“Sweet when I am Bitter” – a New Year’s celebration of Hebrew

September 13, 2015 by

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I’ll admit that there has been little leading up to Rosh Hashana that leaves me looking forward to the New Year. The extremities of Climate Change, the extremities of Middle Eastern conflicts, the extremities of poverty, refugees, and public discourse.

And then, galloping in on its White Horse, Israeli popular culture comes to lift me up once more. I have been translating Israeli popular music for over a decade now, but today I celebrate the fact that Israel’s Song of the Year is untranslatable.

The song “Sweet when I am Bitter” is such a delightful reggae swing through the cutest of Hebrew word play, that it is no wonder it won the listeners’ award on top radio station Galgalatz.

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Throughout the song, Eliad Nachum strings together a hidden list of top music stars, like a musical word puzzle of Israeli popular culture. The chorus in particular is a delight.

A direct English translation would have you understand that Eliad is praising his girlfriend while referring to a friend of theirs called Bob: “You create sweetness like Bob, when I am bitter.” But the word “bitter” in Hebrew is “Mar”, and “Li” indicates the bitterness is mine. In this way we can hear that the Hebrew is hiding the iconic reggae star: “BOB, ksheMARLEY”

As well as playing with pop stars, Eliad touches on the bible, too. “Just tell me, and I’ll run into the (lions’) den” he proclaims. But while referencing the Book of Daniel, he also gently plants a tribute to beloved performer Gidi Gov: “Rak taGIDI ve’arutz el toch haGOV”

The whole song pays tribute to HaDag Nachash, Eyal Golan, Dudu Tasa, Nomi Shemer, and many more.

I could have done one of Makom’s standard video translations, but more would have been lost than captured.

I think this is cause for celebration.

Hebrew culture has now reached such a thickness that even the hit parade is too dense to be easily translated.

Shana Tova!

The Nine Days


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The Nine Days!

The Nine Days!

Shay Charka perfectly illustrates the nine-day emotional roller-coaster from Holocaust Day (Yom HaShoah) thru Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron), to Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut).

Shay Charka in honor of Uri Orbach, z”l


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We present a translation of Shay Charka’s moving and insightful tribute to satirist, writer, journalist, politician, and one of the most prominent standard-bearers of Religious-Nationalism, Uri Orbach z”l. His passing was mourned across the political spectrum.

This tribute first appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon.

big orbach trans

The sweet desserts of Berlin – aliya, yerida, and Zionism

October 27, 2014 by

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Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.

The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.

The rhetorical stakes are high. To Full Post

The complexities of Gaza – film guide to “Precious Life”


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In 2010 the Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar made a documentary about a Gazan family that brings their baby for a life-saving transplant in an Israeli hospital. The movie is built with great sensitivity and an eye for painful irony and complexity galore.

Here Dr Raz Somech explains the story behind the film, at the Montreal Film Festival.

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At one point the mother asserts that she would be happy if her child under treatment were to grow up to be a suicide bomber – to the horror of Eldar. As the full story unfolds, we learn of the difference between the mother’s pronouncements for fear of Hamas reprisals, and her true respect and affection for Israel and its doctors. If these struggles were not enough, during the treatment, their doctor is called up for reserve duty – fighting in Gaza. For a full synopsis, read here.

For a community or campus wishing to delve into the human heart of the complexities of Israel and Gaza’s desperate embrace, Precious Life is an excellent place to start.


We recommend providing free coffee at a nearby cafe after the screening, and putting these place-mats on each table. In this way discussion can be encouraged without being forced.

The guide was first created for the screening at JW3.

Click here for free print-out.

In order to obtain a copy of the film contact Bleiberg Entertainment

I am unworthy – Israeli music meets the bible meets the conflict


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Singer-songwriter Yonatan Raza’el went to the shiva house of the Frankel family, after the murder of their son, Naftali Frankel. Later at a concert he confided that Rachel Frankel, Naftali’s mother, found him sitting in a corner and said to him: “Yonatan, I don’t know if you know this, but all we have to say now is “I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant.”

She was both quoting from the book of Genesis 32, and also from Yonatan’s award-winning song: Ktonti – I am unworthy.

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The corruption files of HaDag Nahash

May 15, 2014 by

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It may be fair to say that while most Israelis were surprised at the conviction of Ehud Olmert, and even at Olmert’s involvement in illegal activities, few Israelis were surprised to learn of corruption in the higher echelons of the State. After all, Ehud Olmert is far from the first minister of government to be sent to prison for corruption-related charges.

Here are HaDag Nachash’s top three songs of political corruption…

“Only Here I feel at home, although I’m angry about the corruption” (in the days when Makom was called NACIE…)

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“I’ve had it up to here with political parties…” The FishSnakers’ take on Meir Ariel’s timeless lyrics.

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Raging against the machine… it’s time to wake up… (click on captions for subtitles we provided)

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Book Guide – THE LOVER, By A.B. Yehoshua


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Do you run a book club in your organisation? Why not suggest studying books by Israeli writers?

Here we offer book guides to novels written by Israeli novelists, that are available in English translations. Just click on an image to reach the downloadable guide.

Feel free to suggest additional books to write guides for, and let us know how and where you are using these guides.

Here is our guide to: THE LOVER, By A.B. Yehoshua


18 reasons to be excited in London

April 9, 2014 by

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I’m very excited about London, these days.

Starting on 27th April there’s going to be a massive Israel festival leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut on the night of May 5th.

It’s the JW3 inaugural Chag Ha’atzmaut, that we at Makom consulted on.

I think it’s just a fantastic program, and I’m going to spend the next 9 days explaining why.




As its title suggests, the festival deals with the Party and the Political – fun stuff and serious stuff, panels and lectures, performances and screenings. The festival has everything – live music and live parody; Brits discussing Israel and Israelis discussing Israel; films and art and theatre; amazing dance workshops and kids’ events.

What gets me most buzzed is that JW3 has made such a bold statement: That Israel is important to them – important enough to relate to Israel’s dynamic complexity as an honest adventure that has room for celebration and for deep questioning.

First up tomorrow: Hallelujah! With Live Performance by Kobi Oz, and the film Precious Life.



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Originally published 2007

In Eurovisionland, things like this aren’t supposed to happen.

In Eurovisionland everybody is smiling, all songs are catchy, and boom boom bingabang is a challenging lyric. This year, it’s all going to be different. And it’s all Israel’s fault.

The Eurovision Song Contest is Europe’s leading annual song contest, drawing huge numbers of viewers, and the continent’s greatest musical talent. Every country selects their own favorite original song, and sends off their hero to compete for the crown of the best song in Europe that year. Unlike X Factor, the emphasis here is on the song-writing itself, and not necessarily on the performer.

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