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Social Networking Online, in Hebrew

Finding Israeli friends on Facebook is about to get easier. The social networking Web site soon will allow users to search for each other in Hebrew — good news when you’re not sure whether to transliterate a friend’s name in the Roman alphabet as Roni or Rony, or as Avichai, Avihai or Avihay.

Although the Web site has already taken off in the Holy Land — doubling in Israeli membership to 152,000 between October and November 2007 alone — up till now, users have had to search for each other and navigate the site using the mother tongue of Mark Zuckerberg, the site’s American founder. That’s about to change, however, with a statement on the Facebook site announcing that the network will “Soon… be supporting translation” for “right-to-left” languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi and Yiddish.

While Israeli users haven’t been able to create purely Hebrew-language profiles so far — biographical details including name, birthday and romantic status still must be filled out in English — Hebrew is already an established presence on the Web site, with members able to comment on photos and to create, using Hebrew characters, invitations and groups. Last month, Israel’s New York Consulate “hosted” a Hebrew-titled solidarity online “event,” in which users switched their normal profile photos with an image of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive for the past two years by Hamas.

Other less politically minded Facebook groups with Hebrew names include the “It’s Forbidden To Turn Off the Air Conditioner During a Lesson” student society and the “I Also Grew Up in Petah Tikva :)” club.

Currently, full Facebook profiles can be completed in 15 languages other than English. Spanish was the site’s first new language, activated in January, and since then Facebook has added new languages at a rate of about three per month.

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