Israel Stories

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Hill of the French

In the beginning their was the word, fooled you, you thought I was going to quote the old one not the new one. But actually its not even the new one, is my testament. The word was Ahkla, which loosely translated means great, fantastic, nice, etc, etc, etc. Of course the word Akhla, written here in its full phonetic glory is not a Hebrew word, its Arabic and has crept into the Hebrew vocabulary along with many other alien words. When I say alien I mean foreign and when I mean foreign I mean none Ivrit, the sort of words that Ben Yehuda didn’t get around to adding to his fast draft of the modern Hebrew language.

There are of course loads of English words that have crept into the dictionary (which are also alien and foreign before I get bashed) like individuali, or the great phrase ‘ze lo fair!’. Oh and one word which I hear all the time on the TV especially Arutz Hayeladim (kids channel), written phonetically as sh*t! or in its longer version as bullsh*t, as quoted by a former Prime minister.

The bus wound round the streets of Jerusalem getting closer to HaGivah Haztorfatit (French Hill). I rarely take the bus but as my car was being repaired I had no choice.

The guy sitting next me seemed like a seasoned Israeli, in fact I found out he was fifth generation Jerusalemite. We got talking and I managed to understand every other word he was saying under his very heavy Eastern accent and the fact he talked a million miles an hour and oh yes the fact that my Ivrit still leaves a lot to be desired.

During our conversation I joked that HaGivah Hatzorfatit literally means The Hill of the French, but its is named after a general whose name was French so it should have been called Givat French. He looked at me like I was mad.

“What is French in Ivrit?”, he asked.

“Tzorfat,” I replied

“So whats the problem?”

“The problem is that they have translated his name, If it’s named after him they should have kept his name as French.”

He looked at me confused.

King George street is called Hamelkh George, are you saying we should have called it King George street?”

“No,” I replied slightly frustrated, not sure whether he was joking or winding me up.

“Look,” I continued, “Hemelkh is his title, so you can translate it, but you cant translate his name.”

“How do you translate George into Ivrit”, he quizzed.

“You cant, that’s his name.”

“No, no, George in Ivrit is George (with Israeli intonation), French in Ivrit is Tzorfat.” He sat back in silence.

“I think, with respect you are missing the point.”

“No,” he said between his treeth, “I think you are missing the point! My family have lived here for five generations and as far as I can remember it has always been HaGivah HaTzorfatit and not French Hill!!!”

“Ok,” if it was a fight he wanted its fight he’ll get. “French, was a British officer, nothing to do with the country, so calling him French is really ridiculous.”

“Are you mad,” he nearly shouted, “Were not going to call a hill after a British soldier, after what they did, that’s crazy”.

I looked at him. “Look I agree, but that’s what has happened all over Israel. King George Street, Allenby, French, all of them British, very British.”.

He was now sitting with his chin against his chest. “So we should change all the other street names too.”

“I agree, maybe we should, my only point was a matter of translation, but you’re right, although it is an important part of the States history which is immortalized in the street and even place names. I mean look at Caesarea, should we rename that too?”

“Hey driver!” he shouted, where does this bus stop.”

“Givat Shapira,” he called back.

I looked at the old man and we said simultaneously’ “Givat Shapira it is then.”

“Givat Shapirah is what the residents call this area, not HaGivah Hatzorfatit”, the driver explained, obviously to me.

I looked at the old man, smiling.

“Anyhow,” he smiled back, “at the end of the day it’s all bullsh**t!”


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