Everything You Need to Know About Israeli Culture

Whether you’re interested in traveling to Israel for a short or long period of time, whether you plan to study or work, and whether or not you have family connections or friends, you’ll get the most out of your journey if you start it off with some background knowledge of Israel’s culture, land, and people. Israel has a lot to offer, so we’ve condensed some of our favorite bits of information about Israeli culture to get you excited and ready. 

10 Things You Need to Know About Israeli Culture:

1. Food is Typically Middle Eastern & Kosher

We know you’re familiar with hummus (or at least, we hope you are), the chickpea and tahini dip which is so much more than the sum of its parts, but Middle Eastern and Israeli cuisine offers so much more.

Brunch is popular, and shakshuka — a tomato-ey poached egg dish served in a skillet — is a classic. Baklava — flakey pastry layered with nuts and soaked with honey — is also an absolute must if you have a penchant for sweets at all.

israeli culture- the breakfast

2. Israel is Not Inexpensive

Budget accordingly! Israel is not known as the most wallet-friendly destination in general, and right now the official currency of Israel (the shekel) is strong against both the U.S. dollar and the Euro.

Luckily, haggling is not only expected in Israeli culture, but encouraged, so if you visit any of the many famous outdoor markets (better known as a shuk), you should be able to save yourself a few shekels here and there. Still, though, it’s best to be aware that prices will not be cheap and there is a culture of expected tipping.

3. Shabbat is Honored

From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, many businesses shut down to observe Shabbat. This can include restaurants, public transportation, and shops, and, yes, offices. You know what that means – the weekend starts Thursday night! 

Keep in mind: Jewish religious holidays are also widely celebrated in the same way. 

4. The Dress Can Be Conservative

We’re obviously not talking about Tel Aviv, but when you’re in Israel you’ll most likely also want to explore some of the historically rich religious areas of the country.

In these areas (the old city of Jerusalem, for example), no matter your gender, you’ll want to wear modest, full-coverage clothing in order to signify your respect for the solemnity of the experience.

5. Safety & Security is Taken Seriously

Military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens and, as such, there’s a noticeable military presence. Foreigners who are unused to this can feel a bit wary at first, as military personnel are armed, but seeing as Israel has an extremely low crime rate, you have no need to worry.

You can definitely expect to be questioned extensively at the airport, though, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time on travel days. Questions might seem very stern also because the Israeli culture is very straightforward, which leads us to our next point. 

6. People Are Straightforward

Depending on what your home culture is like, Israelis can come across a bit blunt in their language. We promise, they’re not being rude (usually), it’s just that the niceties built into a lot of other cultures are simply not part of the Israeli culture or mannerisms. 

For an Israeli, being excessively polite can even come across as disingenuous, so don’t mistake the lack of pleasantries for a lack of pleasantness! Israel is actually likely to be one of the homiest places you’ll ever visit.

7. The Official Language is Hebrew

There are a number of commonly used languages in Israel. While Hebrew is the official language, there are also many Arabic and Russian speakers across the country. The Israeli culture is generally very accommodating and most people also speak English, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting around or communicating. 

8. Public Transport is Great

Transportation can be one of the most difficult aspects of life to navigate when you’re in a new place, so it should come as a relief to know that public transport in Israel is largely reliable and on time.

There are trains and buses as well as private taxis. Gett Taxi is the app most commonly used to order a taxi from your phone, and monit sherut (shared taxis) are popular. The Tel-O-Fun, a bike-share system, is also convenient.

transportation in israel

9. Smoking Inside is Pretty Normal

This will be a culture shock for most travelers and immigrants. Throughout the UK, smoking is permissible mostly in designated outside areas only, and in the United States, smoking tends to be prohibited anywhere near where people are eating.

In contrast, smoking is still widely allowed inside bars in Israel, though stricter policies were instated in 2019. It’s still a somewhat recent change, so be conscious that you’re entering a relatively smoke-friendly atmosphere.

10. Summers can get very, very hot 

Like, desert hot. If you’re not planning to live there for a year or more, it might be worthwhile to consider planning your time in Israel during the winter months (November through March), although summer does have plenty to offer. 

Most areas of the world would consider even winter temperatures in Israel mild, though it can also be rainy. Summers are hot and often humid, with lots of direct sunlight. However, if you’re mainly interested in the beaches in Tel Aviv, summer might be the perfect time for you.

These are only a few quick facts about Israeli culture to help you prep for what will be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of your life. Visit us at Masa Israel Journey, where we can help you make this adventure exactly what you want it to be.

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