It is important to recall that the Israeli phone company, Bezeq, operates a full English version of its online directoy, however Waksman's transliteration mechanism outperformed Bezeq's, and as his website relies on more resources – it is much more extensive.
How did it all start? Shaun Waksman was born in 1982 in Montreal, Canada, where one of the largest and strongest Jewish communities in North America is to be found. His grandfather had immigrated from Chelm (Poland) and was active in Montreal's Chelm Landsmanschaften organization (one of many such organizations that were active in Montreal). Waksman went to a Jewish school, like many of the Jewish children in Montreal, and after graduating from high-school he was awarded with a scholarship for 1 year of studies in The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "After I came to Israel," he tells, "I understood how much I love Israel, the university, and the Israelis." He decided to stay, got a BA in Computer Science, and an MBA, worked in a few high-tech company, and moved to live in the Tel Aviv area.
After arriving to Israel, Shaun's father had asked him to locate Israeli relatives ("he read their names from a wedding invitation found in my late grandfather's belongings"), and then Shaun realized the difficulty in finding Israeli phone numbers if you don't read/write Hebrew. The website is a private initiation, being taken care when he has time ("it's a hobby"), but he is serious about it. Waksman is also active within the genealogy scene and currently serves as the Webmaster for the Chelmer Organization of Israel.
How does it work? The website relies on online and free databases ("asking lawyers about it, I realized there's no problem with it"), and covers Israeli land-lines and mobiles country-wide; the site is being updated once so often. For me, the transliteration mechanism is the most interesting part of this site. "I've built a lexicon of names," Waksman tells, "with every name in Hebrew has multiple variations in English." This lexicon is based on both manual transliteration of the most common names, and an automatic Hebrew-to-English transliteration suggested in an article by Stephen Morse.
Advantages of the site (also to Israelis!). The two biggest advantages of searching this website are auto completion (while typing) of the city, and the fact that search results are not limited by their number. The latter is a great advantage even for Israelis, as Bezeq's online directory limits any results-list to 15 records.
In addition, names and addresses from this site's database are accessible to crawlers, hence Israeli people can be found even by a Google search. Indeed, Waksman tells that the site has many daily visits referred from Google. Another feature, tough less effective in its current form, allows to search by city only. In that case, the location of this city in Israel is clearly shown on a map, and if the city has enough records – a tag cloud will appear showing the most common names in that city; clicking a name will lead to the search results of that name in that city (the homepage presents a tag cloud of Israel's names). As for now, first names and surnames are being analyzed together with regards to the cloud, but that might be improved.
While discussing interesting comments he has got, Waksman tells that since Bezeq also supplies service to the Palestinian Authority, their numbers also appear in his database. Frequently, he gets thank you messages from relatives of Palestinians who live in the States – they thank him for being able to find their relatives in an English search.
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As we talk about our motives towards the genealogy research, Waksman says that "I've had many exciting discoveries and I've met with many relatives in Israel. I now understand that it's totally random that I was born in Canada and you were born in Israel. It could have been the other way around." So, for all of you who "randomly" happened to be born and raise without knowing Hebrew – you now have the option to easily find your Israeli relatives.