Shalom! Are you planning to visit Israel anytime soon? Well, here are some of the important things to assist you while experiencing the beauty of Israeli culture.Yalla!
Israel is a truly unique melting pot of cultures. Though the country is deeply rooted in the Jewish religion, it has a dynamic, creative, and diverse culture mixed from Eastern and Western influences.
Israelis believe that excessive use of polite words displays a lack of closeness to the other person. Moreover, Hebrew language is characterized by its brevity and commanding nature, so do not let the lack of politeness give you the wrong impression! On the other hand, Arabs are physically affectionate people, though men and women are often separated socially, and there is less physical contact between the opposite sex. To sum up, Israelis are hospitable and affectionate people, particularly the mizrahim (Jews of Arab or North African descent).
To learn more, let us identify the do’s and don’ts you should follow before stepping into the Holy Land:
Do’s in Israel
1. Check whether or not your country belongs to the list of states which do not require a visa for an Israel entry.
Israel has visa exemption agreements with many countries for visits of up to 90 days, if the purpose of travel is for tourism. Those countries which are not included in the visa exemption have to apply for a visa in order to enter Israel.
3. Keep your entry card with your passport until you leave.
Visitors entering via Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport are given an entry card instead of an entry stamp in their passport. You should keep your entry card with your passport until you leave because this is the evidence of your legal entry to Israel.
4. Be sensitive about religion.
Israel holds a place of great importance for three of the world’s major religious groups. The modern Jewish state is not only the “Promised Land” for Jews, but the only country in the world where they form a majority of the population. For Christians, Israel is the “Holy Land,” because it is the place where Jesus’ life and death unfolded. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the place where Prophet Muhammad SAW ascended to heaven.
5. Be considerate about the topic of headwear.
In accordance with Jewish customs, many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox men wear a skullcap (kippah or yarmulke) or a hat of some type. Some Jewish women may also wear a hat, beret, snood, scarf or wig to cover their hair. Thus, it is often inappropriate to ask someone who identifies as Jewish to take off their hat when visiting someone’s home.
6. Visit the historical sites and museums.
Israel is filled with impressive, important, and inspiring historical sites which are special for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The country also offers some of the most impressive museums, from modern and contemporary art to important historical events.
7. Be sensitive about food.
The food laws in Judaism are known as kashrut, and adherence to this show obedience and self-control. Meanwhile, Muslim families and restaurants observe Islamic dietary rules which categorize foods as either allowed (halal) or forbidden (haram). Thus, it is important to be sensitive about the food that you are planning to serve in a luncheon or dinner.
8. Respect the Shabbat day.
Orthodox Jewish areas of Israel closely observe Shabbat, which begins at sunset Friday and continues until sunset Saturday. This time is considered to be a day of rest, and as a result, driving and using electricity and digital devices are usually restricted.
9. Learn the local language.
Building a good relationship with the locals is a good way of learning more about the country’s culture. You can start by greeting the local people with Shalom, instead of saying hello. Through this, you can connect to the local people easier and faster.
10. Follow an appropriate dress code.
Israel has many holy places that need to be regarded with utmost respect and solemnity. Wearing proper attire must be observed strictly. You should dress modestly in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.
11. Be sensitive about ancestral history.
Sensitivity and respect should be expressed if your Israeli counterpart discusses their family’s ancestral history, especially regarding the Holocaust.
12. Be sensitive when using the term Palestine.
Some Israelis may avoid using the word Palestine and may avoid referring to those who identify as Palestinian. More often, the term Arab will be used instead, such as Arab-Israeli conflict rather than Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
13. Build personal connections and relationships if you plan to engage in business.
Israeli business often centers around building strong business networks. This is known as ‘proteczia’, which refers to the idea of knowing someone who can connect you to other important and relevant people.
14. Be flexible with your time.
Israelis are quite flexible when it comes to business times. It is common for some people to arrive at a meeting 15 to 20 minutes after the designated time, especially if they are in upper management. However, it is advised to aim for punctuality and inform your Israeli counterpart if you are running late.
15. Use formal titles when meeting a business associate.
When meeting a business partner for the first time, it is considered polite to use formal titles. Though people move on to a first-name basis pretty quickly, it is important that you allow your Israeli counterpart to invite you to refer to them by their first name.
