Israel: American weatherman's Hebrew accent speaks to immigrants

In Israel, popular weatherman Robert Olinsky – an American immigrant from New Jersey – had an accent that put him at odds with Hebrew purists.

Daniel estrin
Robert Orlinsky left Trenton, N.J., for Israel in 1970. He brought his accent.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

PETAH TIKVAH, ISRAEL – Skies were clear on the September morning when one of Israel’s most popular meteorologists, Robert Olinsky, delivered his final forecast on national radio before retiring from his 39-year career on the air.

What was even clearer: Mr. Olinsky’s round American “R’s” piercing his speech. It’s the way this former US Air Force weather forecaster has spoken Hebrew since he moved from Trenton, N.J., to Israel in 1970.

“I can’t stand my accent,” says Olinsky, with a shrug and wide grin, as he sits in his home near Israel’s meteorological headquarters.

But his signature speech pattern set him apart from other radio personalities, and Israelis got a kick out of listening to him. It wasn’t just his funny Hebrew that made his forecasts memorable, but also his folksy style.

“In Israel, weather is almost the same one day after another,” said Avi Etgar, an anchor on Israel Radio. “He managed to make a weather forecast into something you wanted to listen to.”

Olinsky was an anomaly on Israeli airwaves. When the country was established in 1948, Israel Radio required anchors to speak with impeccable accents and diction, to help immigrants learn Hebrew. It almost cost Olinsky his job: In the ’70s, a radio representative wanted him and his Jersey inflections off the air.

But a government spokesman who oversaw the weather service defended Olinsky, arguing that his accent represented what Israel is: a nation of immigrants. Olinsky remained on the airwaves, and indeed, in the past 15 years, Israeli radio and television has become more inclusive, hiring reporters with Russian- and Arabic-inflected Hebrew.

“Today there is a trend to make the language of the broadcast closer to the language of the public,” said Ruth Almagor-Ramon, language adviser for the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

But 40 years ago, the government spokesman had to assure radio staff that the American weatherman’s accent would improve. Nearly four decades later, Olinsky chuckles: “His forecast was wrong.”

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