni) response" - to Qassam fire from Gaza in the wake of the disengagement.

I surmised that Eldar was not trying to say that the Israeli army should have been launching meatball missiles into Gaza - since we all know that those veggie burgers just don't hit the spot - and looked up "tzimchoni" in Morfix, a very useful online Hebrew-English dictionary. Here is what the dictionary had to say:

Tzimchoni (adj.): vegetarian; (colloquial) moderate, compromising.

In other words, Israelis are implying, refraining from eating meat is no legitimate lifestyle choice. It signals that the abstemious have compromised on the nutritional basics by inappropriately moderating their intake. No full-blooded eaters, they.

Or, as an Israeli cousin of mine - whose hard liquor of choice is grape juice, by the way - told my husband Warren in a faux-understanding way when he refused a shot of Arak: "Oh, of course - you're a vegetarian."

The truth is, I don't altogether disagree with the Israeli take on these champions of chicken rights, and I have certainly had enough meatless so-called chulent to last me a lifetime and a half.

But the most striking, and amusing, part of all this is that the vegetarian family I married into (well, Warren and his dad) are anything but moderate and compromising. Indeed, the definition is so inapt when applied to them - and they are so insulted by it - that I cannot but give in to the urge to rub kashering salt in their wounds.

Warren thinks that corrupt politicians should be put in the stocks in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv so the public can throw eggs at them, although he wouldn't be too upset if someone happened to shoot them on sight. And he thinks gray areas are something those damn liberals made up to compensate for their lack of gray cells. As for his father, well, there are probably more Capetonians whom he refuses to speak to on principle than there are Capetonians actually living in Cape Town.

The truth of the matter is, I married a fanatic the son of a fanatic. And both are zealous vegetarians – although if they did eat meat, they would surely be crusading cow-consumers.

Warren isn't so happy with his recent wife-aided discovery of the colloquial meaning of tzimchoni. In fact, being the compromising moderate that he is, he has decided that Morfix must be run by "a bunch of subversive leftist pinko commies."

All I know is that I'm going to be milking this definition for all it's worth.



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