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An elderly widow, originally from Johannesburg and now living alone in Ra'anana, notices one day that water has begun to pool on her bathroom floor, right behind the lavatory. As concern deepens to panic, she hurries into the hall of her Rehov Ben Gurion apartment building. Gazing down the corridor at two rows of her neighbors' closed doors, she remembers with irritation than none of them speak English, and her own Hebrew is almost non-existent.
She lurches back into her apartment, boots up her computer and quickly types a letter to her English-language e-mail group, asking for the phone number of an English-speaking plumber. She writes the words "Help! Plumber?" in the subject line of her letter, grabs her mouse and clicks "send."
Within 10 minutes, her mailbox fills up with the names and phone numbers of several English-speaking plumbers, along with letters from two of the plumbers themselves.
While this is going on, a young mother, originally from Los Angeles, posts a letter asking for entertainment ideas for her three year old's upcoming birthday party. She quickly receives recommendations for locally-based clowns, magicians, acrobats and musicians.
Other Anglos ask for recommendations for everything from dentists to dermatologists, carpenters to caterers and wedding planners to divorce lawyers.
A young immigrant from Toronto sees a letter from someone who wants to get rid of his National Geographic collection. Less than 12 hours later, she is the proud owner of magazines going back more than 25 years.
The owner of a travel agency posts a job opening at his company. Several hours and an avalanche of responses later, the position is filled.
A disgruntled shopper complains of rude treatment from a salesman in a furniture store, triggering a lively debate on Israeli manners that the group's moderator politely but firmly cuts off as it begins to get out of hand.
These people, and thousands more in cities and towns throughout Israel, are part of a cultural phenomenon, the meaning and impact of which have yet to be fathomed. From Metula to Eilat, English-speaking immigrants old and new are logging on to e-mail groups designed for mutual assistance, sharing common interests, advocating causes of every stripe and description, and - perhaps most importantly - fostering a sense of community bolstered by shared values and a common language.
New e-mail groups are springing up regularly, and new members join them daily. Part of the phenomenal growth of these groups in recent years can be explained by how easy it has become to create them. Establishing a list-serve group was once a complicated undertaking, requiring the expertise of computer professionals. Now, group-hosting websites like Yahoo, Google and MSN can guide virtually anyone through a simple procedure and help even the minimally computer-proficient to get an e-mail group up and running in just a few minutes.
But experts say the major reason for the popularity of these groups is the sense of community they offer, in many ways resembling that of a small town or village. According to Joel Leyden, a Ra'anana-based public relations consultant, media and communications specialist and the owner-moderator of several e-mail groups, this sense of community has made such groups an important part of the lives of English-speaking immigrants in Israel.
This sector of Israel's population - perhaps more than any other, says Leyden - needs and benefits from the sharing of information and mutual assistance that e-mail groups provide.
"When you look at the Anglo community here in Israel, you're looking at a 'community of need.' We weren't born here and didn't grow up here. Most of us didn't serve in the army and make the strong friendships and contacts that native Israelis make in their army years. Many of us have no family here and a lot of us don't speak Hebrew. Somebody born and raised here in Israel has a built-in network of people around him to help him deal with life, not to mention the language. Most Anglos don't have that - what we have instead are our e-mail groups."
A divorced father of three small children, Leyden created the Israel Anglo Children group as a forum for discussions and information-sharing about parenting; and Fathers 4 Justice Israel advocating divorced fathers' rights of equal access to their children. Currently single, Leyden also created Israel Anglo Singles, a free online dating forum. An avid skier, he operates Ski Israel, with some 100 members. Leyden's newest and hottest e-mail group, however, is Israel Anglo Homes, "dedicated to serving the Anglo in Israel in finding, selling, renting or swapping a home". Established in March this year, the list already boasts more than 230 members.
Leyden's general-purpose community e-mail group covering the entire Sharon region serves 1,355 members, while his Israel Public Relations List provides an exclusive discussion forum for just 220 Israeli and Jewish PR professionals.
That e-mail groups serve English speakers as surrogate neighbors, friends and relatives can be seen in the websites' "mission statements." Words like "community," "self-help," "advice" and "assistance" crop up regularly in descriptions of Anglo-oriented lists throughout Israel. The very name of the 2,468-member Tel Aviv e-mail list - "Taanglo: Tel Aviv Anglo Protexia" - provides a clear description of what these groups are all about.
Perhaps no-one knows what the 3,489-member Ra'anana List is about better than Ra'anana resident Carol Feldman, who joined the group almost three years ago while still living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Having decided, along with her husband, Larry, to move their family to Israel, she went to her computer. Eager, but anxious about making aliya, and having no close friends or relatives already here, Feldman turned to the list for advice. List members responded with information, encouragement and suggestions about schools, apartments and neighborhoods. A question posted a few days before the family's departure brought 42 responses.
As Feldman later recalled, "I had offers of advice, encouragement, advice, websites, phone numbers, advice, e-mails, friendship, more advice and even an invitation to Shabbat dinner."
Feldman notes that not all of the information she received was helpful or useful, and acknowledges that there are limits to the assistance that any e-mail group can provide. Nonetheless, settled and comfortable in Ra'anana after two-and-a-half years, she continues to rely on the Ra'anana List. "There are questions that you would typically ask a neighbor. But here, I have to go some way to find an English speaking neighbor. The Ra'anana list brings those English speaking neighbors right up close."
The ability of e-mail groups to provide English speaking Israelis with helpful communities of shared interests will no doubt ensure their unrelenting growth and development. New groups will continue to appear, and new members will eagerly apply to join them. A new e-mail group designed for professional writers in Israel, for example, attracted 159 members in its first week of existence.
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