Freier

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008
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Freier is a key concept in understanding Israeli society and psyche. It is best translated as mug or sucker. The freier is the one who waits patiently in line at the supermarket and would not dream of leaving his trolley to zip around the aisles for the last few vital items.

The freier in the army is the one who asks the "she'elat kitbag" (kitbag question, another crucial term; the sergeant orders everyone to run three times around the base, to which the freier queries innocently, "Is that with or without our kitbags?").

There is some argument about the precise origin of the expression. One theory is that it comes from freier in German and Yiddish, a bachelor or suitor, but also came to mean a prostitute's client. Wikipedia suggests that it comes from freiherr, gentleman or minor nobility in German. This reflects the perception that the German immigrants to Israel were fastidious about keeping the rules, and so most likely to be made freiers.

In politics, freier is used to deride the policy of giving land, money and guns to the Palestinians while receiving nothing but Kassam rockets fired on Israeli towns in return. After the Annapolis meeting, bumper stickers appeared reading "Peace, yes; Freiers, no!"

Some English-speaking immigrants in Israel take pride in being called freiers. We may have arrived too late to drain the swamps, but our contribution to Zionism is to show that you can still make it here without pushing in post office queues.

    Last updated: 2:33pm, November 5 2008