Netta, kapara alayich!
These are the words used to describe Israel’s newly crowned musical hero and Eurovision champion Netta Barzilai. Her name and that phrase is on everyone’s lips – from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reporters, startups like Made in Jerusalem and her massive fan base have taken to using the phrase. But what does it mean? In modern-day Israel, “kapara alayich” is slang for “We love you” or “What a sweetheart,” but etymology-wise, “kapara” is a word that comes from the holiest day in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
“Kapara” literally means “atonement,” and is the root behind the name of the Jewish ritual of using a chicken (or its monetary value) on the morning before the Day of Atonement to atone for your sins. People “swing” the chicken in circles around their head while saying a symbolic phrase asking God to transfer all their sins committed over the past year to the chicken, which is then ritually slaughtered and donated to charity.
(Well, isn’t that ironic: Netta’s song – “Toy” – famously has chicken-clucking noises as part of its pre-chorus.) Another time the word has historically been used is when something good doesn’t work out despite hoping it will, or when losing or breaking an expensive item: “A kapara on it,” people will say, which similarly means that your sins should be transferred to that item or bad experience.
For the last 24-hours, the No. 1 auto-complete on Google when typing “What is” into the search bar is (yes, you guessed it): “What is kapara?” If you type “Netta, kapara alayich,” in Hebrew into Google Translate – it translates into “Netta, you’re a cow,” which, like the chicken, also has the animal connotations.
This is because “para” means cow.
However, while the word has had a long list of meaning, it is mostly used as a term of endearment similar to “motek” (sweetie) or “hamud” (cutie).
Over the last few years, it has become an integral part of Israeli slang when referring to someone endearing, for Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews alike.
Some Twitter users were assuring their fellow users who did not understand the meaning of the word (and were Google Translating) that the word was not in any way an insult to Netta or her talents.
In fact, the contrary. “It means my beloved,” one user told another who was confused about whether or not Netanyahu had insulted the superstar.
So perhaps with the bad wrap Israel gets in the international media, Netta and her miraculous win has become our Kapara – our atonement, or a symbol for our redemption.