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If you're overrun by ants in Israel, is it ANTY-semitism? (with helpful "bugs" vocab chart!)

Sigh. I wish it was a joke.
But alas, it isn't.

How are the ants where you live?
Growing up, I met two kinds of ants: black and red.

Black ants were friendly ants you could gather up and experiment with.  I wasn't the one with the magnifying glass, but these guys were slow and inoffensive enough that you could, if you were so inclined, corral them, then sizzle and pop them by magnifying the rays of the sun.

Red ants, well, you didn't want to mess with them, because there were rumours that they'd bite you.  But they were also shy ants, and if you kept out of their way, they'd mostly keep out of yours.

The creepiest ant incident in my entire childhood was one time, on a family trip, when my toddler sister sat down by the roadside (maybe we were stopping to fix the car in some way?) and then started shrieking because she'd sat on a massive anthill.
She was always doing stuff like that.

So presumably there were some aggressive ants within driving distance of our home.  But they weren't exactly a clear and present danger.

There were also certain facts I learned about ants.  Maybe you learned them too.  Spoiler alert: FACTS THAT TURNED OUT TO BE 100% WRONG HERE IN ISRAEL.
Facts like… Ants love crumbs

and sugar.  Nectar, dew, cookies, whatever.  Especially cookies.
A determined ant will carry a bazillion times her weight in cookies.


(photo credit © Andrea via Flickr)

Cut to our current apartment in Israel.

Where none of that is true.
Where the ants are EVERYWHERE.
Where the ants are drawn, not to cookies, but to fats and proteins: olive oil, coconut oil, meat, or, frankly, HUMAN BEINGS.
Where the ants are not black OR red but this creepy reddish-brownish colour that is impossible to see against most backgrounds.
Where the ants are not a cute, manageable size, but utterly invisible until it's (almost) too late.

(don’t even ask about the time last year when our fresh, hot, delicious chicken soup almost turned into ant soup…)

Where the ants arrive some time around Pesach and stay until October or November (they hate the cold!).

Where the ants bite US. Not just once and done, but constantly. 

Being invisible and almost weightless, they climb up my body undetected. 
I only feel them once they reach my forehead, where I pinch them to death.  They rarely bite up there.
But where they DO bite is -- well, the places that they sense have (beneath the skin) fat and meat.
Which is almost everywhere else except my forehead.

More than once, I've dried off with a towel after my shower only to discover that in the minutes between taking down the towel and reaching for it, it has gotten full of ants, which are now stabbing and jabbing me EVERYWHERE.

Serious bites turn into itchy welts, which stay itchy for a couple of hours.

Looking it up just now, Google tells me these are GREASE ants.
Otherwise known as THIEF ants.

Because they STEAL your sanity, of course.

Last week, GZ found a swarm of them on a dead moth he’d stored in his bedroom.  Now, yes, I realize you shouldn’t store dead moths in your bedroom.  And then walk around saying, “Where are the ants going? There’s NO FOOD here for them!”  And then refuse to throw the whole thing away because it’s just so disgusting.  But the whole thing is disgusting.


Photo credit © Moushomi B.C. via Wikimedia

In an apparently futile effort to have our landlord do something about the ants last year -- our third or fourth of this annual invasion, I picked up some handy vocabulary you might enjoy.






        pl. nemalim, but be careful -- it's still feminine, and it also means “ports” as in airports or ship ports J






        but most people just call them “juke” (pl. jukim)




extermination, pest control



infestation, swarm





        pl. charakim




bilti nisbal

בִּלתִי נִסבָּל


        baal dira

        (the landlord = baal hadira)

        בַּעַל דִּירָה

        בעל הדירה





bilti savir

בִּלְתִּי סָבִיר

Let me know if there are any other insect-related vocabulary words you'd love to find out!  (or if you're getting itchy just reading this...)

In terms of landlord-tenant law, it's unclear.  In general, "small" insect problems are the tenant's responsibility, while actual "infestations" are the landlord's.  But if you have an unreasonable, uninterested landlord, good luck getting them to do anything.


One helpful place for issues like this -- and finding out what the law is in general is Ask an Israeli Lawyer on Facebook.  According to one lawyer there (lawyers are the only ones allowed to answer questions in the group), if it's a lease under the new law (not sure exactly when this changed, but most likely yes) and the tenant didn't do anything to cause the infestation, then it is the landlord's responsibility.

But again -- even if the law is clear, you still may have to work on the landlord to convince them that it's in their best interests to keep the place insect-free.

Sigh.  I have killed so many ants just while writing this.  In addition to climbing up my body, they also seem to love climbing up my laptop screen, prompting me to write this haiku a couple of years ago.

    Little creepy ant
    That screen is mine, you hear, mine,
    Now you are both flat

And just for fun, and to stay philosophical and remind myself that they've always been with us, here are a couple of cool bits from Mishlei (Proverbs) about ants:

    הַ֭נְּמָלִים עַ֣ם לֹא־עָ֑ז וַיָּכִ֖ינוּ בַקַּ֣יִץ לַחְמָֽם׃
    Ants are a folk without power, Yet they prepare food for themselves in summer;
(Mishlei 30:25)

    לֵֽךְ־אֶל־נְמָלָ֥ה עָצֵ֑ל רְאֵ֖ה דְרָכֶ֣יהָ וַחֲכָֽם׃
    Lazybones, go to the ant; Study its ways and learn.
(Mishlei 6:6)

And finally, from the gemara (Taanis 21a):

They said about Naḥum of Gam Zu that he was blind in both eyes, both his arms were amputated, both his legs were amputated, and his entire body was covered in boils. And he was lying in a dilapidated house, and legs of his bed were placed in buckets of water so that ants should not climb onto him, as he was unable to keep them off in any other manner. Once his students sought to remove his bed from the house and afterward remove his other vessels. He said to them: My sons, remove the vessels first, and afterward remove my bed, as I can guarantee you that as long as I am in the house, the house will not fall. Indeed they removed the vessels and afterward they removed his bed, and immediately the house collapsed.

Which is just to say -- no matter how bad your ant problem might seem... 

It could always be worse.

A few years ago, I made up a translated Hebrew version of the "ants go marching" song.  It's not great, and it's kind of hard to sing, but in case you're interested, here it is... :-)


(Download as a full PDF printable here – note, this is a Dropbox link, so it may stop working after a bit – if you want access and the link doesn’t work, just let me know politely .)

If you've read this far, let me also just whisper in your ear, rather confidentially:
We are moving in 2 weeks, iy"h.
The ants, iy"h, are not.

It should be with mazal.
May all our ant woes be far behind us soon...

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה



  1. Replies
    1. Indeed -- as mentioned in the post. But still. When I am being bitten RIGHT THIS SECOND, when I can't take out a skillet without washing the wall-to-wall ants out first, I feel I have a certain right to kvetch. :-D

  2. Yes, when we lived on a yishuv, we had ants in both places where we lived. B"H a thousand times we moved into a nicely maintained apartment building (on a decently high floor), so the only place I see ants is when I go out. Have you tried sprinkling cinnamon and/or ground hot peppers? We had some success with these solutions.


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