Don’ts in Israel
1. Smoking on Saturdays.
It is a general knowledge that smoking is bad for one’s health. However, some Israelis, who observe the Shabbat day (Saturday) do not smoke on that day. Althouhg it is not a government law, if you visit or meet religious people on a Saturday or a high holiday, be aware and respect their custome.
2. Do not put your feet up on things.
When on a bus or in a taxi, try not to put your feet up on any part of the car or the seat. Israelis can be quite particular about this, so you will want to make sure that you respect their space.
3. Do not greet people with kisses on cheeks.
In Israel, the setting is a bit more formal, so when you meet people, a simple handshake will do.
4. Do not eat, drink, or smoke in public places during the month of Ramadhan when visiting an Arab town or village.
During the holy month of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. As a courtesy, you should avoid doing these in public places in the Palestinian Territories during Ramadan.
5. Do not be surprised with dishes that do not contain meat and dairy mixed together.
Some of Israel’s cuisine does not contain dishes with both meat and dairy mixed together, because Jewish cuisine ordains for the separation of meat and dairy in the same meal. However, this applies to Kosher places. In non Kosher restaurants and nonreligious people you can find any food combination.
6. Do not give gifts until you know more about the person you are giving it to.
For Orthodox Jews and Arabs, gifts must not violate the restrictions of their belief systems. For instance, do not give an Arab with a bottle of wine. Also, avoid giving and receiving objects with your left hand if your counterpart is a Muslim. Use your right hand or both hands instead.
7. Do not touch an orthodox person of the opposite sex.
Orthodox Jews also make sure to keep a safe distance with a member of the opposite sex, so do not be surprised if they ask to move seats on a plane or a bus to avoid accidental touch.
8. Do not keep walking when the Memorial Day siren is heard.
There are two days of the year when the whole State of Israel stops, and stands still for one minute. This is on Yom Hazkiaron (Memorial Day) for The Fallen Soldiers of Israel, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, both held around the spring.
A siren is heard throughout the country, once in the evening and once in the morning, and each and every person in Israel stops whatever they are doing. It is considered very disrespectful to ignore the siren and remain active.
9. Do not drive on Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur or Hebrew for Day of Atonement is one of the holiest days in the Jewish religion. Jewish people traditionally observe it with an approximate 25-hour long fast, as a way of showing regret for any bad deeds they have committed during the year. Thus, no one drives on that day, and the streets are vacant.
10. Do not hitchhike.
Hitchhiking is not common in Israel, but it is not also considered illegal. However, Israelis are very cautious when it comes to safety, and it is best to avoid the possibility of a dangerous situation, such as hopping into a car with a stranger.
11. Do not schedule meetings between September and October.
Many Jewish holidays fall between September and October, so it may be best to avoid scheduling meetings during this time.
12. Do not be surprised with physical contact of the same sex.
Israelis may lightly touch or tap their counterpart while speaking. Contact between men is quite common as a sign of friendship and affection. Israelis also tend to communicate in an expressive manner, accompanied with many hand gestures.
13. Do not back away from someone while they are speaking.
Israelis usually stand less than an arm’s distance from one another while talking. It can be considered rude to back away from someone while they are speaking. Among religiously observant men and women however, it is more common to stand farther apart.
14. Do not be intimidated or offended when communicating with an Israeli.
Israelis often communicate in a straightforward, direct and informal manner. This may be because of the grammatical structure of Hebrew, which is quite a direct language. Thus, do not to interpret an Israeli’s directness as ill-intended or rude.
15. Do not be alarmed to see armed soldiers everywhere
Army service is mandatory in Israel, so each and every 18-year-old boy or girl will be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces. It may be shocking at first to see armed soldiers walking down the street, but bear in mind that this is completely normal in Israel and those weapons are only there for defensive purposes.
16. Do not expect for a light Israeli breakfast platter.
The Israeli breakfast platter is usually heavy in order to ensure that you remain full until the afternoon. The good thing is it is healthy, nutritious, and delicious.
17. Do not forget to leave a tip.
Tipping is very common in Israel. It is customary to leave no less than 10%. If you were happy with the service, leave around 15%. In most places, you may also ask for the tip to be included in your card payment.