The fact that Pilgrims and Puritans emigrated from England to the United States in the 1620s and 1630s and brought with them their previous traditions of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving is not particularly relevant to the lives of most Israelis. Most Israelis, my children included, don’t even know what Pilgrims or Puritans are. That’s not to say that we can’t enjoy a tasty cranberry kugel on Thanksgiving Shabbos, but I usually make that anyway. Many American olim continue to celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel. In neighborhoods heavily populated with Americans, special orders can be placed for turkeys for those who want to celebrate the holiday with a proper Thanksgiving dinner. Volunteers organize a big Thanksgiving dinner for lone soldiers and lone b’not sherut (girls who do national service), who leave their families that live abroad and come to Israel on their own to serve the country. But other than that, Thanksgiving pretty much passes with little fanfare. No marching bands, performers, giant balloons, or elaborate floats can be seen parading down Rechov Yaffo or Dizengoff.
But then comes Black Friday. For weeks I’ve been inundated with messages telling me about the oodles of money I can save on Black Friday. An Israeli version of Black Friday, called ShoppingIL (Shopping Israel), took place earlier in the month, in which approximately 2,800 local businesses participated in a Black Friday once-a-year shopping celebration that promotes online trade in Israel, encouraging consumers to buy from local stores rather than ordering from abroad. In addition to the Israeli version, it seems that many stores and businesses in Israel celebrate Black Friday along with the US, even though they cannot pronounce it correctly. In Israel, we call it “Bleck Frrriday”, with a rolling guttural R sound. Proprietors advertise in-store and online jaw-dropping prices while they themselves have no clue as to why they are running sales at this time. I actually asked a few workers at the mall what Black Friday is. They answered with confidence and a smile that it is a time of big sales. When I asked why there are special sales on Black Friday, they were silent. They tried to think of a reason but were surprised themselves that they had absolutely no idea and had never even thought about it. One guy guessed that some terrible catastrophe had happened on a Friday, causing it to be a black day. As a result, stores began to run big sales so that their customers would buy things and then they wouldn’t be so sad about the terrible thing that had happened. He was very relieved when I told him that nothing horrible happened. Honestly, I believe that even most Americans are not aware of the true origin of Black Friday.
The term Black Friday was first used in 1869, having nothing to do with shopping. At the time, two financiers bought as much gold as they possibly could in order to send the price of gold through the roof. On Friday, September 24, President Ulysses S. Grant intervened and their malicious plan fell apart, causing the stock market to crash and sending thousands of Americans into bankruptcy. A black day indeed.
In the 1950s, the term “Black Friday” was used again by the police force of the city of Philadelphia, referring to the day after Thanksgiving when tourists and shoppers would flock to the city before the Army-Navy football game, which when held, traditionally took place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The police officers were forced to work extra-long and hard shifts to deal with the crowds. Shoplifting was prevalent due to the chaos, making their jobs even more difficult.
In the late 1980s, the term “Black Friday” was used once again in reference to the boost in sales that typically takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, when people often begin their holiday shopping. This sudden shift would cause businesses that were “in the red” to suddenly move over to “the black.” Although Israelis often shop for Chanukah gifts this same time of year, the particular date of “Black Friday” is of no significance to them. Yet, they are always happy to take advantage of a sale. Last year, data from credit card processor Automated Bank Services showed that between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., Israelis spent approximately $220 million. Not bad.
Besides running Bleck Frrriday sales, Israel “borrows” other things from the United States, specifically words from the English language. Walk through a mall and you’ll see that many stores have English names with English signs, even in neighborhoods that have few Americans or tourists anywhere in the area. I’ve participated in training programs that discussed “deelemote (definition: plural of dilemma)” and “conflictim (definition: plural of conflicts).” These “borrowed” words are pronounced with an Israeli accent, even when being articulated by fluent English speakers. They will talk about how things sometimes get to be “tooow moch (definition: too much).” This works well for people like my daughter-in-law, who says that it’s sometimes hard for her to understand my family’s conversations since we speak English with an American accent. However, she can easily understand English when it is spoken with an Israeli accent.
Israelis, at times, take English words and accidentally use them incorrectly. In the accompanying photo, a sign can be seen that was meant to warn pedestrians about “borot,” meaning “pits” in the road, which can be dangerous if they go unnoticed. But the sign warns of ignorance, “borut” in Hebrew, which is spelled the same way as “borot” (pits), only with different vowels! Yup, you’ve got to watch out for all that ignorance on the road!
Israelis indeed are great admirers of things American and the English language. This way of thinking stems from Israel’s humble beginnings, when indeed anything from America was considered bigger and better. Thank G-d, Israel has come a very long way, and we have a wonderful holy language as well as many blue-and-white products that we can and should be proud of. Maybe from now on, we should celebrate Blue-and-White Day! And not just on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but every day!