Finding English books in Israel gets easier every day

Anglos seeking English-language content can now enjoy a rich variety.

Street libraries around and throughout Israel (photo credit: GARRETT MILLS/FLASH90)
Street libraries around and throughout Israel
(photo credit: GARRETT MILLS/FLASH90)
“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” – Alberto Manguel, A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books
When avid readers made aliyah in the past, they were often dismayed at how hard (and expensive!) it was to find English books in Israel. Happily, this is no longer as daunting a task as it used to be. We found dozens of ways for Anglos to find new reading material, and many of them are totally free.
There’s a huge debate among readers over the relative superiority of print books versus digital content. Even those who generally read digitally but don’t use electronic devices on Shabbat need access to some print books, so we’ve divided the information into two main sections: print books and digital content.
Even if you’re Israel’s biggest Anglo bookworm, whether you’re exclusively a traditional print book reader or you only consume digital content, you’re almost certain to learn at least one book acquisition tip you didn’t already know.
Read on!
Print books
Bookstores
The most obvious access to print books is shopping in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Throughout the lockdowns, many local bookstores have been taking online and phone orders and delivering throughout the country.
Steimatzky, Israel’s largest bookstore chain, carries a limited selection of English titles, but die-hard readers will likely want to visit one of the more English-friendly bookstores, including these:
The Book Gallery (bookgallery.co.il) in Jerusalem carries over 500,000 used, rare and antique titles. English books are one of its specialties.
ESRA – English Speaking Residents Association (esra.org.il/about/106-shops.html) runs secondhand bookshops in Modi’in, Ra’anana and Zichron Ya’acov.
Pomeranz (pomeranzbooks.com), located in Jerusalem's city center, specializes in Jewish books. It carries Hebrew books as well, but the majority of its huge inventory is in English.
Sefer ve Sefel (sefervesefel.com) is a Jerusalem landmark, specializing in new and used English books. Its inventory includes over 25,000 English books in a wide range of genres.
Halper’s (halpers-books.business.site) in Tel Aviv specializes in used and rare books. Books in English constitute the largest part of its 60,000-tome inventory.
Wiz Kids (wizkids.co.il), located in Ra’anana, bills itself as “Israel’s Only English Bookstore.” It specializes in English books for children but also sells books for adult readers.
English libraries
There are close to 20 public libraries throughout Israel that have at least 5,000 English books in their collections. It’s no surprise that many of these libraries exist in communities with substantial Anglo populations, such as Jerusalem, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Safed, Efrat and Ma’aleh Adumim.
Libraries in other communities, such as Holon, Kiryat Arba, Netanya, Ramat Hasharon and Beersheba, also have surprisingly robust English collections.
US citizens can take advantage of the library of the US Embassy (il.usembassy.gov/education-culture/american-spaces/acj/information-resource-center-and-library), which carries an extensive selection of current American fiction. The library is located at the American Center, 19 Keren Hayesod Street, Jerusalem.
All over Israel you will find free street libraries, often located in bus stops, but sometimes outside private homes. Many of them are run by book-loving Anglo olim on a volunteer basis. While you might find books in multiple foreign languages in a free street library, Hebrew and English generally dominate.
Two prominent free street libraries in Jerusalem’s Baka and Talpiot neighborhoods were recently in the news for being partially burned by arson. Others exist in Efrat, Ginot Shomron, Katzrin, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ramat Beit Shemesh and Ra’anana. These generally operate as depots to both donate and take books for free. Depending on how carefully they are tended, they can be treasure troves for English books.
Ester Silber-Schachter of Katzrin has a “book swap bookcase outside my house for English books only. People can borrow, swap and sometimes I just open it up for taking, to make room for more books. It got started because our family reads a lot, and we didn’t have enough new books around, so we culled our shelves and asked people to come by and swap.
“It’s great. People come by all the time, and now we never run out, with all the books being circulated around town. I think free library access is essential for everyone.”
The Pinat Ahava Lending Library in Beit Shemesh (https://www.facebook.com/Pinat-Ahava-Lending-Library-113684993681051/) was started by olah Kara Wurtzel. She shared, “It’s always been a dream of mine to open a library here in Israel. While there are many, few of them have hours that work for working parents, and almost none of them have a large selection of English books.
“My goal was for people to share books in one place that would be open 24/7. The library is located outside, so anyone can come at any time and check books out.
“I have been completely blown away by the community’s response. I started the library with one box of books outside my gate. Today, we have almost 5,000 donated books in circulation.
“The library is dedicated in memory of a dear friend, Ahava Emunah Lange, and many people who donated books told me how this library would have made Ahava so happy. I have seen other lending libraries popping up in parking lots all over the neighborhood, and it couldn’t make me happier to see so many people taking on this amazing initiative.”
Facebook groups
Books Exchange – Efrat (facebook.com/groups/818721728626361) for exchanging all kinds of books with neighbors.
Haifa English Book Swap (facebook.com/groups/268033541256432) exclusively for swapping books in English in the Haifa area.
Sifrei Kodesh/Judaic book Buy, Sell, Swap (Israel) (facebook.com/groups/SifreiKodeshBuySellSwap) for buying, selling and swapping Judaica books/Sifrei Kodesh in Israel.
Tel Aviv Book Exchange and Sale (facebook.com/groups/547926902755621) for people in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas to swap or sell English books.
Online shopping
Amazon (amazon.com) is, of course, the online behemoth. With over 33 million titles and worldwide shipping, almost any book you could ever want is available. For that brief shining moment when Amazon offered free shipping to Israel, it was a great alternative for many booklovers. With shipping fees that now match or exceed the cost of the tome itself, online shoppers are, for the most part, currently looking elsewhere.
UK-based Book Depository (bookdepository.com) has over 20 million titles and ships free worldwide, with no minimum purchase. You can pay in 37 different currencies, including shekels.
Like Book Depository, Better World Books (betterworldbooks.com) ships free to Israel from the US and UK. With over eight million titles, it primarily sells used books, although it does have some new books in its inventory.
Through book sales, Better World Books has donated over $31 million to libraries and literacy projects worldwide and saved close to 400 million books from being sent to landfills. For every book purchased through Better World Books, the company donates a book to someone in need through its charitable network.
UK-based Awesome Books (awesomebooks.com) has a similar social venture mission. With five million titles in its inventory, it also focuses on selling used books, saving them from landfills. Just as Better World Books does, it donates a book for every one purchased on its site. You can pay in six currencies (not including shekels), and shipping to Israel starts at under $4.
Public book sales
NOTE: These events have been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
AACI – Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel (aaci.org.il) – periodically holds giant book sales, offering many hundreds of books for NIS 5 each.
Efrat/Gush Etzion Book Swap and Sale – A book swap and sale is currently being planned for Efrat and the Gush Etzion region. Depending on the easing of corona restrictions, it might be held online.
The Jerusalem Annual Books and Comics Sale (facebook.com/groups/596916367124229) is held twice a year in the German Colony. It features thousands of secondhand English books in all genres, and most books sell for NIS 15-20.
The Ma’aleh Adumim English Book Swap and Sale (facebook.com/groups/maaleadumimbookswap) is held twice a year, generally in May and November. Over 5,000+ books are sorted by category and priced from NIS 2-10. All proceeds are donated to tzedakah.

