Sabra (person)

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Prickly pear cactus, known in Israel as tsabar

A sabra or tzabar (Hebrew: צַבָּר, plural: tzabarim) is a modern Hebrew term that defines any Jew born in Israel. The term came into widespread use in the 1930s to refer to a Jew who had been born in Israel, including the British Mandate of Palestine and Ottoman Syria; cf. New Yishuv & Old Yishuv, though it may have appeared earlier. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israelis have used the word to refer to a Jew born anywhere in the Land of Israel.[1][2]

The term alludes to a tenacious, thorny desert plant, known in English as prickly pear, with a thick skin that conceals a sweet, softer interior. The cactus is compared to Israeli Jews, who are supposedly tough on the outside, but delicate and sweet on the inside.[3]

In 2010, over 4 million Israeli Jews (70%) were sabras, with an even greater percentage of Israeli Jewish youths falling into this category.[4] In 2015, about 75% of Israel's Jewish population was native-born.[5][6] In 2024, this had further increased to 80%.[7]


A cactus flowerpot with the flag of Israel

The term came into widespread use within the Yishuv, or Jewish population of Palestine, in the 1930s. It is thought to have been used as far back as the early 20th century, when it was used to refer to the first generation of native-born Hebrew speaking Jews produced by the Zionist movement, the children of the immigrants of the First Aliyah that began in 1881 in Romania. This generation of natives referred to themselves as "etrogim." The term "Tzabar" may have been used by immigrants of the Second Aliyah and the Third Aliyah, originally as an insulting term.[8][9][10][11]

The changing of the meaning of the term, to emphasize the softer interior rather than the roughness, was done by the journalist Uri Kesari, who himself was a sabra. Kesari published an essay, "We Are the Leaves of the Sabra!", on 18 April 1931 in the newspaper Doar HaYom in which he argued against the discrimination which was cast against the native-born by the new immigrants.[12][13][14][11] The 1931 census of Palestine found that of a recorded Jewish population of 174,610, 73,195 people (42%) were born in Palestine.[15]

According to Israeli sociologist Oz Almog, who studied the sociological development of the term, the first indications of a new culture appeared around the time of World War I, when the children of First Aliyah immigrants were already displaying traditional sabra characteristics. Avshalom Feinberg has been referred to as "the first sabra." In the 1920s this new Hebrew culture was visibly emerging. The term was in widespread use in the 1930s and 1940s, and it increasingly became a term of prestige as the sabra turned into a cultural hero within Israeli culture.[11]

At this time, there was now a large number of native-born Jews in the kibbutzim and moshavim and in urban areas, and as a result, sabra culture blossomed. Almog wrote that "as the Sabra archetype and stereotype took shape, the students at the Hebrew gymnasiums, the young people of the kibbutzim and moshavim, and the members of the youth movements and Palmach began developing a consciousness about their cultural uniqueness. They also produced and honed native status symbols and a peculiarly native Israeli style in language, dress, and collective leisure culture". He claimed that the idea that a new Hebrew nation had arisen was widespread among Tel Aviv youth in the early 1940s.[11]

In November 1948, with the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in its closing stages, Arthur Koestler published an article titled "Israel: the native generation", in which he profiled sabras as compared to Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab and Muslim nations, who he described as a "lost generation", writing that "In their ensemble these form the lost generation of Israel, a transitory and amorphous mass which as yet lacks the character of a nation. Only in the native youth, born and reared in the country, does the first intimation of the future profile of Israel as a nation begin to outline itself."[16]

Koestler claimed that "In his mental make-up the average young sabra is fearless to the point of recklessness, bold, extroverted, and little inclined towards, if not openly contemptuous of, intellectual pursuits" and that "The sabra's outlook on the world is rather provincial and hyper-chauvinistic. This could hardly be otherwise in a small and exposed pioneer community which had to defend its physical existence and build its State against almost impossible odds. One cannot create a nation without nationalism."[17] That same month, Israel carried out its first census following independence. The census found that out of a Jewish population of 716,700, approximately 35% were native-born.[18][19]

