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Looking for a donkey, low mileage

Posted By Elli Wohlgelernter On August 17, 2003 @ 3:00 pm In | No Comments

Janglo provides a way for immigrants to benefit from other people’s expertise, knowledge and experiences to solve all kinds of problems in a foreign culture.For a new immigrant in Israel, or even the veteran, getting absorbed into Israeli life can be confusing, if not downright daunting. There is no protektsia, or connections, to help steer you through life, no army buddy of your uncle’s to help get you that needed job or car. Or so it seems.

Enter the Israeli chat rooms of Yahoogroups.com and, corny as it sounds, suddenly you’ve got a family that cares. All across the country, in almost every city with a sizeable Anglo community, there exists this combination town crier and flea market, an email list where you can post announcements, exchange information, and buy and sell everything you own, or almost everything.

Every city or area has one: Beit Shemesh, Betar Illit, Efrat, The Five Towns in the northern-central area of Israel (Binyamina, Caesarea, Pardes Hanna and Karkur, Hadera, and Zichron Ya’acov), Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Hod Hasharon, Mevasseret, Modi’in, Tel Aviv, and the big daddy of them all known as Janglo, short for Jerusalem Anglos.

Janglo was Zev Stub’s idea. “When I first left Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat to return to Jerusalem to work two years ago, I found myself being asked frequently whether I knew of anyone looking for an apartment, a stereo, a car, etc.,” says Stub, 26, who splits his time between being a dorm counselor at Machon Meir and as a business correspondent at The Jerusalem Post. “I felt like connecting people had become an obligation of mine to society. And then one day I thought, ‘why don’t I automate this?’ “

Begun two years ago, Stub’s virtual community in virtual reality – at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/janglo – has grown to nearly 1,900 subscribers, and that can generate a lot of emails – sometimes too much. Stub, together with his co-moderator Jeff Finger, checks every message in order to weed out unsuitable postings: political messages, repeat announcements, spammings, inspirational or religious materials, jokes, and ads that do not fall within the list’s rules and regulations, like one event/item per message.

“The weirdest one I ever rejected was for someone trying to sell a kidney,” says Stub, who also runs the list group in Tel Aviv called Taanglo. “I figured we wanted to stay as far away from that as possible. One of my favorite posts ever came from someone saying that he was moving to the shtachim [territories], and wanted to buy a donkey to have around. That’s my kind of guy!”

The most frequent messages – over 15,000 since it started June 18, 2001 – involve selling and buying appliances, cars, and cell phones. Jerusalem real estate rentals have their own site, Flathunting, the second-biggest list group.

“One post that helped me realize the potential of Janglo was about a year ago, when someone asked to trade three AA batteries he had for three AAA batteries,” Stub said. “I don’t know if he ever found a taker, but I remember thinking at the time that Janglo was the most liquid market in the world.”

As gatekeeper, Stub has to make a lot of snap calls on questionable postings, and there have been a couple that he approved knowing he would get into trouble. Like the one a few months ago about a religious group designed to help homosexuals heal their emotional scars and “straighten out” their urges. “The idea was interesting to me, the email fell within the Janglo guidelines, and I was feeling a little bit antagonistic that day, so I let it through,” he said. “Suffice it to say that I spent the next week defending my decision to post it.”

Stub and Finger each spend an hour a day sifting through anywhere from 40 to 80 messages, depending on the season, which are then sent as individual emails or as one combined email. Subscribers come from a cross section of the varied Anglo community – religious and secular, young and old, computer whiz kids and plenty of grandparents who can’t figure out how to send messages. Sometimes people unsubscribe because they feel overloaded with messages, says Stub, but then there are those who read every one carefully.

“I use it very frequently and I love it,” said Josh Weinstein, 27, who made aliya five years ago from Elizabeth, New Jersey. “I find that it makes life much easier. I would say that I post a message at least once a week and answer a message at least once a day.”

Janglo is clearly a way to help benefit from other people’s expertise, knowledge and experiences to solve all kinds of problems in a foreign culture. “There are questions that an Israeli couldn’t or wouldn’t answer that the good folks on Janglo can understand and answer very quickly,” said Weinstein.

But while it may help the new immigrant, critics argue that it also can become an artificial crutch.

“I’ve only used Janglo once, and generally do not go on and read the postings,” said David Ben-Tal, who moved to Israel in 1985 from Vermont and was looking for a disc jockey for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. “I find it useful for specific questions, especially like the DJ one – I definitely wanted someone with an American mentality, not an Israeli DJ, so the recommendations I received were coming from that same place. But I tend to avoid it for its ‘inbred’ Anglo ghetto mentality. I think some people tend to treat it as their lifeline in Israel.”

Janglo’s devotees, however, including veteran immigrants, see it only as a necessary aide to help navigate Israeli society.

“There is no way that olim can ever hope to achieve the level of ‘protektsia’ and the natural support system that native Israelis take for granted,” said Mindy, 48, who moved to Israel over 20 years ago from Brooklyn. “I think the idea behind Janglo was just that – to attempt to level the playing field somewhat. Even after so long in Israel I find it more comfortable to deal with English on the computer. Certainly for newcomers, who are often totally at a loss when trying to deal with even the basics – like where can you buy Dr. Pepper – any extra help in their native tongue that they can get is only a blessing.”

It is the help itself that is probably the most remarkable component of all these list groups – virtual strangers taking the time to respond, with some queries receiving upwards of 40 replies. Why does everyone bother?

“Janglo has confirmed for me something I suspected all along,” said Stub, who made aliya from Chicago three years ago. “Despite all of the social problems in Israel, all of the sinat chinam [needless hatred], the people of Jerusalem, and all of Israel, are very friendly and love to help. Often, when someone asks for volunteers for a bone marrow drive, or advice about aliya issues, or help to bring a friend to Israel, they get dozens of responses. Sure, most of the posts are ‘for sale’ notices and the like, but Janglo is a very giving community. I think it shows a side of Israel that we can be proud of, the way it is supposed to be here.”


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