Those searching for family and friends in Israel have been deprived of a major resource, because Bezeq has redesigned its online telephone directory.
Hard hit by the changes are professional and amateur genealogists who assist in reuniting families separated by the Holocaust or other events.
The old Web site asked users to type in a name and select an area code. If no results came up, the researcher repeated the search for the next code.
The new site no longer has a drop-down area code menu for white page listings, although this feature is available for the site's yellow page listings. Instead, a site user needs to choose a town, not an area code. Results are limited to only five hits, which are not enough for common last names.
For more hits, a call to the 144 Bezeq directory is the only answer, unless the researcher has a stack of phone books.
For international researchers, Bezeq directory calls incur high service fees, and even for Israeli researchers, the charges for such calls quickly add up.
"Telephone books are one of the most important resources for finding lost family, and having them online makes the task easier," said genealogist Gary Mokotoff of New Jersey, who used online US phone books to help a Holocaust survivor find her American family.
"The new Bezeq Web site is a disaster as far as genealogists are concerned," said Ingrid Rockberger of Ra'anana, who is president of the Jewish Family Research Association, one of three Jewish genealogical societies in Israel. "Those looking for family members who immigrated to Israel before World War II or as Holocaust survivors can no longer do so."
Genealogist Michael Goldstein of Jerusalem, said he does not understand why the Bezeq directory is different from other international online directories, where one can enter a minimum amount of information to retrieve listings. "The Bezeq site requires more [information], plus entering a code to see each listing."
Expert online phone book researcher Patricia Wilson of Ra'anana used to reference Yad Vashem's Pages of Testimony - forms filled out by friends or relatives in memory of people who perished in the Holocaust - and the former Bezeq site to reunite families. But with the new site, she can't do the same research, she said.
For international researchers who do not know Hebrew, the new site is particularly troublesome.
Technology expert Dr. Stephen P. Morse developed a free front-end utility for non-Hebrew speakers enabling them to access the old Hebrew-only site. Searchers would type the name in English, then transliterate it into Hebrew. Results contained the list of people (in each area code) showing both the original Hebrew and the transliteration. While not perfect, it was enough to retrieve a name and address.
In a January 2007 phone interview from his San Francisco home, Morse said some 86,000 searchers had used the utility to retrieve information from the old site.
"Bezeq had a wonderful resource," said Morse, "making it possible for researchers from around the world to locate people in Israel."
However, Morse's utility does not work with the new Web site and non-Hebrew speaking searchers can no longer access information. "It's unfortunate that recent changes that they've made to their Web site no longer allow for researchers to use this as a people-finder site."
Bezeq spokesperson Yotam Yakir told The Jerusalem Post in response: "Bezeq's 144 Web site was recently redesigned and updated. The new site allows for many improved functions that were not available on the previous site. The new site allows, for the first time in Israel, access to all the telephone numbers in the country from one web address. The new site has garnered much praise for its user-friendly interface, and has seen a large increase in traffic, which points to a satisfaction on the part of the many users of the site.
"Even the previous site was not supported in English, and in any case, the vast majority of subscribers listed on the site are listed only in Hebrew. However, because the site is currently in a testing phase, and is garnering many reactions and suggestions from its users on various topics, Bezeq will consider upgrading the site to include other languages as per the reactions and needs of our users."
A series of Post queries revealed that several key Bezeq officials were not aware that people abroad, and especially researchers, used the Bezeq site, and were not specifically aware that researchers were using its resources to reunite families.