When I Was Anglo-Saxon

Nancy Friedman
4 min readSep 3, 2021
Edward the Confessor, an Anglo-Saxon king. Source: Bayeux Museum

I lived for a couple of years in Israel, when the country and I were both much younger. I studied Hebrew for five months with an international group of émigrés, refugees, and wayfarers, and then I took a series of office jobs in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. My spoken Hebrew was pretty good by then. My reading and writing were slightly better than adequate. I carried a teudat oleh: an immigrant certificate that entitled me to health insurance. I was a Jew in the so-called Jewish homeland— a non-observant ultra-Reform Jew, but Jewish enough to qualify for full citizenship if I chose it. What’s more, I had family ties. My father had been born in British Mandate Tel Aviv, his sister and brothers in Jerusalem. My father’s father had been brought to Turkish-ruled Palestine as a toddler. My father’s mother had been born in the ancient city of Hebron, in the Judean mountains. By the time of my own birth, they were all in Los Angeles (except my grandfather, who had died after he emigrated), but they still spoke Hebrew and a few words of Arabic.

I thought I had a reasonably solid claim to Israeli-ness. I imagined I might feel at home. But that was before I noticed that Israelis, native born or not, referred to me as an “Anglo-Saxon.”

It wasn’t just me. Anglo-Saxon — on Israeli tongues it sounds like AHN-glo SAHKS-ohn — was what Israelis back then called anyone whose native language was English. That included people whose English was barely intelligible to American me: Aussies from Perth, Brits from Manchester, South Africans from Cape Town. All of us spoke some form of English; ergo, we were Anglo-Saxons.

I can’t speak for those Aussies and Brits and South Africans, but to an American Jew, “Anglo-Saxon” was a little bit amusing and quite a bit unsettling. When I heard “Anglo-Saxon” I pictured sturdy yeomen scuffling with William the Conqueror at Hastings, or humorless Puritans on the Mayflower. I pictured Daughters of the American Revolution. I pictured men with “Jr.” and “III” after their names. I pictured people whose people had been speaking English for centuries, not mere decades.

In my worldview, Anglo-Saxons were Protestant, which I definitely was not. Their ancestors hadn’t lived in shtetls, or in the poorer neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. There were zero Angles or Saxons in my scrubby family tree; in fact, my…

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.