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Need to Know about Israel **

Temple_Mount_Western_Wall_on_Shabbat_ Photo: David Shankbone

IsraelandYou highly recommends that you review what you need to know about Israel. This is true if you come in a group, a family, a couple, or alone. If you do your homework you will be able to enjoy you visit much more.

Need To Know About Israel – Currency

Among the ABC’s of Visiting Israel, the local currency is one of the most important. Surprisingly enough, the Israeli New Shekel is one of the strongest currencies in the world, but that is another story. One NIS is equal to about 29 cents in US dollars. Divide any price you see by 3.44 to see how much something really costs in the US. Israel is a little more expensive than you probably thought! Credit cards can be widely used.

Dead_Sea Photo: David Shankbone
Photo: David Shankbone

Dead Sea – The Lowest Point On Earth

For beaches, it’s Red, Med or Dead:– The Dead Sea on the border of Israel and Jordan is the lowest point on earth. This is a a very popular destination. You must take a selfie floating in the Dead Sea. Before entering the salt lake, you’ll want to refrain from shaving or waxing your body for at least 2 to 3 days prior. Why? Because the salt content of the lake will wreak havoc on the sensitive areas of your skin and leave you with a burning, tingling feeling. While you are at the Dead Sea, visit Masada, but don’t take the Snake Path up to the top of Masada in summer without plenty of water.

Need To Know About Dress

If you are planning to visit religious spots such as Jerusalem or orthodox neighborhoods, you will need to be dressed appropriately. In religious sites both women and men should dress respectfully. Women should make an effort to be covered up (blouse with sleeves and long pants or skirt). Men at Jewish religious sites need to wear a kippa (skull cap).

In winter pack an umbrella and a light water-proof jacket or light coat. You’ll need a sweater, sweatshirt, fleece, closed shoes, long pants and long-sleeved T-shirts. If you plan on spending time in Jerusalem, Safed, Bethlehem, the Golan Heights or on Mount Hermon you might even encounter snow.

Need To Know About Drugs

Drugs are officially forbidden by law.

English – Israel Speaks English

Hebrew & Arabic are the official languages of Israel. Let’s say about 85% of Israelis speak English. Learn to say “Ata medaber Anglit?” – Do you speak English?

The Ministry of Tourism gives scholarships to tour guides who learn Italian, Indonesian, Amharic, Bulgarian, German, Georgian, Danish, Dutch, Hungarian, Hindi, Greek, Japanese, Norwegian, Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Finnish, Czech, Korean, Romanian, Swedish and Thai.

Expensive  – Israel Is Not Cheap

Hotels and restaurants in Israel are very expensive. Groceries are not cheap either. You cannot get by on $10 a day. This is may be one of the most important things to know before you travel to Israel. You can cut expenses by eating street food, like falafel, sabich, and hummus outside, which is a great option. Don’t believe that the only thing to eat in Israel is hummus and falafel. There are plenty of fine restaurants. Stay at a hotel where breakfast is included in the price. On the other hand, the prices for attractions (like visiting national parks) and transportation are reasonable.

There are many ways that you can cut down on expenses such as – purchasing food from local markets, staying at a hotel where breakfast is included, finding a hotel that is centrally located and going for shared taxis or shuttles.

Falafel_balls Photo: yummyporky
Photo: yummyporky

Need To Know About Food – What To Eat In Israel

Israel is the capital of hummus. You can order a plate of hummus and tahini either as a starter or as a main dish. Many restaurants spread out 9 or more small plates on the table where you dip your pita bread in all of them. There is no shortage of kosher eateries in Israel. Most restaurants offer ‘kosher’ food. That means they don’t mix dairy with meat and no pork on the menu. You will not find a hamburger on Yom Kippur or a pizza at Passover.

Top 5 Traditional Foods To Eat In israel – Traditional Foods In israel: falafel,  chala, shakshouka, sabich, and moussaka. [Israel and You is not responsible for the incorrect pronunciations and spelling of the food names.]

Be sure to try falafel in a pita full of salad and tahini sauce, “wipe a plate of hummus, haloumi cheese, shawarma (kebab), baklava and mint tea. Yes, bagels are a great Jewish snack, just like in NYC. Don’t be ashamed to share your meal – Israels do it. Also keep in mind in Israel, it’s customary to enjoy a really heavy breakfast. Coffee can mean both “ness” (miracle) coffee with milk, or Turkish “mud” coffee. Israel has the most vegans per capita in the world and the trend is growing rapidly.

Need To Know About Haggling

Haggling is expected in the all the street bazaars and markets like the Flea Market in Jaffa or in the Old City of Jerusalem. Most sellers expect shoppers to bargain with them, especially tourists from Western countries. Do not settle for the first price offered for anything.

Hebrew – Basic Hebrew – Key Words in Hebrew

  • shalom (greeting, hello, goodbye)
  • todah (thank you)
  • slicha (sorry; excuse me)
  • Be te’avon (enjoy your meal
  • Bevakashah (please)
  • Ken (yes)
  • lo (no)
  • English? – Anglit?

