Last month, in a Vanity Fair video series aimed at highlighting the hidden talents of various celebrities, Israeli-born Oscar winner Natalie Portman decided to give the world a short 10-word lesson in Hebrew slang.
While Portman’s video was popular, it wasn’t the first. That distinction belongs to a 26-year-old Canadian-Israeli model and actress Renny Grinshpan, who released her own Hebrew slang video six months ago.
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Hebrew slang from A-Z
Viewed 1.7 million times on Facebook since it was posted in September, Grinshpan’s ultra-popular video is a comprehensive tutorial on Hebrew slang.
Grinshpan goes through the entire (English) alphabet from A for “achi,” which can be translated as “my brother”; to N for “neshama sheli,” which means “my soul” and which Renny says “can be used to address even your most casual acquaintances”; to Z for “zorem,” which means to “go with the flow.”
From Toronto to Tel Aviv
Born and raised in a reformed Jewish home in Toronto, Grinshpan’s mother is Canadian and her father is Israeli. “My sisters and I were always making fun of my dad’s accent and making fun of his Israeliness,” she told JTA in a recent interview. But Renny says the family was always very connected to Israel and visited relatives in the country often.
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Upon immigrating to Israel in 2014, Grinshpan settled in Tel Aviv and worked as a video producer and model for two years. She was also featured in a popular crowdfunding campaign for Livia, an Israeli product that dubbed itself “The Off Switch for Menstrual Pain”. The campaign soared, raising nearly $1.7 million dollars on Indiegogo.
Her big break
The Livia video brought her to the attention of the director of The Israeli Girls, an all-female comedy troupe that makes popular Facebook videos from an Israeli woman’s perspective. Grinshpan, who joined the cast in May, is the only actress in the group who performs in English, yet she has enough Hebrew language skills to hold her own in scenes with the Hebrew speaking actresses.
Although the target audience for The Israeli Girls is Hebrew speakers, English speakers also watch Grinshpan’s videos. The popularity of her videos, including the Hebrew slang one, has grown so much that Grinshpan is regularly recognized by fans on the street.
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In the past several weeks, Grinshpan has started doing more independent videos, including one last month on International Women’s Day in which she rushes around Tel Aviv encouraging Israeli women to celebrate with her. Using her quick wit and ability to improvise, Grinshpan proves to be a real natural in front of the camera.
Loves Israel – and comedy
Although she still occasionally models and produces a YouTube cooking show with her sister, the Canadian celebrity chef Eden Grinshpan, Renny is trying to focus on comedy. She just performed her first standup shows at the Dancing Camel, a Tel Aviv bar popular with English-speaking immigrants.
“Standup is by far the scariest thing I have ever done,” she tells NoCamels. “I’ve been questioning why I’m doing it – as I’m doing it. I actually don’t know if I’ll continue with it or if it’s for me – it was mostly just something that I wanted to try out and get a feel for. Though I do really enjoy performing live on stage and I’ll continue to do that – even if that may not be as a standup comedian.”
Grinshpan is also not afraid to affirm her love of Israel, which comes across in her comedy and often softens the jokes she makes at the country’s expense.
“At least I’m direct about the fact that Israel is my favorite place in the world,” she says. “Every other Israeli you meet is in the process of getting a foreign passport and considering living abroad for a few years.”
Canadians vs Israelis
Asked what the differences are between Canadians and Israelis, Grinshpan says, “Canadians lack Israeli friendliness, which is definitely something they can stand to learn. Canadians don’t treat every person on the street as a family member the way Israelis do! Israelis talk to and are willing to help everyone they come across.”
“But”, she adds, “Israelis could learn Canadian politeness. Canadians are constant with the ‘sorry’ and the ‘thank you’ and the ‘excuse me.’ Israelis don’t bother with that kind of stuff – and tend to have no boundaries whatsoever (again, because they treat everyone like family!). It’s a double edged sword.”
When asked for the one word that best describes her, Grinshpan answers, “loud.” But if you’ve watched her videos, chances are you might disagree and pick “hilarious” instead.
Photos and videos: Renny Grinshpan, Livia, YouTube