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Essential Hebrew phrases you must know this Hanukkah

Hanukkah is around the corner, and let’s be honest, you will probably not master Modern Hebrew until then (no harm in starting though!). So, if you got an invite for a Hanukkah party and want to fit in, or for once impress your Jewish grandma, here are your essential phrases for this year’s Hanukkah.

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להדליק את הנרות

Lehadlik et ha-nerot

A key part of Hanukkah celebrations in lighting the candles, after all it’s the festival of lights! להדליק את הנרות means to lit the lights, and you will be doing a lot of that during Hanukkah — every day for eight days.

How is this phrase useful for your Hebrew studies?

The verb להדליק is used a lot when talking about igniting things, and turning on. You can turn on a computer — להדליק את המחשב

or turn on the aircon (very handy in Israel!) —
להדליק את המזגן

Just like in English the phrase turn on can also mean to excite, so can the Hebrew verb להדליק. If you want to say someone turns you on you can tell them:

את מדליקה אותי (to a female)

אתה מדליק אותי (to a male)

Note that this may not be a safe phrase to use when talking to any of your family members. During Hanukkah better stick to “exciting the candles” 😝

נס גדול היה שם

Nes gadol haya sham

Nes in this case is not an abbreviation of Nescafe (as it tends to be on other occasions in Israel). Nes means miracle, and the whole phrase is a reference to what the festival of lights celebrates. In 165 BCE, after the Maccabean revolt and the successful re-capture of the Holy Mount in Jerusalem, the rebels needed to rededicate the temple by lighting up a menorah. The amount of oil they had was only enough to last one day, but it lasted eight.

It’s like a soup that you make last for longer by adding water to it each day (remember the money-less days of college?).

How is this phrase useful for your Hebrew studies?

If your lazy flatmate for once cleans the kitchen, you can react by exclaiming with irony: nes gadol!

לשחק בדרידל

Lesahek be-dreidel

You might recognise the word dreidel here and think yay I speak Hebrew! — sorry to shatter your dreams, this one is not a Hebrew term 🤷‍♀️ The word dreidel comes from Yiddish, and the Hebrew term for the same toy is סביבון (literally a spinner). Not this kind though 👇

They didn’t have them in the 2nd century BCE.

The above is called ספינר, which is a simple, (boring?) transliteration of the English word. Maybe just said with an Israeli accent and a nice r-sound of the final rrrrresshhh.

Dreidel is a game in where each letter painted on the 4-sided spinner signifies a specific action. לשחק בדרידל means to play dreidel.

Fun fact: the letters on a dreidel spell the first letters of the phrase נס גדול היה שם, that is: נ, ג, ה, ש, only on dreidels used outside of Israel — the word שם (there) refers to Israel. In Israel however, the last word is פה (po), for here, as Israel is the place where the nes gadol happened.

How is this phrase useful for your Hebrew studies?

The verb לשחק with its preposition ב are very universal, and you can use them to talk about all kinds of games.
Play in the NBA: NBA-לשחק ב
Play football: לשחק בקדורגל
Play WoW: WoW-לשחק ב 😝

From the verb לשחק comes a noun משחק for game, and if we tell you that כס is a throne, you’ll surely be able to guess the name of the famous TV series called in Hebrew משחקי הכס 😬

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?איך מכינים סופגניות

Eikh makhinim sufganiot?

Eng: How does one prepare sufganiyas?

This is a great conversation starter with your auntie, grandma, or anyone else who lays claims cooking mastery.

Sufganiya (סופגניה) is a carb and sugar caloric bomb used to increase blood pressure, and help further expand your stomach after a Hanukkah meal. In other words, a doughnut. A magic doughnut without a hole, but with a filling inside 😳

A word of warning: I called it a conversation starter, but it might rather be a monologue starter — a trigger that will allow your doughnut-expert to share their passion for the next two hours, as you zone out in peace.

Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for the over consuption of sufganiot.

How is this phrase useful for your Hebrew studies?

You can use it to ask for how to prepare pretty much anything, just substitute the word sufganiya with a name of a dish you’re curious about. It’s a handy phrase to use in Youtube searches 😉

How does one make vegan cheese?
איך מכינים גבינה טבעונית?
How do we make quinoa? איך מכינים קינואה
איך מכינים + [insert other new age/hipster dish or ingredient]

לתת דמי חנוכה

Latet dmei hanukkah

Eng: To give Hanukkah money

Don’t worry we haven’t invented it to ask you for money. This phrase refers to the custom of giving chocolate coins as gifts to kids to play dreidel with (yup, totally encouraging gambling). But, more likely these days they’ll just eat the coins and go play Call of Duty.

Another way of referring to דמי חנוכה comes from Yiddish — Hanukkah gelt, and you will hear both of them used interchangeably. Fun fact Hanukkah money is a cool spoonerism (it’s when you swap the first letters of two words), producing manuka honey 😆

How is this phrase useful for your Hebrew studies?

If you hear it used in an imperative it should save as warning to escape, especially if it’s coupled with a sight of a horde of kids running at you.

The infinitive לתת (to give) is a very irregular one — you can use this Hanukkah as an opportunity to memorise it. And, then use it in such useful phrases as:

לתת מכה בפרצוף — give a punch in the face

לתת וקח — give or take

That’s when you don’t want to admit how many sufganiyas you’ve eaten… it was לתת וקח six, but who’s counting? 🤷‍♀️

!חג אורים שמח

hag orim sameah!

Eng: Happy festival of lights! 🕎

Don’t confuse the words אורים (lights) with the word הורים (parents). Wishing your boyfriend a happy festival of parents may send the wrong message. You can always just skip the word for lights and say חג שמח…

Hag sameah everyone!

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