An important influence on the Sabra personality was considered the participation in national youth movements, such as the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, Hashomer Hatzair and Hatsofim, followed by the universal participation in military service for both sexes.[20]

The large immigration to Israel of Jews from Muslim countries during the 1950s, the penetration of Western culture and primarily American culture, as well as the social and political changes which were created following the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, resulted in a decline of the use of the term after the 1970s. Those who were born in the country after independence in 1948 became known as the "Dor haMedina" (Hebrew: דור המדינה), or "Statehood Generation", and have been largely described by cultural commentators as being motivated less by the strident nationalism and/or socialism of the pre-independence generations and more by a general cultural pragmatism and sensitivity to the mass-cultural output of Western powers.[21]

With the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, large-scale Jewish immigration ensued from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, greatly increasing the Jewish population. As a result, the amount of native-born Jews as a percentage of the population went down from 35% in 1948 to 25% in 1951. As the immigration wave tapered off, the percentage of the native-born Jewish population gradually increased as more children were born, many to immigrants who arrived after independence. The percentage of the Jewish population that was native-born reached 33% in 1956, 38% in 1961, and 40% in 1965.[22]

In culture[edit]

Srulik in the Israeli museum of cartoons and comics in Holon, Israel

The Sabra received an artistic and symbolic representation in the form of the illustrated character "Srulik", who wears shorts, sandals and a Tembel hat, created by cartoonist Dosh. Another such character is the Israeli children's television character Kishkashta, a talking anthropomorphic cactus; the plant is another symbol of the Sabra.[23]

The English form of the word, Sabra, served Israeli manufacturers who wanted to brand their products as recognisably Israeli products, which are sold in the foreign markets. As a result, "Sabra liqueur" and "Sabra sport", the sports model of the "Sussita", were created. The world's largest hummus manufacturer as of 2009 is a U.S. company called the Sabra Dipping Company.[24]

In popular culture, an episode of the American Saturday Night Live series contained a sketch entitled "Sabra Price Is Right" featuring Tom Hanks as the guest host. The sketch was written by Robert Smigel and is a parody of Israel-born Jews making bargains with people who believe this show is The Price Is Right. In the sketch, Hanks's character "Uri Shurinson" and the other Sabra are swindling the contestants, conning them into purchasing shoddy products. Products include a Summit clock-radio, a "Pinnacle satellite dish" that's a v-aerial, a cordless phone that's a defective rotary phone, a microwave that's a toaster oven, a CD-player that's a child's bank, and a defective buzzer from the game show itself, for which they guess the price rather than winning them. The sketch concludes with an Arab portrayed by Dana Carvey who bargains in the same manner as the Sabra and in the middle of their argument, they all "disco" as the sketch concludes.[25]

Marvel Comics created a superhero named Sabra (Ruth Bat-Seraph's alter ego) in the 1980s.[citation needed]

In politics[edit]

The first sabra to exercise the powers of the office of the Prime Minister of Israel was Yigal Allon, who served as acting prime minister from February to March 1969. He was born in Kfar Tavor.[26] The first sabra to serve as Prime Minister rather than acting Prime Minister was Yitzhak Rabin, who first held the office 1974–77, and then again 1992–1995.[27]

Since Rabin first took office, there have been four other sabra Prime Ministers: the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the first sabra Prime Minister to have been born in the modern state after Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. He first took office in 1996, before leaving office in 1999 and returning in 2009.[28] Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert were all born in what is now the territory of the State of Israel during the Mandate period.

The first sabra who became President of Israel was Yitzhak Navon, who was born in Jerusalem. The first sabra born after Israel's declaration of independence, who exercised the powers of the office of the President of Israel, was Dalia Itzik. The first sabra born after Israel's declaration of independence, who became President of Israel rather than acting President, is the incumbent Isaac Herzog. He is the first son of a former Israeli president to become President.

