On “Gever” and the Israeli tradition of one-upmanship


Over at Moment Magazine, Simona Fuma Weinglass contemplates the mysteries of "Gever," the Hebrew word that means, simply, man,  but intoned correctly can mean so much else:

Gever, literally the Hebrew word for man, is the sine qua non of manhood. “It means a man is tough, maybe a little macho and looks great physically,” says Shira Mayzenberg, an editor for the Ha’ir chain of newspapers. “A man who projects authority, knows what he wants and goes forward without hesitation,” adds Ruvik Rosenthal, Israel’s bestselling author on the subject of slang. Gever and gever gever are compliments used almost exclusively between men. “Ya gever, ma hamatzav?” (Hey bro, what’s up?) is a commonplace greeting between acquaintances, accompanied by a manly embrace or clap on the back.

This brought back two memories from (wow) 20 years ago.

One evening my-then wife came home and said she had heard this exchange on the bus:

"Ani, ani gever."

"Ata gever? Ani gever ve-hetzi."

("Me, I’m a man." "A man? I’m a man and a half.")

I found this almost unbelievable — a representation of the cultural tendency, in Israel, of one-upmanship boiled down to its purest form.

The tradition has roots in a Diaspora Jewish culture of its reverse — one-down-manship? — the custom of "You think you’ve got tsuris? Oy." The Israeli, the new-Jew, stripped the tradition of its masochistic bent for misery and presented as something lean and clean: "I’m better than you."

(There’s an even more complex American version which suggests superiority by pretending to mine misery in abundance and joy — the joke, you know, with the punchline, "There was no atmosphere." But I digress.)

Anyway, a year or so later, I discovered that even the straightforward Israeli version had, well, its nuances.

I was on a bus that originated at Tel Aviv University, peopled with its students.

An older, gay male couple boarded. One of the men took the only available seat, next to an attractive female student.

"Ma, ata du-mini?" his partner said.

"Du-mini? Ani tlat-mini, ani."

("What, are you bisexual?" "Bisexual? I’m trisexual is what I am.")

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