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I went on two separate 2-week trips to Israel when I was in my University years. My first trip to Israel was my very first trip overseas and it’s what got me started with traveling the world.
In this Israel Guide, you’ll hear about my experiences and get tips & recommendations for culture, food, nightlife, attractions, things to do and more.
Israel is my homeland.
Growing up in a Jewish household all my life, I always dreamed of visiting Israel. When I was younger, I learned a lot about the history of Jewish people, the independence of Israel as a nation, and I was even able to speak Hebrew.
Being Jewish is always something that I have taken a lot of pride in, and I finally had the opportunity to visit Israel when I was 18 on a subsidized program called Birthright. I enjoyed that trip so much that I even went back to Israel for a second visit just 4 months after birthright.
So, what’s it like to go to Israel?
I’m sure that you’ve heard in the news a million times about Israeli conflicts with their Middle Eastern neighbors. And it’s all true – Israel is hated on my many people in the world.
But, I have honestly never felt a safer environment than when I was in Israel. There are armed Israeli soldiers walking around everywhere, making me fell very protected at all times.
Israel is a magnificent country with a lot to offer. You can hang out on the Mediterranean beach, get lost in the Negev desert, float on the Dead Sea and go up north to the Golan heights.
Alright, before diving into the fun stuff, here are some quick facts about Israel:
– Currency: Israeli New Shekel (ILS)
– Language: Hebrew
– Population: 8 million in the entire country
– Israel gained independence in 1948
– Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world
– Israel is the 100th smallest country in the world with less than 1/1000 of the world’s population.
– Israel has the largest number of start-ups per capita
– Israel is ranked #2 for venture capital funding in the world
– Israel has the highest standard of living in the Middle Eas
– Israel has the largest fleet of aircrafts outside of the U.S.
– Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world
– Tel Aviv is the second-largest economy in the Middle East, after Dubai
– Israel’s financial/business center is Tel Aviv, whereas the historical/most populated city is Jerusalem
– The $100 billion economy is larger than all of it’s neighbors COMBINED
– The cell phone, voice mail technology, and most of Windows NT operating systems were developed in Israel.
I think you get the point. Israel is a tiny country, but has dominating power in the world when it comes to technology and economic growth.
Culture & People
If you are Jewish, friends with a Jew, frequently watch Seinfeld, or you’ve been to Israel before, then this section might be old news for you. However, I feel that it’s necessary to share some things about Jewish culture and religion so everyone can be on the same page.
Every Friday night in the Jewish religion, people celebrate Shabbat. Shabbat is a day of rest, where religious Jews remember the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth. It occurs just before sunset on Friday night, and goes until you can see 3 stars in the sky on Saturday night.
Most Jews celebrate Shabbat by lighting candles, reciting a blessing, and eating two loaves of Challah (braided bread). During Shabbat, nobody works (at their job) and they usually stay home with family or go to the synagogue to pray.
Therefore, nearly everything in Israel shuts down just before sunset on Fridays and re-opens on Saturday evenings. As a result of Shabbat, the weekend in Israel is also a day shorter (just Friday-Saturday). On Sundays, schools reopen and people go to work to begin the workweek (the same way we do on Mondays). It is sort of strange if you’ve never been there before, but it’s just how society operates in Israel.
Israeli people are approachable and friendly. They are outgoing as well — always having fun and are especially friendly to foreigners. Jewish culture will take you in with open arms. If you are ever invited into someone’s house, make sure to bring your appetite because they will feed you until you can’t walk anymore. Jews will talk, argue, and negotiate until they get what they want. They aren’t shy in the slightest, and will always show their emotions.
I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new local Israeli friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Hebrew Words to keep in your back pocket 😉
What to Do?
Despite being about the size of New Jersey, Israel is a unique country because it has so many things to do. Beautiful beaches, deserts, mountains, forests, parks, historic landmarks, wildlife, and tons more.
The beaches in Tel Aviv are trendy and popular. Year round, it is loaded with people (both locals and tourists) with lots of activity happening. The boardwalk area running along the coast is a great spot to post up, people watch and take in the Israeli sunshine.
Take a trip down south to the Negev Desert, which accounts for over half of the total land area of Israel. There are several natural reserves that boast dunes and beautiful rock formations, along with a strong variety of wildlife.
You must hike Masada– a historic and famous mountain along the Dead Sea. Tradition says to wake up extra early and climb up before the sun rises, which was one of the best moments of my life. This unique experience of Jewish heroism gives me the chills every time I think about it.
Bathe in the Dead Sea!
The Dead Sea is the lowest place (by elevation) on planet earth and the world’s saltiest body of water. It is 10 times saltier than the ocean. When you are swimming in the Dead Sea, it is impossible to sink. Literally impossible. When you try to touch the bottom, you will bounce back up like a trampoline. I’ve been there twice and it is a really great experience. The salt is also really good for your skin, but beware if you have any cuts or scrapes, because it will BURN if it gets inside. I got the water in my eye and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. In the distance over the Dead Sea, you can see the mountaintops which belong to the country of Jordan .
See the Western Wall.
Also known as the Kotel in Hebrew, the Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard that was founded in 19 BCE. The Kotel is the most sacred site in Judaism, and one of the most religious sites in the world. It is located in the heart of the Old City in Jerusalem. When you go, you’ll see hundreds of religious Jews bowing and praying during all times of the day. The wall is separated into male and female sections. You can write a message on a piece of paper and stick it into the wall for your wishes.
For more things to do — check out my post on 10 Things to do in Tel Aviv.
If there is one thing to remember about Israeli culture, it is Their LOVE for Food. In my opinion, Israeli food is the best Mediterranean cuisine in the world.
Keep in mind that pretty much everything in Israel is Kosher– foods that follow the regulations of Jewish dietary law. Some common Kosher foods include pita, hummus, falafel, shawarma, couscous, cucumber and tomato salads, avocadoes, olive oil, etc. There is also a large variety of eggplant and dips for pita bread.
Fish is always readily available, given Israel’s close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. The most common fish are trout, halibut and gefilte fish. While you are in Tel Aviv, I recommend eating at any of the street vendors/street markets, because they have all the good stuff and it is so cheap!
If you want to learn about the other delicious local foods, then please read my post on 5 Israeli Foods to Try.
Tel Aviv is hands down the best city for partying and nightlife in Israel.
Sitting on the Mediterranean coast, Tel Aviv has the largest metropolitan area in Israel and is undoubtedly the most modern city in the country. It is an economic hub with many corporate offices, research centers and most of all – a thriving nightlife!
From its cute little hipster bars, to the lively all-night clubs, Tel Aviv is where the party is happening 24 hours a day. Over 3 million international tourists flock to Tel Aviv every year to experience the fun Israeli lifestyle. Tel Aviv has many huge dance clubs, where you’ll frequently find big name international DJ’s. It honestly felt like I was partying in a European city when I was there.
If you are not much of a clubber, then you can have an awesome night bar hopping and enjoying the scene. When the night is over, take a stroll down the coast and relax on the peaceful beach during sunrise.
The scene in Tel Aviv is on the rise and getting more popular by each year among young partiers. Cheap flights can be purchased from many big European cities, so check it out and maybe you can join the fun!
It’s impossible to have a bad time in Israel. I am looking forward to going back the second I get the next opportunity.
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