Shalom (peace) is a useful word. It means both Hello and Goodbye. Where ever I travel I always try to learn these words which earn you a smile from a local. In this case: Please – Bevakashah and Thank you – Toda. Ask people if they speak your language: English? – Anglit? Perhaps the most important word in the age of #me too is No – Lo.

Need To Know About Holidays

The Jewish calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar so check before you purchase your flight tickets. In general, the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth are in September or October. Hanukkah is around Christmas, and Pesach is around March or April.

Need To Know About Immigration – Israel No Longer Stamps Your Passport

For most western countries citizens, no visa is required. You only need your passport which must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you enter the country. You needn’t worry about outdated advice claiming to beware of a stamp showing you have been to Israel. Israeli immigration no longer stamps passports, so you can continue to many neighboring countries that do not recognize Israel.

Tourist visitors to the country no longer have to be concerned with receiving the troublesome Israeli passport stamp. (FYI – Due to tensions in the region, there are several Arab nations who do not allow visitors into their country if they have previously visited Israel). Instead, on arrival you will have your photograph taken and a barcode issued which is given to you, along with your personal information, on a small blue identity card.

Islam and Mosques

Don’t be surprised if the muezzin in the local mosque wakes you up at 05:30 in the morning.

Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount Photo: Andrew Shiva
Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount
Photo: Andrew Shiva

Jerusalem – What To Expect In Jerusalem – Tel Aviv Plays, Jerusalem Prays.

Don’t forget Jerusalem is is only an hour away from Tel Aviv. All the monotheistic religions choose this city to be holy. The Western Wall is the most holy place in the world for Jews, but the Temple Mount is more holy. Only a stone’s throw away most Christians visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Protestant Tomb of Jesus is just outside the Old City walls. Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, on the Temple Mount, is the third most holy place for Muslims. It is adjacent to the Western Wall. Jerusalem has important significance for Bible, Torah or Qur’an. They should not be missed. Don’t look for whales at the Wailing Wall.

Jerusalem Old City : 7 Things You Need to Know And The Best Things To Do. In this video hear about the history, reasons for the disputes and conflict, things to do, safety and the significance of Jerusalem to three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the important religious sites in and around the Old City.

Watch out for Jerusalem Syndrome. Jerusalem is important to so many people, that the prospect – and manifestation – of visiting can push some people over the edge. Jerusalem Syndrome is a well documented (albeit very rare) phenomenon where foreign visitors to the Holy City experience religious inspired delusions.

Need To Know About Locals – Meet The Locals

Feel free to ask questions and listen to what locals have to say. Israel is a melting pot! With so many immigrants from different cultures. Greetings can often involve hugs and kisses on the cheeks.  There is no better way to get to meet the real Israel than talking with them. Isn’t this what you came for? Israelis are naturally friendly. Israeli citizens are very proud of their culture and they usually enjoy talking to tourists. Generally, no topic is off-limits. Time is an ambiguous concept. Being 10 minutes late for a meeting is not only not rude, it is quite the norm.

Sabra is the Hebrew word for cactus fruit — prickly on the outside, sweet in the middle. It’s also how native-born Israelis proudly describe themselves.

Israelis speak very directly and often ask what may be perceived as impolite questions (about salaries or cost of living etc.). No offense is meant and there is also no shame in not answering these questions.

The Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem, Photo: Ester Inbar
The Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem,
Photo: Ester Inbar

Israel has a very big Arab community, both Muslin and Christian. The two major groups of Jewish people are of Ashkenazi descent, whose roots trace back to Eastern European countries, and of Sefaradi descent, usually from Arab countries.

Need To Know About Metric System – Israel Uses the Metric System

Dealing with the metric system can be confusing. Convert a Celsius temperature to Fahrenheit by doubling the Celsius figure, subtracting 10 percent and adding 32. You can also recall the rhyme “30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cold and 0 is ice.” One kilogram equals 2.2 lbs. When estimating speed, miles per hours equals 2/3 of kilometers per hour. For example 100 kph equals 60 mpg. Of course don’t forget your electrical addapters.

Need To Know About Safety

Safety is an important issue when visiting Israel. Just because Israel is a surrounded by places of conflict, it does not mean that Israel is not safe. Israel is for the most part safe to visit. Feel free to walk around on the streets at night and during the day. In Palestinian territories cities such as Jericho and Bethlehem not to be missed. On the Golan Heights don’t leave paved roadways. Around the Dead Sea keep away of the sinkholes. Play it safe, just stick to the tourist areas where you know you’ll be safe.

Many nations consider Israel an overall safe place for travel, but some, like the United States and New Zealand, issue travel advisories for their citizens and generally deem the nation as containing some risk.

You may be feeling a little on edge about your Safety in Israel. However, life on the ground in Israel is on the whole safe and peaceful.

