Oy Gevalt! Yiddish cell phone launches in Israel

By Reuters Staff
May 10, 2011

("Kosher" cellular phones, imported and distributed by Israeli Accel Telecom, are displayed at the company's offices in Tel Aviv May 2, 2011/Nir Elias)

Israel’s “kosher” cellular phone market has a new model, a device with a Yiddish interface to help devout Jews combine tradition with modern technology.

Hundreds of thousands of mobile phones, popularly dubbed kosher because they block access to services frowned upon by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, have been operating in the Jewish state for years. Last month, Israel’s second largest mobile provider, Partner introduced what it hailed as the world’s first Yiddish cell phone, manufactured by Alcatel-Lucent.

Marc Seelenfreund, CEO of Israeli Accel Telecom which imports and distributes mobile phones to all Israeli operators, had a special team of translators work for months to develop an interface entirely in Yiddish. The language, a mixture of medieval German and Hebrew, was spoken by millions of European Jews for centuries, but it is now used mostly by elderly Jews and in some Orthodox communities.

Yiddish words such as chutzpah, schmaltz or schlep, may have entered the English language, but Seelenfreund said ultra-Orthodox Jews would appreciate terms like “outgoing call,” “ringtone” and “vibrate” translated into Yiddish. He said the market for “kosher” phones was substantial, estimating there are up to 400,000 users in Israel and another 500,000 in the United States.

Read the full story by Maayan Lubell here.

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