Best Hebrew Bloopers by New Olim

A sheretz in the bug-free brussel sprouts

Last week I heard a woman describe her first visit to the yarkan (produce store) as a new olah (immigrant) in the early 70’s. Everyone knew where the produce store was, because a swarm of flies could be seen from a distance. She brought along her teenage daughter for assistance, as the daughter had already spent a year in Israel.

The new olah asked for a kilogram of shratzim (vermin). The proprieter offered her 10 kilo, for free! The olah had meant to ask for carrots, which sort of rhymes with shratzim.

I asked my Facebook friends to share their favorite Hebrew bloopers as new immigrants.

  • Maya  bargained a taxi fare up from 15 to 18 shekels.
  • Shelley once bargained in the Jerusalem Shouk to buy 3 wooden camels at 300 old shekels each, then offered 1000 for all three!!
  • Jean’s friend was asked the time on a bus, and answered, “Ani lo betulah” (I am not a virgin) when she meant to say that she wasn’t sure.
  • Jean’s friend also overheard another poor schlemiel ask for chicken breasts (literally) at the meat counter. The whole queue was giggling. (shadayim instead of chazeh)
  • Jean herself asked a nice couple on the bus if her ticket was for one-way or horseradish.
  • Rut once requested to “switch” or “exchange” something, but got confused and said the word that means, er, “to pass gas.”
  • Malke: “I once had to lecture to a group of ophthalmologists and spent an hour talking about adashim (lentils) instead of adashot (lenses). I couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at me blankly.”
  • Aliza:  “I was teaching a statistics class, and instead of predictions (tachaziyot), said bras. Luckily I realized what I had said, but still didn’t know the right word. I think I wound up mumbling something about prophecy.”
  • I called up someone in the shul to complain about a nazelet (runny nose) instead of a nezilah (leak). It wasn’t so long ago either!
Thanks to T for sharing the picture. When I told her that her worm was going to be featured, she said she was glad the worm hadn’t died in vain.
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  1. I have an idea for another thread: funny mistakes kids make when singing songs. I suppose this could be in English or Hebrew. My kids’ favorite song is “haSar Montefiore.” Part of the chorus is “u-pah matan ba-seter ve-shamah nedavah.” My son learned the song at gan (without a song sheet since they didn’t know how to read), and sang ” “u-pah matan ba-seter ve-sham harei Golan.”

    • Barry Shwanzeltanz I says

      Back in the old days when we were students in the Bar Ilan dorms, we ordered 400 grams of Pushtakim, instead of fistukim.

  2. Sorry, that should be “u-poh.”

  3. David Bar-Cohn says

    When I first came to yeshiva I was ordering a falafel but didn’ t want any charif. So I said to the guy, “Ein charif”, not knowing I was actually saying “there’s no charif”, which meant he kept piling it on! Needless to say my sinuses were clear that evening, and I learned the all important difference between “ein” and “bli”.

  4. Daniella Ashkenazy says

    Your collection of bloopers had me in stitches!

    I’m 43 years in Israel and even write satire in Hebrew – but I still remember as a new immigrant from the States telling my adopted family on a kibbutz (with whom I insisted on speaking Hebrew although they were Americans) that I’d been to town that day and I had “eaten a whole kilo of parrots (TUKIM)” – when in fact I had devoured an entire kilo of TUTIM (strawberries).

    Many years later I was reading a an official letter out loud at the dinner table – correspondence that opened with the salutation ALEF-NUN – an abbreviation for ADON NECHBAD (Dear Sir) expect that I read it as “ADON NECHMAD ” (Nice Man). Of course this became a family classic of ‘mom’s Hebrew’ – and nobody uses Adon Nechbad any longer, at least in my Hebrew-speaking family.

  5. My grandparents made aliyah in the 80s. The whole family remembers Grandmom with a smile whenever we eat ptitim. She used to call them “plitim” and we now refer to them (in English) as “refugees.”

    I heard of a girl who got a babysitting job soon after she arrived in Israel. She asked the baby’s father where she could get a metzitza instead of a motzetz!

  6. In one of the only opportunities I ever had to correct my son’s hebrew, before Sukkot a couple of years ago, I told him we were going to buy our lulavim and etrogim at the shuk, he asks me if we are also going to buy aravim at the shuk. I told him that we would get in a lot less trouble if we bought aravot to shake instead.

  7. This is hilarious! Thanks for the giggle!

    Many years ago, a friend of mine, a student nurse, told her teachers she couldn’t come to class next day because “yesh li herayon baboker” (I have a pregnancy in the morning) in stead of “yesh li raayon” (I have an interview). I hope she didn’t end up in the maternity ward!

    And we still giggle about my mum going to the greengrocer and asking for mitriyot (umbrellas) instead of pitriyot (mushrooms).

  8. My wife was impatiently waiting at the diesel pump on the side of the gas station with all 5 kids screaming in he back seats for someone to commence filling the car, until she screamed out “me matchil itee cvar”.( who is starting with me already). All eyes quickly were looking at her, and all our kids were embarrased until this very day
    The hardest one is on multiple choice exams differentiating between “Hinoh” and “Einoh”, (there are and there arent).

  9. When I was sort of still a new immigrant, I was riding on a bus headed to Bait Vegan going down Shderot Herzl. A woman with a stroller had pressed the button indicating she wanted to get off at Kiryat Moshe, but for some reason the driver didn’t notice it, and flew past the Kiryat Moshe stop. Since the next stop would be a good walk from Kiryat Moshe, I shouted out to the driver, with a tone of urgency, that a woman wanted to get off. Except it came out, “Nehag, ha-isha hazot rotsah la-ledet”. All eyes turned to the rear of the bus, expecting to see a woman in advanced labor. He stopped, she got off, leaving me to cope with feeling not exactly the brightest bulb on the bus.

