If you’ve ever traveled to Israel as an English speaker, you were likely surprised and happy to discover that finding your way around was not difficult.
Instead, you probably found that English culture is ingrained in Israeli society – from the restaurants and their English menus, dishes and names to the road signs and shops. You probably had the pleasure of running into English-speaking Israelis to help you along the way (and even found it difficult to try out your Hebrew, since Israelis so enjoy flexing their English muscles!).
Over the past 70 years, Israel has encouraged immigration of Jews from across the world. With millions of newcomers speaking many different languages, there are bound to be some barriers that keep people from truly connecting.
Aside from its use in prayer and religious contexts, Hebrew faced extinction as a spoken language. There was a major revival of the language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beginning with the Zionist aliyah influx to pre-state Israel. But for an extended time, an assortment of other languages were used to communicate between various communities.
Israel is also one of the world’s most revered tourist destinations. In 2018, a record year, more than four million tourists made their way to the Holy Land. The country’s economy thrives on tourism, and the only logical way to help most of these non-Hebrew speakers communicate is to revert to the world’s lingua franca – hence the widespread use of English (that, and impressionable young Israelis growing up watching shows like Dynasty).
One amusing aspect of this is the shared culture within names, cuisines and the overall atmosphere of countless Israeli food and drink establishments. Many words and phrases are translated – or transliterated – specifically to be understood universally, using English as their basis and often employing puns to express the vigor with which these shop owners try to connect cultures through language.
Israeli food in Englew-Hebrish
Several establishments immediately come to mind: The country’s largest coffee chain is named Aroma – giving the customer the connotation that their hafuch will emit a distinctive, typically pleasant smell. Breathe in those coffee beans!
Another restaurant chain that plays off English pop-culture references is Inigo Montoya’s, after the vibrant character of the same name appearing in American fairy-tale classic The Princess Bride. Everyone remembers the character deliciously intoning, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Rosa Parks, on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff St., celebrates the famed civil rights activist who played a key role in the Montgomery bus boycott that helped end racial segregation in America. Hopefully you won’t be ejected from your bar stool by an over-enthusiastic arak guzzler.
Haifa, too, has numerous establishments with names rooted in American pop culture. El Burgery – not to be confused with steakhouse chain El Gaucho – combines both Spanish and English within its name. A similar restaurant called Burgerim joins Hebrew and English in its moniker, adding a cute little “-im” (eem) at the end to signify the Hebrew plural.
Eataliano, also in Haifa, employs some fun phonetics to make you want to snarf down some of their soppressata.
Other Haifa restaurants skip puns all together and just use – dum da dum – English. One example is After Dark, a downtown drinkery; Brew Knows, another pub in the port city, cleverly combines another English word for beer and the name Bruno. More straightforward is the Manhattan Bar and Grill, purveying smashed burgers (just like you can find in the Big Apple) and cheesesteaks (iconic in Philadelphia... close enough).
Jerusalem is home to a live-music venue dubbed the “Yellow Submarine,” referring to The Beatles’ song of the same name. Music and English culture here go nearly hand in hand; many of the songs played on Israeli radio are American or British.
Considering the Israeli film industry is quite small, many movies circulated throughout this equally small country come from Hollywood itself – meaning the movies are in English, the celebrities are Anglos and most importantly, the cultural concepts are specifically English-based.
Thusly we find Haifa watering hole EscoBar, playing off notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s name. Medellín’s finest marching powder not included in your drink order.
Helen’s Keller in the White City is named after the blind-deaf American author, political activist and lecturer, while Johntra Travolta’s gives a nod to the disco dancing, bell-bottom rocking actor.
These names, removed from their original cultural context, can sound jarring – but also illustrate the growing presence of American pop culture in the Promised Land. Israel’s unique melting pot has created a multilingual society and an economy in which many people are employed in tourism.
So the next time you’re shopping in Superzol or gassing up your auto at Yellow, you might wish to contemplate the country’s uncommon hybrid culture – where Abraham Linco-leen and popular Tel Aviv cocktail bar Bellboy coexist with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Shalom Falafel.
Erica Schachne contributed to this article.