Benji Lovitt
Because the Middle East is Funny
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The idiot’s guide to “Yiyeh B’seder”

In just six syllables, you manage to survive whatever the Middle East throws your way

Is there ever a dull moment in this region? People are waiting for the peace talks to fail, Iran inches closer to nuclear weapons, and the price of falafel just went up a shekel. In other words, another week in the Middle East. WHAT ELSE CAN GO WRONG?!?!?!

Ahhh… but that’s just it. Allow me to answer that question with a cultural lesson.

Without further ado, meet our unofficial national slogan. Two words greater than the sum of their parts, guaranteed to elicit no reaction at all (or to possibly make you laugh or cringe.) Add this pair to the great duos throughout history: Batman and Robin, Simon and Garfunkel, and chumus and pita.

Without further ado, I give you: Yiyeh and b’seder.

Translated as “it will be ok”, yiyeh b’seder is Israel’s version of Frank Costanza’s “SERENITY NOW!”, an answer to whatever might have just gone wrong, and a “don’t worry, be happy” without the “be happy”. People, there is no situation yiyeh b’seder can’t handle. It’s the Economica of phrases.

photo(2)

“What? Rover just projectile vomited on my khakis?
YIYEH B’SEDEEEEEEEEEEER!!!!” Get it?

Try it yourself, elongating the last syllable (extra points awarded for a dismissive tone, as if whatever just happened didn’t just happen.) Olim chadashim (new immigrants), it can take some time to get used to this strange custom. For every minor daily annoyance like Rover’s intestinal problems addressed with a yiyeh b’seder, there are five more significant issues handled the same way. Consider this actual exchange with my first Israeli roommate years ago:

Benji: “I read in the paper that our neighbors are preparing for war.”

Roommate: “Ahhhh, don’t woh-ree, nah-theeng will heh-pen.” B: “You don’t think so? And what about all the rhetoric from Iran?”

R: “Dey have been saying dat for years.”

B: “And now they’re building a bomb!”

R: “So waht?”

B: “So then they nuke us! Kablooey!”

R: “SO THEY NUKE US! YIYEH B’SEDER!!!”

And there it was, the mother of all yiyeh b’seders. I felt like I had just watched Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points in a game. I’ll be telling my grandkids about that performance some day.

explosion“NO PROH-BLEEEEEEM!”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

So where in the world did our version of “don’t sweat the small stuff” come from? In a place where certain countries have been openly plotting your destruction since your independence and your country was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust, be advised that your citizens may develop a few odd personality quirks or defense mechanisms. Let’s just say that most things which aren’t REALLY BIG are small. If your internal organs remain intact and inside your body, expect whatever complaint you lodge to be answered with yiyeh b’seder.

To deal with this tendency to minimize everything or to “too easily keep things in perspective”, it helps to have a sense of humor, especially when considering that phrase has never actually fixed anything. 87.4% of the time, people respond with it without even processing what you just said.

“I just lost my job.” Yiyeh b’seder!

“I have three days to find an apartment.” Yiyeh b’seder!

“The doctor needs to amputate my genitals. DON’T SAY IT.

My advice is this: embrace this phrase, love it, laugh at it, and use it to your advantage. Next time your boss asks, “Nu! Where deh hell eez deh report? Eet wahz due at 9 AM!”, consider these options.

American response: “Umm…I’m really sorry. I know it’s important. I’ll get right on that.”

Israeli response: “Yiyeh b’sedeeeeeeeer!!!” (Said with glee while putting feet on desk and checking Facebook newsfeed.)

And if you end up getting fired, at least you know it will be ok.

About the Author
Since making aliyah in 2006, Benji Lovitt has performed stand-up comedy and educational programs for groups including Jewish Federations, synagogues, Masa Israel Journey, and Birthright Israel. His perspectives on aliyah and Israeli society have been featured on Israeli TV and radio and in publications such as USA Today, Time Magazine, the BBC, and more. During 2014's Operation Protective Edge, his humorous observations on the war led to his being called in Israel "the only reason to go on Facebook.”
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