  10. Yaakov Kayman says

    New Olim needn’t feel too bad about poor Hebrew. They still probably don’t ADVERTISE things like
    “Pizza with fungus!” (EWWWW!) (The intended word is “mushrooms,” which admittedly ARE fungi)

  11. Oh, what a wonderful post….My list is endless, and 5 years in Israel, I still make mistakes.
    Instead of telling someone I was too fat (shmena) to pass through in a hike, I accidently told them I was sour cream (Shamenet).
    When I was in the army, I wanted to get some peanut butter, so I asked for “Chemat Beten” (Stomach Butter!)
    And the worst, which was just a few months ago was when I went looking for a beautiful wine from the Ben Zimra winery. Well, my head got ahead of my words and I asked the nice lady clerk for a “Bakbuk Zayin ben Zimra”. Completely mortified, I just said “nevermind” and walked out the door….

  12. I’m not exactly an olah (yet), but I’ve made my share of mistakes while in Israel. Once I described myself as a ‘hazir li-tshuva’ (a pig for teshuva) instead of ‘hozeret li-tshuva’ (someone who became religious).
    Another time I was discussing a revolution in Kyrgyzstan and said that rebels moved towards the Presidential palace with ‘neshikot’ (kisses) instead of ‘neshekim’ (guns).
    Another girl told me how she’d said ‘I committed suicide’ instead of ‘I got lost’.
    A lady who’d made aliyah many years ago told me how she had gone to buy some avocadoes. When the salesman said they were ‘lo bishulim’ (unripe) she wasn’t familiar with the word but decided that he meant they needed to be cooked… which is exactly what she did when she got home. She says boiled avocadoes taste disgusting.

  13. IN the 70’s, newpapers were sold in the afternoon-evening on street corners . The sellers used to shout: Maariv Yeditot. I was confused. It sounded like Mr. Yariv is and idiot.

    At the same time Shlomo Artzi’s song Ahavtia was a bit hit. For years I thought was a song about watermelons. ( Avatiach).

    For years my mother always asked the guy in the market to give he a kilo of Filafafels.
    Bet you cant guess what that is. It was amazing because he never laughed and always gave her a kilo of melafifonim. ( Cucumbers)

    While traveling in Chile, I witnessed the migration of geese. Many times I pointed to the beautiful birds and said: Look at the Duranzos. This went on for weeks until one other traveller corrected me. Duranzos are peaches. I should have used the word Ganzo instead. Whenever I see flying geese I still imagine flying peaches. BTW , the Chilianos never laughed , never corrected me and always looked at the flying birds very seriously.

    I have a lot more . But I suppose that was enough…

    • Nurse Yachne says

      There’s a website called “Avatiach” where people tell about popular song lyrics they misunderstood. The English equivalent is ‘Kiss This Guy” (“Kiss The Sky”). I was delighted to learn how many people confused the words in the Rechov Sumsum theme song.

  14. Nurse Yachne says

    An acquaintance of mine who teaches at an ulpan told me this one.

    She ran into a former student, who exclaimed “Rina! Lo raiti otach hamon zman! Eich at hishtant!”
    (Meaning to say, “I haven’t seen you in a long time, how you have changed”, but saying “…How you have urinated!”)

    As Rina stood there astounded, the former student continued, “Aval gam ani hishtanti! Kulanu hishtinu hamon!” (But I have urinated too! We’ve all urinated a lot!”)

    Rena reflects taht at least the student could conjugate verbs correctly, even if it wasn’t the right verb.

  15. Good one, NY!

  16. Scott Shrem says

    I’m not an oleh, however here’s my infamous blooper my Israeli in-laws and I laugh about. Inquiring about their baby girl, “Aich ha tikonet”, instead of “tinoket”.

  17. Forgive me, but how does “gezer” rhyme with “shratzim?” Even “gezarim” doesn’t. If it did, then any male-plural noun would rhyme. In case I misunderstood this, just a disclaimer to say that I am home sick and my cognitive abilities are a bit fuzzy right about now.

    • Okay, it doesn’t exactly rhyme but gezer and sheretz have the same vocallization notes, they both have an “r” sound, and z and tz are similar sounds as well. All of these apply in plural as well: gezer/sheretz gezarim/sheratzim.

  18. LadyLight – I was stumped too but I think it was supposed to be sheretz/carrots.

  19. Rael Elijah says

    After finishing the 6 months of ulpan when I was looking for a job, I asked my boyfriend ‘ Maybe I can work in a mashtana (men’s toilet) when I meant meshtala ( flower garden) 🙂

  20. A buddy of mine walked into a bakery in Abu Gosh and asked the teenage boy running the store “Yesh lecha pitmot?” (Do you have nipples?) instead of pitot, the plural of pita bread.

  21. My son used to sing the song “na’aleh lebeit hamkdash, birnana nistachaveh” – he would sing “na’aleh lebeit hamkdash, birnana nishteh kafeh”.
    Instead of – we will bow down in the beit hamikdash, we will drink coffee!

  22. Someone’s (English) mother wished to have milk with her coffee. The waiter didn’t speak any English, and she didn’t speak Hebrew. She tried the English custom of repeating the request increasingly slowly and loudly, but still could not get herself understood.

    In the end she remembered she had seen a milk truck on the road earlier on, and tried to remember what was written on it. And she exclaimed triumphantly: DELEK!

    So the waiter went away and came back with a tiny little jug of…petrol, and a big smile.

    I live in London and English is not my first language so I made enough bloopers myself to fill an entire book. I remember discussing a violinist’s performance using the word ‘fiddlestick’ many times until someone pointed out I probably meant ‘bow’. I still blush when I think of it!