New Hebrew-only Bus Signs Confound English Speakers

Before, signs featured information about lines, routes and times in English and Hebrew, now, new signs drop English.

David Sheen
David Sheen
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David Sheen
David Sheen

The recent revamping of the Dan region's public bus system has raised hopes and ire alike, as commuters grappled with the new routes, schedules and fares over the summer. But one change has specifically affected Anglophones and tourists for the worse - the near-total disappearance of English from bus signs and bus maps.

Before the changes, signs featured information about bus lines, routes and times in both English and Hebrew, but the new standardized signage rolled out to accompany the revamped system dropped the English.

LEFT OUT IN THE COLD: One of the new bus stops in Tel Aviv this week.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

A number of recent immigrants report that the new system makes navigating the region's bus system nearly impossible without the kindness of strangers, which can be a scarce commodity in some cases.

The Transportation Ministry says they are working to add other languages to the signs. The ministry stated that its new signs will be larger and clearer and will include languages other than Hebrew "as needed." The ministry said that the changeover will occur in the coming months and that the erection of some of the new signs has already begun.

One new sign in Hod Hasharon, labeled trial, contains only Hebrew, except for the name of the stop, which also appears in English.

The ministry distributed Hebrew-language compendiums of all of the changes made to the bus lines to the homes of Tel Aviv area residents over the summer. The booklet contained a link to a website with an English language version of the pamphlet.

Anita Friedman, a retired art historian who immigrated with her husband from New York a decade ago and now lives in central Tel Aviv, says the new signage makes navigation by bus far more challenging to new immigrants and tourists who rely on English more than Hebrew.

"If I'm going someplace I haven't been before, I print out the map for that area," Friedman said. "But it's unfair to the thousands of little old ladies and little old men, that aren't Internet savvy like me."

Friedman also noted the lack of Arabic on the signs even though Tel Aviv-Jaffa is designated as one of the country's Jewish-Arab "mixed cities."

Jon Schwartz, a 24-year-old master's student at Tel Aviv University, who moved from Toronto to central Tel Aviv three months ago, says his still-limited Hebrew doesn't allow him to travel around town without the help of others.

"I slowly, slowly read through every word," he says. "When trying to navigate, it's next to impossible without asking someone, because maps in the bus shelter are strictly in Hebrew."

Schwartz says that his lack of Hebrew literacy forces him to stop random strangers on the street and ask them for help with directions. "I guess you could say I take advantage of the receptivity of the population, I have no fear to ask people," he said.

Nigerian-born Endurance Ariri, 31, who has lived in south Tel Aviv for almost two years, says that many of his fellow African asylum-seekers get around by bus, but notes that it isn't easy without a working knowledge of Hebrew.

"I don't know how to take the bus, because I don't know how to read Hebrew," he said.

"Before you get a job, your boss writes to you and tells you, you take so-and-so bus to get to my house," said Ariri, who has been working in restaurant kitchens. "It's not possible for you to get any bus, or you have to take a taxi, which is very expensive."

Unlike Schwartz, Ariri says he finds that many Israelis are unwilling to help him get where he needs to go. "Most times I don't really ask on the street," he said. "Most times I don't feel comfortable. I ask people here and their reaction is not really nice. They speak English fluently, but they pretend that they don't speak English" so that they don't have to help him, he said.



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