Need To Know About Security Checks

Israel takes its security seriously. The security at Ben Gurion is more intense than many other airports. If you are a tourist then you may be interviewed before they let you enter. This is understandable given the challenges the country faces today. Good advice – be sure to get to the airport at least 3 hours before your flight. Metal detectors can be found at every train station, mall or government building.  Frequently you may be asked to open your bags for a security check at a restaurant.

You are not allowed to enter Israel with the following passports: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Kuwait, and Pakistan.

Need To Know About Shabbat

It is important to know that from sunset Friday through to sunset on Saturday is Shabbat – the Holy day for Jews, when many businesses will close for the day of rest.

Sirens – Memorial Day Siren

If you happen to visit on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) or on Holocaust Remembrance Day, you’ll hear sirens ring throughout the country – once in the evening and again in the morning.

Small – Israel Is Small

The compactness of Israel always surprises many. Israel may rate huge world interest, but the State of Israel is actually pretty tiny – the size of Wales (if you come from England), or Hessen (if you come from Germany), or the size of New Jersey (if you come from the U.S). Yes this is a small country, but it is extremely rich in history and culture. Can you believe that one can  snowboard, surf, and take a hike in the desert – all on the same day! One can drive from Metula, the northernmost point, to Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel in less than six hours. This makes taking a day-trip or a 2 day-trip very easy. Believe it or not, you can snowboard, surf, and take a hike in the desert – all on the same day! That being said, you can’t see everything in Israel in one week.

Need To Know About Smoking

Israel restricts smoking in public places. Also refrain from lighting up on Shabbat

Need To Know About Soldiers – Armed Soldiers Are Everywhere

Israel is not a NRA state, but you can expect to see uniformed soldiers with assault rifles and peace-loving citizens with pistols everywhere. Don’t be scared if you see soldiers roaming the streets. Military service at the age of 18 is mandatory for both men and women in Israel. This is part of everyday life in Israel and you’ll soon get used to it. These soldiers can be seen eating in cafés and watching the waves on the beach.

Need To Know About Israel
Azrieli Sarona Tower, almost finished – December 2016
Photo:יוצר Maor X

Tel Aviv – What to Expect in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv, the commercial hub of Israel. Stay at a hotel located within the walkable center of Tel Aviv and near the beach. Remember the city center is only footsteps away from the Mediterranean. The average temperature in Tel Aviv in December is 19°C (66°F). During the day in Tel Aviv, just go to the beach or go to the shuk (market). Many beaches cater to a specific group of people: religious, gay, families and even a beach where dogs are running around freely. Tel Aviv has a liberal, modern lifestyle and everyone can dress as they please. In Tel Aviv, Shuk Hacarmel is one of the most popular destinations for locals and tourists. The best Israel travel tip is to see the Tel Aviv at night. The city’s beauty comes out at night with unlimited bars, clubs and top-class restaurants everywhere – all packed until dawn. Don’t forget Jerusalem is is only an hour away. This city is the gay capital of Israel. If you want to take a break from the energy that exists in Tel Aviv, an excursion to the Negev is just what the doctor ordered.

Curious about exploring Israel but not sure what to expect? This video shows you 10 things you need to know about Tel Aviv and Israel, so you can feel comfortable embracing the culture and food!

Need To Know About Tipping

In Israeli restaurants and cafés the waiters often don’t receive a salary. They solely rely on your tip. So it is customary to tip in restaurants and bars  about 10-15%. Outside of the food and tourism industry, tipping is not expected.

Need To Know About Transportation

Israel is not a camel-riding desert land. You don’t need a car when in the cities. When traveling to the desert, Golan Heights and Galilee, you might consider hiring a car. If you’re renting a car, Israeli drivers can be aggressive, so use caution. Speed limits are in kilometers per hour, and for all your navigation needs, make sure to download Waze! Known as ‘the start-up nation’, Israel is one of the world’s leaders in terms of high-tech ideas and inventions. There is an app for everything.

Monit sheruts (or shared taxis), are typically small yellow and white vans which can hold up to approximately 10 passengers.

The Israeli railway system has an app, Moovit is the go-to method for trip-planning via bus, Gett Taxi (but no Uber) is highly recommended for cab rides, and Tel-O-Fun (Tel Aviv’s city’s bikesharing rental system) has its own app as well.

Need To Know About Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel

Israel’s population varies from Orthodox Jews to completely non-religious atheists. If you notice an Orthodox Jew keeping some healthy distance between you if you’re of the opposite gender. It’s just their way of ensuring they avoid accidental contact.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel put religious studies over military duties. CNN’s Sara Sidner reports.

Weather – Best Season to Go 

Israel has a pleasant climate year-round which makes it a popular tourist destination for those looking to escape the winter months. Generally, Israel has two seasons – wet and dry – winter and summer. Winter during November-March is cool and rainy. In winter you can even find snow. Spring (Did I say only two seasons?) during Febuary-March means the country is green.  Summer during April-October is extremely hot and dry. Perhaps the best time to visit Israel, it would be March or April.


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