Innovative book projects

Book Mooch (bookmooch.com) is an international book trading service that lets readers trade books they no longer need for titles they want. Over 70,000 members from 90 countries participate in trading books online. The only cost involved is postage.
Rebook (shoprebook.com) is a brand-new subscription service for borrowing popular books in English. There are membership plans starting at NIS 30 per month, which includes return shipping. Those who can pick up books from the Givat
Shmuel/Petah Tikva area can save on shipping costs.
Rebook was created by new immigrant Maia Dori.
“My vision for Rebook is to create a community for those who share the same love for reading as I do. It’s about connecting English readers and providing an easy-to-use platform where people can read the books they want. I want to share Rebook and make it accessible to as many people as I can,” Dori explained.
Digital content
Digital book content includes e-books and audiobooks. Kindle is the most popular e-book reader, but many people use apps designed for phones or tablets.
Some take advantage of the time spent exercising, commuting or cleaning to listen to audiobooks.
Paid digital content
Amazon has over six million e-books for its Kindle e-book readers and apps.
Millions of e-books and audiobooks are available for purchase at Apple Books (apple.com/apple-books).

Audible (audible.com) is Amazon’s audiobook service and offers subscribers access to 300,000 audiobook titles. Audible charges $14.95/month with a free 30-day trial.
Audiobooks.com allows subscribers to instantly stream or download audiobooks from its library of more than 200,000 titles. The fee is $14.95/month with a free 30-day trial.
Barnes and Noble offers 3.6 million e-books (barnesandnoble.com/b/nook-books) and 60,000 audiobooks (nookaudiobooks.com). No subscription required.
For Android device owners, over five million e-books and audiobooks are available through Google Play Books (play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.books).
Kindle Unlimited (amazon.com/kindle-dbs/hz/subscribe/ku) offers unlimited access to over one million e-book titles and thousands of audiobooks for $9.99/month. At the time of this writing, Amazon was offering a free three-month trial of
Kindle Unlimited.
Scribd (scribd.com) offers subscribers access to hundreds of thousands of books and audiobooks for $8.99/month. A free 30-day trial is available.
Free digital content
Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2245146011)
offers free access to over 10,000 Kindle books.
Google Books (books.google.com/?hl=en) has scanned more than 10 million books that can be downloaded for free.
Hoopla (hoopladigital.com) – If you are lucky enough to have an active library card from a participating library in the US or Canada, or share one with a family member who lives overseas, you can get access to Hoopla. Hoopla provides online and mobile access to over 500,000 e-books, audiobooks, comics and other digital content. Hoopla apps are available for a wide variety of devices.
The supporting library sets the number of items that can be checked out from Hoopla, but there is never a waiting list. Everything in the catalogue is immediately available.
Internet Archive (archive.org) is committed to providing digital versions of published works. Its catalog includes over 28 million free books and texts. Each day it scans 1,000 books to add to its database. Anyone can sign up for a virtual library card.
ManyBooks (manybooks.net) offers more than 50,000 free e-books, including a significant number of self-published e-books. New books are uploaded daily.
OverDrive (overdrive.com) is a digital content app that is used by over 43,000 libraries and schools in 70 countries. An account with a participating library can get you access to millions of e-books and audiobooks through OverDrive or Libby, their app for library patrons. OverDrive also offers Sora, an app for younger readers.
Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) offers over 60,000 free e-books whose copyright has expired.
Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX1L0MDB1OhZy) offers a modest audiobook playlist.
One YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/GreatestAudioBooks/videos) has more than 660,000 subscribers and over 875 audiobooks available for free.
Finally, a warning: Through the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing such as torrent, it is possible to find almost any book online. Peer-to-peer file sharing has legitimate uses, but when used to share files such as digital copies of books protected by copyright, it is illegal.
We’ve tried to be comprehensive, but if we missed a resource with which you are familiar, please contact rivkah@kotevet.com