The Anglo-Saxon Connection
Visitors to Israel from English-speaking countries are often amazed at how easy it is to get around using their native language, especially in light of the fact that Israel's two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic, don't even share alphabets that remotely resemble our own. In major cities, signs, traffic instructions, and restaurant menus are almost always in both English and Hebrew. Israeli entrepreneurs have become adept at designing shop signs and logos that blend English and Hebrew lettering (which are written in opposite directions) into interesting compositions, and the chance is good that your 20-something waitperson, the sales clerk where you take your film to be developed, or the elderly Palestinian owner of a grocery shop will be able to shift into fluent English at a moment's notice. And unlike many European countries, which dub English-language films and television programs, in Israel you won't have to watch Tom Hanks or Jerry Seinfeld (or more ludicrously, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in a revival classic) bantering away in Hebrew.
Of course, the British were here from 1918 to 1948, but 30 years of the British Mandate are only one part of the formula that has made Israel so user-friendly to the English-speaking world. Immigrants to Israel from English-speaking countries, though only 1% of the general population, have had an impact far beyond their numbers. Known locally (and to their own bemusement) as Anglo-Saxons, these Israelis have provided two of the nation's eight presidents: Chaim Weizmann, a British subject whose scientific discoveries were crucial to the Allied victory in World War I; and Dublin-born Chaim Herzog, whose father served as Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Golda Meir, a former schoolteacher from Milwaukee, held many important positions in Labor Party governments, including that of prime minister from 1969 to 1974. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was raised and educated in America. Israel's most famous and eloquent diplomat, South African-born and Cambridge-educated Abba Eban, served as ambassador to the United Nations and was foreign minister for many years. The legendary Henrietta Szold, Baltimore-born first president of Hadassah, held the social welfare portfolio of the National Council of Palestine Jewry in the 1930s and was responsible for developing many elements of the emerging nation's system of health, education, and social services. South Africans, Britons, and Americans were heavily involved in creating the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and are at the forefront of the women's rights, religious rights, and ecology and peace movements. Americans are also strongly represented in the West Bank settlement movements. Despite their extraordinary contributions, Anglo-Israelis are regarded by many of their fellow countrymen as something of a people apart.
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) and the British Olim Society, with branches in most main cities, offer busy schedules of lectures, get-togethers, activities, tours, and legal advice for seniors, singles, and families. They are a terrific resource for English-speaking visitors who plan to stay in Israel for an extended period of time.
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