Statehood Generation leaders[edit]

In addition to Netanyahu being the first of the Statehood Generation to serve as Prime Minister, Avraham Burg, speaker of the Knesset from 1999–2003, was the first Speaker to have been born in the modern state since 1948. The first of the Statehood Generation to serve as acting President, was Dalia Itzik and to serve as the actual President is Isaac Herzog. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, former Prime Ministers, were also born in the modern state.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Apel, Dora (2012). War Culture and the Contest of Images. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-8135-5396-2. Israelis, however, also appropriate the cactus as a symbol of their connection to the land and the word sabra, meaning a Jewish person born in Israeli territory, comes from the Arabic sabr.
  2. ^ Kaschl, Elke (2003). Dance and Authenticity in Israel and Palestine: Performing the Nation. Leiden, Netherlands and Boston, Massachusetts: Brill Publishers. p. 60. ISBN 978-90-04-13238-2. Sabra refers to all Jews who are not immigrants, but who are born in historic Palestine/Israel.
  3. ^ "Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and extinct?". Israel Hayom. November 12, 2013.
  4. ^ "Israel at 62: Population of 7,587,000 - Israel News, Ynetnews". 2010-04-18.
  5. ^ "8,345,000 people living in Israel". Ynetnews. 22 April 2015.
  6. ^ Israel's Independence Day 2019 (PDF) (Report). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 6 May 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  7. ^ Israel's Independence Day 2024 (PDF) (Report). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 9 May 2024.
  8. ^ Tzabar Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective
  9. ^ Rosenthal, Ruvik: Dictionary of Slang (Hebrew)
  10. ^ " - The Myth of the Israeli Sabra".
  11. ^ a b c d Almog, Oz. 2000. The Sabra the creation of the new Jew. The S. Mark Taper Foundation imprint in Jewish studies. Berkeley: University of California Press
  12. ^ Tzabar Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective
  13. ^ Rosenthal, Ruvik: Dictionary of Slang (Hebrew)
  14. ^ " - The Myth of the Israeli Sabra".
  15. ^ "British Census of Palestine 1931". Retrieved Oct 18, 2020.
  16. ^ "Israel: The native generation | 1940-1949 | Guardian Century". Retrieved Oct 18, 2020.
  17. ^ "Israel: The native generation | 1940-1949 | Guardian Century". Retrieved Oct 18, 2020.
  18. ^ "Latest Population Statistics for Israel". Retrieved Oct 18, 2020.
  19. ^ "Jewish & Non-Jewish Population of Israel/Palestine (1517-Present)". Retrieved Oct 18, 2020.
  20. ^ Israel: the Sword and the Harp: The Mystique of Violence and the Mystique of Redemption; Controversial Themes in Israeli Society, Ferdynand Zweig, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1970, page 6
  21. ^ Anshel Pfeffer (25 February 2011). "Jerusalem & Babylon / Returning to the source of it all". Haaretz.
  22. ^ Kleinberger, Aharon F: Society, Schools and Progress in Israel: The Commonwealth and International Library: Education and Educational Research, p. 48
  23. ^ Persico, Tomer (2019-02-23). "How the new Israeli Judaism was born". Haaretz. Retrieved 2024-04-06.
  24. ^ Aviv Levy (25 November 2009). זינוק במכירות חומוס שטראוס בארה"ב: כבשה 40% מהשוק. Globes (in Hebrew). Retrieved 25 November 2009.
  25. ^ "Sabra Price is Right - Video". Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  26. ^ "Allon Will Be First Sabra in Israel's History to Be Premier". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. February 27, 1969.
  27. ^ "November 4, 1995: The Day the Sabra Died". Haaretz. November 4, 2015.
  28. ^ "Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PM". BBC. March 18, 2015.

External links[edit]