Culture, Israel, Sex & Gender

áøåê äáà ìàáðéå ÷éå

On Thursday night we went to see the Hebrew version of Avenue Q in Tel Aviv.

TheWanderingJew has posted some thoughts. Having seen the original version in New York, we had been wondering how they would translate the cultural references — how many Israelis have heard of Gary Coleman? And the answer is that they replaced American cultural references that Israelis wouldn’t get with Israeli cultural references that we (as North American expats) didn’t get. Instead of Gary Coleman (played by a woman in the New York production), Avenue Q’s va’ad habayit [sic] was headed up by Michal Yannai, played by herself in a comeback role. As best we can tell, Michal Yannai is the Israeli equivalent of Gary Coleman: a former child TV star with a checkered history. The Israeli version of Avenue Q is still in New York (the sign on the front says “FOR RENT” in English, and the Empire State Building is still the Empire State Building), and the (American) characters have inexplicably heard of Michal Yannai, who is pursuing acting roles in the US, until the end when she decides to go back to Israel. The puppet characters are all the same as in the American version (including Katie-fletzet and Trekkie-fletzet, based on Oogie-fletzet, the Israeli version of Cookie Monster), but Christmas Eve (a Japanese character who speaks Engrish) has been replaced by Latina (that’s her name). We hypothesized that this is because a stereotyped Asian character may have hit a nerve for Israeli audiences, because of all the current issues with Thai and Filipino guest workers in Israel. In several instances when Latina sings solos, the music suddenly turns into salsa-style. Latina and Trekkie Monster both speak in ungrammatical Hebrew, botching gender agreement, and using infinitives instead of conjugated verbs (“àðé ìòùåú”, etc.)
The songs, of course, have all been translated into Hebrew. “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” has become “úåàø øàùåï, æä ðçîã… áùáéì àîà” (“A bachelor’s degree, that’s nice … for Mom”). Instead of reading a book about Broadway musicals of the 1940s, Rod is reading a book about Eurovision, and the ensuing song, “If You Were Gay”, may contain the best line of the show: “àí äìá áçø / áîùëá æëø”. Lines like this, permeated with biblical and rabbinic references that have become part of the everyday language, convinced me that the Israeli Avenue Q is the true culmination of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s achievement. I mean, the translation of “The Internet is for porn / The Internet is for porn” was “äàéðèøðè æä ôùåè / âï òãï ùì àåððåú”, which contains not one but two references to Sefer Bereishit.
We also cracked up at the wedding scene, which the Israeli audience didn’t seem to notice anything odd about. I don’t remember the ritual details of the American version, but this one was a strange mix of American and Jewish wedding customs. The male humans and puppets were all wearing white kippot, and Brian and Latina entered the chuppah to the tune of “Here Comes the Bride”. Michal Yannai officiated, wearing a black hat, jacket, and tie. She pronounced them husband and wife, Latina broke the glass, and everyone shouted “Mazal tov!”. As they left to go check out the buffet, Yannai said “Is it kosher?” and Latina said “No. Sorry.”
“I Wish I Could Go Back to College” became “úðå ìé ìçæåø ìáéú-ñôø” (“Let me go back to school”). As I understand it, áéú-ñôø generally refers to elementary and secondary school, not to college/university. We’re guessing that this change was necessary for the Israeli version because Israelis don’t think of university as an idyllic return to the womb — it’s something they do after the army, when they’re already (relatively) independent adults.
Oh, and the untranslatable “one nightstand” gag was left out entirely.
If you’re in Israel, go see it now! It’s playing on Sunday night at Beit Lessin, and then moving to the Jerusalem Theater for performances on January 17 and 19.

15 thoughts on “áøåê äáà ìàáðéå ÷éå

  1. So, what’s jewschool’s policy on bootleg videos? (And are Israeli actors unionized? If that was an American video, Equity would be all up in your grill.)

  2. …and if anyone has a problem with it, they can contact YouTube, and if YouTube takes it down, it will disappear from here too. My intent in linking to the video was to get more people to go see the show, not to have this video replace seeing it in person.

  3. Thanks for the review!
    Can you translate the idiom here? I know what the words mean but am missing the joke. I get that it’s probably totally risque so feel free to email me offline. 🙂
    àí äìá áçø / áîùëá æëø

  4. I wonder what party Rod belongs to now. Not all Israelis know about the American party of moralizing businessmen, and I don’t see any equivalent in Israel!

  5. Right, I had forgotten about that line. Was this from the part when Rod is talking about his “friend”? If so, I think the line was something like “This friend is more conservative – he works at the BANK!” It’s harder to find a corresponding political party in Israel, the only country in the world with right-wing hippies, though perhaps we can conclude that Rod doesn’t belong to the Party for the Struggle with the Banks.
    Oh, and Rod isn’t so good at the pronoun game when speaking a gendered language like Hebrew.

  6. Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk, but let’s put it in context.
    First, there is an officially sanctioned promo video on the internet, made by the production.
    Second, your intention doesn’t change the legality or the ethics of sharing someone else’s copywritten work. I dont’ intend to oppress workers, but if I buy Rubashkin’s meat, I’m supporting that practice. If people didn’t distribute bootlegs, they’d stop getting made and posted.
    You may not have noticed, but in this country, there’s a huge strike going on right now over the online distribution of video entertainment. The managment’s reasoning for not paying the writers etc? Posting videos for free online is “advertisement” – you know, just getting people to watch the shows.

  7. Ok, I changed the post and replaced it with the non-bootleg video. That said, I don’t think these analogies are fair.
    With the writers’ strike, the issue is that the management is making a profit from their websites and not passing any of this revenue on to the writers. With Rubashkin’s, the issue with supporting them is giving money to an unethical corporation. (As we’ve discussed here before, the ethics about corporate practices are different from conventional kashrut.) In this case, neither I nor Jewschool nor the person who posted the video is making any money from it, or depriving anyone else of money.
    The TV networks’ claims are disingenuous because I can go to the Comedy Central website and watch most if not all of a Daily Show episode without ever paying for Comedy Central or even owning a TV. In contrast, a fragment of a single song from a 2-hour show is never going to be a substitute for seeing the whole show. A fragment of this size is the sort of thing that would be considered fair use if the creation of the video weren’t already totally illegal.
    And I’m not making any bogus “all intellectual property should be free” arguments — I paid money to see this show, and I recommend that others do the same.

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