Elie Klein
Advocate for disability care, inclusion, equity and access

Bringing Up Bibi: Anglo-Israelis and the English Language

As a card-carrying member of the “In-Your-Face Nation” and a Gen-Yer bred on biting sarcasm, there are few things that I find truly annoying or offensive.

I would certainly place the improper expression of gratitude at the top of my short list (hakarat hatov is a biggie for me).  And for some reason, Owen Wilson has always made my skin crawl (I don’t know why).

But as an enthusiastic and dedicated purveyor of the English language, I am most rattled (and often appalled) by the unrelenting abuse of this beautiful dialect by Anglo-Israelis.

Yes, Anglo-Israelis.

Though I believe that native Israelis should make an effort to acquire a working knowledge of English (it would be great for any and all Israeli businesses), I have no expectations.  I understand and appreciate that Hebrew is the mother tongue of this land and nation, and I view my struggle to master it as an honor and a privilege.

However, I expect a great deal more from Anglo-Israelis.  I would hope that they see the benefits of maintaining their proficiency in English while developing their skills in Hebrew.  What’s more, I would hope that they see the value of teaching their children two or more languages in this age of international connectivity.

Yet, it seems as though many “old school” Anglo-Israelis have shortsightedly chosen nationalism over pragmatism, expressing their Zionism via the exclusive utilization of Hebrew.  As such, they have slammed the door on personal growth and robbed their children of quite a few life and employment opportunities.  In my humble opinion, they have made a selfish and irreparable mistake.  However, this piece is not about them.

Rather, I am writing this as a wake-up call for those among us who are straying into equally dangerous waters due to laziness or a preoccupation with other things, those who still have time to course-correct.

While this cohort may realize the importance of clean, clear and crisp communication (and decry the lack of such in Israeli circles), they are also undeniably guilty of speaking and propagating “Hebrish,” a shoddy English-Hebrew hybrid. (Some might choose to call it “Engbrew.” Either way, it’s a bastardization of two beautiful languages.).

Though they don’t necessarily choose to speak it (I know, it kind of just happens), proliferating Hebrish is a slippery slope that becomes that much slicker when impressionable children are involved.

Now, it may very well be my oversensitivity to the issue, but it seems as though parenting in Israel almost encourages the use of Hebrish.

For example:

“It’s a beautiful day outside.  You should bring your coloring book and tushim out to the mirpeset.”

“When we get to the luna park, I want you to leave your boobah in the agalah.”

“You’re wearing tachtonim?! Wow, you are such a big boy. I think we need to say bye-bye to your motzetz.”

“It’s very hot outside today.  Please drink more mayim.”

“It’s going to be great, guys. We are going to have a mangal on the beach and eat naknikim in pitot with all kinds of salatim.”

“Which flavor of ice cream would you like?  We have shoko, vanil, and toot.” 

“I’m just kidding – it wasn’t kessem.  I used the shalat to turn on the mazgan.”

Sound familiar?

Well, it’s bad news for the Jews, and we had better check ourselves before we wreck ourselves…and bring our kids down with us.

Yes, speaking Hebrish may make it easier to communicate with our children initially, but doing so will stunt (if not permanently derail) their long-term language development.  The fact that they spend most of their days learning and playing in Hebrew shouldn’t deter us from trying to speak to them in English.  Rather, it should compel us to use  every moment spent with them as an opportunity to expand their horizons and provide them with the tools they will need to turn heads and open doors in the future.

It is for this reason that our household is a Hebrish-free zone.  In fact, we make our kids correct themselves if they insert a Hebrew word into an English sentence and make a production out of correcting ourselves for doing the same.  We simply will not move on to the next item of business (or grant a request) if the language, grammar or word choice is faulty.

Intense? Absolutely.  Overkill? Absolutely not.

As we all know, parenting is primarily about teaching and preparing children for adulthood and independence, and we take that very seriously.

While our children convey some degree of annoyance with this element of the learning process every once in a while (after all, it does break up the flow of normal interaction, and no one likes being corrected), they are usually more than happy to go through the motions.  Even at six and four years of age, they have already found themselves in situations where being bilingual has saved them from danger and enhanced their experiences.  In addition, anyone can see that they feel empowered by their ever-expanding English vocabularies and understand that this “process” is just another expression of our love for them.

Despite the fact that many Israelis love to hate Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, lobbing scorn and condemnation upon him daily, I have always been one of his staunchest supporters, even at times when I didn’t agree with his politics.  This is largely due to the fact that Bibi stands out as one of the most effective communicators in Israeli history.

For me, Bibi symbolizes the power and potential of the multilingual Jew.  I am amazed by his eloquence (and his ability to influence) in both Hebrew and English, as well as the respect he is (rightfully) accorded by political friends and foes of all stripes when speaking as a representative of Israel in an international forum. He is the paragon of communication skills and a wizard of wordplay.

Although I wouldn’t want my children to be personally burdened with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or have their ice cream eating habits questioned by the Israeli public, nothing would make me happier than watching them follow Bibi’s lead and change the world for the better (at any level) via the mastery of multiple languages.

As I’ve said before, there is no right way to make Aliyah – each family and individual must do whatever they feel necessary to ease the process of rebuilding and moving forward in Israel.  And no one can tell us how to best parent our children.

But we can all agree that, as parents, we must provide our children with the very best tools and training to help them chart a successful path through this great big world, to open the doors to every possible life and employment opportunity.  In that regard, helping our children become multilingual is like handing them an interpersonal and vocational Swiss Army knife.

If we are willing to put in the time, our children will respond in kind. The grammar lessons shall set them free.

Hebrish, be gone!

About the Author
Elie Klein is a veteran nonprofit marketing professional and the Director of Development (USA & Canada) for ADI, Israel’s network of specialized rehabilitative care for those touched by and living with disability, and an international advocate for disability inclusion, equity and access.