Gever Gever*: The Israeli Male

In most societies, for a man to be referred to by a woman as a chnun – the Hebrew for geek/nerd (rhymes with ‘fun’, in a silly northern English accent) – would generally be considered a grave and emasculating insult.

When my ex, Nurit, used to refer to me as such, regularly – sometimes in public, to amuse her friends (I liked that) – I would take it badly. No woman in the UK even nearly called me that. I mean I am just not. Okay, I wear glasses, and don’t do drugs or ride a Harley, and I call my mother a little too often . . . but I am into Dylan and punk and footie (I am sure I could think of more things, given time). But when the next woman (and the one after that) confirmed Nurit’s assessment, it made me start to think that perhaps I am just not the wild man that I had once considered myself.

It then started to dawn on me that, to these women, this was not an insult. Far from it. They cherished their chnun, a male who could show emotions other than through, inter alia, greeting another male with a bear-hug so tight that he feels his ribcage being crushed, or a handshake consisting of a vertical slap and then shake so strong that he has the sensation that his eyeballs are being forced out of their sockets.

Straight Israeli men also often greet each other with a kiss, something virtually unheard of where I come from. But such demonstrative displays – interestingly, performed most by the very types who I get into regular trouble for referring to as “monkeys” (“apes” for the even more challenged) – clearly don’t run very deep, perhaps being the remnant of some macho army bonding thing. And they tend to be the very limit of your average Israeli man’s emotional range.

Witnessing the behaviour of an Israeli male around an attractive female is somewhat akin to watching one of those National Geographic documentaries on baboon mating rituals in Gabon. Take the manager of ‘my’ café/kiosk, on Rothschild Boulevard, for instance. I have always found him nothing less than ungracious and thoroughly unpleasant. But, come an attractive woman, and he miraculously transforms into a gushing nincompoop.

For a general lack of etiquette, Israeli men have few peers. I will never forget having garinim (sunflower seeds) spat all over my lap for 90 minutes, by a Beitar (of course) football fan, during a match in Jerusalem. And the guy knew full well what he was doing (I decided to say shtum, however, rather than later have to recount words similar to those of Woody Allen’s character in Play It Again Sam: “Some guys were getting tough with Julie. I had to teach them a lesson. I snapped my chin down onto some guy’s fist and hit another one in the knee with my nose.”)

An interesting anthropological exercise involves observing groups of Israeli couples in a restaurant. In most other countries, there tends to be some cross-gender interaction. In such situations here, however, the males and females often chat amongst themselves, Goodfellas style, the former usually about football, sex, and/or – if they are a little more sophisticated – property (one often even sees tables with the men all seated at one end and the women all at the other). It’s as if the men are saying to their lady folk “You wouldn’t understand”. Of course, they are right – they wouldn’t – but Israeli men don’t even go through the pretence.

Whatever issues I have with Israeli women (and they are not few), the men here have a far better deal than the women. Moreover, the reason Israeli women behave in the way that they do (and I will get onto that, I hope, in the not too distant future) is because they have had to bear the brunt of Israeli men for all of their adult lives (though the men, in turn, can reasonably point to the fact that, unlike most normal teenagers – who, following high school, go off to party at university for three years – they are thrust into the IDF [but melchett mike is not about fairness]).

There is a popular notion that all Englishmen are like Hugh Grant (in his non-Sunset Boulevard persona). This is not true. While an Englishman might know how to hold his knife and fork correctly, place him in a football ground, in front of 22 men chasing a pig’s bladder, and you will soon see how civilised he is (this experiment produces even more interesting results if you first let him spend a couple of hours in a public house).

If two Englishmen have a disagreement, they will usually settle it by knocking the living daylights out of each other. Over here, on the other hand, fists are rarely raised. I once witnessed a road rage incident in downtown Jerusalem, which consisted of one man holding another in a headlock for an entire 15 minutes, not wanting to throw a punch. The scene took me back to Jewish Sunday league football in England, where squabbling opponents would trade ‘handbags’ (at twenty paces), not truly desiring to hurt one other.

Cut through all the bluff and posturing, therefore, and inside your average Israeli man you will ultimately find a “nice Jewish boy”.

* Gever is Hebrew for male. Israeli men commonly greet each other with this word, a more macho version of the English man (as in “Hey, man”). Gever Gever (see title) is an expression used, often sarcastically, to describe machismo.

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4 responses to “Gever Gever*: The Israeli Male

  1. love your blog!
    there’s a lot of steriotype; a little exaggeration but thats all the fun, I know. you know there do exist other types of Israeli men, most under 30 that their mothers trained to better emotional capabilities…
    I think the sociological history of the gever gever (of European origin) is fascinating. Did you ponder over the history of the gever gever? He has unique sociological routes. For example,some point at the Kishiniev pogrom (1903); as a turnpoint that lead to the first sprouts of the idea of Jewish defense… Bialik’s epic poem after the pogrom-that preached against the passiveness and helplesness of the men.. thrilled a generation. Do you know the poem? It’s a masterpiece (“Al Hashchita”).
    I am a feminist, and I know that I have a lifelong struggle against the discriminating cultural systems that I live in. Both of Jewish Halachic origins and Modern day Israeli machismo. But, I have some compassion for the (European) Jewish man who was called to transform himself from tora scholar to warrior; to create a total change in the national male identity that was needed to function as a minority-meek, obedient, without power to resist violence, humiliation. The gever gever is a result of the rebuild the masculine element in the Jewish nation. But – it has a price on society and on women. My grandfather is a perfect example.
    another origin of the gever gever is Jews from Arab countries, Mizrahim. But thats another story. Shabbat Shalom
    Hamutal

  2. nice use of inter alia (again!)

  3. albert de gogan

    I enjoyed reading your blog Mike about the Israeli male. It put me in mind of my time in Australia in the sixties. Men on one side of the room drinking beer, and the woman dancing with each other.

    I don’t agree with the lady who said the fight back started after Bialik’s poem. It started with Jewish Bund, and the fight back at Gomel.

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50916FA3C5417738DDDAB0894D8415B838CF1D3

  4. The Hebrew word Ge’ver is more accurately translated as ‘able-bodied man’ or virile man. As for your case I have no idea!

    ʼA‧dham′ means “man; human; earthling man; mankind” (generic); ʼish, “man; an individual; a husband”; ʼenohsh′, “a mortal man”; ge′ver, “an able-bodied man”; za‧khar′, “a male”; a few other Hebrew words are also sometimes translated “man.”

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