Rosa Parks – The bar, not the civil rights icon

Whim­si­cal English-language ref­er­ences per­vade Is­raeli so­ci­ety, cre­at­ing a pop-cul­ture stew

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - PURIM ODDITIES - • ZACHARY KEYSER

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.

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A MUGSHOT taken in Medel­lín in 1977: The no­to­ri­ous Pablo Es­co­bar has a Haifa pub named in his honor.


INIGO MONTOYA’S re­calls the char­ac­ter of the same name who mem­o­rably ap­peared in Amer­i­can fairy-tale clas­sic ‘The Princess Bride.’

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