If an Israeli calls you "big," it's a compliment

When I traveled to Brazil in college, men would shout at women in my tour group "We love your beefy thighs," and I'm not so sure that was a compliment. But I digress.

One of my favorite Israeli idioms is "atah gadol," you're big-- conjugated appropriately, of course. (Ani gdolah!) And this doesn't have anything to do with size or weight. Rather, it means you're a "big" person-- you are bigger than your surroundings, bigger than your limitations, extraordinary. Similarly, to be big-headed ("rosh gadol") in Hebrew doesn't mean that you are full of yourself, but that you're a visionary. ("Katan alai"-- "small on me"-- is another good expression, meaning that something isn't big enough to handle you or take you down. In other words, you're "big," it's small.) I have to wonder if a lot of these expressions stem from the fact that we live in such a tiny country.

Last night, on the finale of the Israeli Amazing Race, Maya and Amichai came in a close second to Shai and Guy (real names of the winning pair). It must have been an agonizing defeat, because Maya and Amichai-- through synch, intelligence, and guts-- were ahead the entire final day, only to fall behind at the very last challenge when they had to push quarter-ton globes uphill using logs as rollers. It honestly seemed unfair. Shai and Guy are both very physically fit young guys, and either one of them probably weighed two of Maya. I really think the Amazing Race should make heavy challenges proportional to participant weight.

As Maya and Amichai reached the finish line, all the other contenstants chanted, "Hem gdolim, hem gdolim," a soccer cheer-- and I couldn't have agreed more. The greatest thing about the Israeli Amazing Race was that some of the physically smallest contestants (the blondiniot, Maya) were the "biggest" in the Israeli sense. Or, as they would put it, they are "fighteriots." Maya and Amichai were disappointed, but not disappointing.

Anyway, a few days ago I said that Maya was awesome because of her name (which is doubly awesome because she spells "Maya" mem-yud-hey, like I do, prompting total strangers to explain to me that my name is spelled wrong. It's not). However, that isn't the only reason Maya (ok, and Amichai... we liked him too) are still #1 in my book, and probably for most people who watched. A few other reasons:

-They played an incredibly fair game, never screwing over any other contestants
-Like any couple, they fought a good deal along the way, but they always made up and seemed to really care about one another. They bickered about each other's actions, but they never attacked each other's selves, if that makes sense, and they supported each other when it counted. (Personally, I could never have been as nice if I were in Maya's position during that final swing challenge!)
-I really admire Maya's physical toughness. She's got to be some kind of athlete, and as a past marathoner, I admire Israeli women who compete. (Israeli races are mostly men.) I think she's a runner too! See her blog.
-Maya made aliyah after spending almost her entire childhood in the US (with at least one Israeli parent). In some ways, I think this is harder, because you come to Israel sounding like a native Israeli, yet missing so many cultural references, Israeli life skills, and vocabulary words. I get away with a lot because I sound like a clueless olah.
-They gave EVERYTHING they had to try to win the race... and by "they," I probably mean "Maya." :)

And, of course, the biggest reason why I now think Maya is amazing...

-She commented on this blog!! Seriously! Read it here! (This really is a small country. I saw another team from the Merutz leMillion through the window of a bus in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago, and I'm pretty sure I saw a girl from "Mifratz haAhava" at a pizza shop around the corner-- although I'm glad to say I didn't watch enough "Love Bay" to be sure.)

So Maya and Amichai, you're "gdolim." Mazel tov on making olim proud, and good luck in all you do in the future!

Ok, I promise that my Israeli Amazing Race obsession will release its grip on this blog now... at least until next season. :)


  1. HI Maya, I just LOVE your blog! I've been to Israel twice and each time learn so much. I can identify with many of your observations. Keep it up.

  2. I'm so glad I found you! God Bless you and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  3. Maya, I'm mostly a lurker here, but I'm LOVING your blog. I'm not Jewish, and my husband's roots here prevent me ever going Aliyah, but if I could I would.


  4. Thank you all!! I want this blog to be for those who want to make pretend aliyah while in the US, not just those of us who live here. :)

  5. Hi Maya, I'm learning Hebrew now b/c I will be going to Israel this year to volunteer for at least 7 months. I like this post on Hebrew idioms. Could you please share with me some more idioms that I could use? Here in the U.S., at the malls, are Israeli kiosks that sell Dead Sea skin products. I like to practice what I learn in Hebrew with the workers. I'm pretty sure if I use some of the Hebrew idioms they would say "Toni, atah gadol!" Thanks.


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