When I made aliyah back in 2003, I understood that I had to hone my Hebrew-language skills. Little did I know, however, that there is another important language in Israel, which is much harder than Hebrew, called “acronyms.” Many phrases are abbreviated and used in all spheres of Israeli life. Two random examples: drishat shalom, or sending regards, has been renamed “dosh,” and Namal Teufah Ben Gurion, or Ben Gurion Airport, is known as “Notbog.”
Acronym usage is most prevalent in the Israeli armed forces, where no conversation is complete unless a handful acronyms is sprinkled in. This should come as no surprise, as the army’s name, Tzahal, is an acronym for Tzva Hagana L’yisrael, or Israel Defense Forces.
The usage of acronyms in the armed forces began before the state of Israel was established in 1948. Many streets are named in honor of the pre-state underground military organizations that were known by their abbreviated names; let me share with you a few examples found in Jerusalem.
Rechov Machal (rechov means street), in Kiryat Aryeh near Maalot Dafna, was named for the Mitnadvei Hutz L’Aretz, the 3,500 foreign volunteers who enlisted in the IDF during Israel’s War of Independence. The machal soldiers’ contribution was essential in establishing a new army whose fighting tradition was previously limited to underground resistance activities. These overseas volunteers were particularly important in developing the air force, where they numbered two-thirds of the personnel, and the medical corps.
Rechov Hapalmach runs through Kiryat Shmuel and Old Katamon. An acronym for Plugot Machatz, the Palmach commando unit of the Hagana—which was the precursor to the IDF—was organized in 1939 when Axis forces had moved dangerously close to Palestine. The Palmach carried out numerous daring missions; a few examples include rescuing thousands of Jews from Nazi Europe, breaking the British naval blockades of Palestine during the “illegal immigration” period, and guarding the settlements and highways as the British were preparing to leave the land.
Rechov Etzel is in French Hill. Etzel is an acronym for Irgun Tzvai Leumi, or National Military Organization, which was an underground military movement based on the Revisionist Zionism ideology of its founder Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky. Known popularly as the Irgun, it rejected the restraint policy of the Hagana, and carried out armed reprisals for attacks against Jews. The organization also worked against the British Mandate’s White Paper decrees, which limited Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Rechov Lechi, another street in French Hill, is an abbreviation for Lochamei Cherut Yisrael, an underground organization that operated against the British during the Mandate period. The Lechi broke off from the Irgun in 1940, as they believed that the Irgun acted too passively when it declared a truce with the British authorities during the war against the Nazis. Led by Avraham (Yair) Stern, Lechi—often called the Stern Gang—resorted to intimidation and guerilla tactics in their struggle to drive the British out of the country.
The entire world has gone abbreviation-crazy, thanks to the explosion of social media. However, the Jewish nation had mastered this art form long ago—long before the Palmach and Machal—hearkening all the way back to the medieval period when many scholars, such as Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki) and Rambam (Rav Moshe ben Maimon or Maimonides), were known by their acronyms.
By Gedaliah Borvick