Our guide to Israeli culture and customs can be summed up with one word, and it’s not sababa. The word sabra is describes a person born in the Holy Land. Like the cactus that shares this name, Israelis are prickly on the outside, yet sweet on the inside. While traveling in the region, be ready to claim your space while standing in line (just kidding, lines don’t exist here!). You’ll also have to haggle down prices when shopping at the Carmel Market. But the minute you need help with anything, there will be more than one prickly sabra quick to expose their sweet interiors. Study our guide to Israeli culture and customs in order to truly appreciate the unique characteristics that help Israel blossom like a cactus fruit.
Israelis are well known for their blunt communication style, so don’t expect any sugar-coating to spare anyone’s feelings. At first glance, this can be misinterpreted as rudeness, but Israelis appreciate a direct approach and authenticity while communicating. Part of this is cultural and another part is due to the Hebrew language. It cuts out elaborate and unnecessary adjectives in order to get straight to the point. Life is too short to build up a façade. The more time you’re here in this bustling region, the more you’ll embrace the nu yalla(let’s go) lifestyle. Meet the locals at one of the stops on our best bars in Jerusalem guide, and see what it’s all about.
Israel is a melting pot of people from all over the world, and the culture reflects this. The diversity extends to more than just ashkenazi versus sephardic. Entire neighborhoods throughout the country are known for their large populations of inhabitants that speak a variety of first languages other than Hebrew, Arabic, and English. A great way to see the diversity is to head out on a tour of Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Jordan river. Or visit Petra, either on a day tour from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or on your own with our driving guide
Boundaries, what boundaries? Israeli culture doesn’t prioritize personal space or filters of any kind, and rules are subject to interpretation. Asking about someone’s income or rent amount is considered perfectly acceptable, and nothing is ever none of everyone’s business here. Pushing the prescribed boundaries of what is allowed with a variety of kombina methods has evolved into an Israeli artform. This is evident in the advancements in innovation and technology second to none in the region, if not the world.
Israeli culture is a charming blend of religious and secular. Public buses pause service during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. But you can still find the yellow monit sherut driving along the main streets each Friday and Saturday. Even the most adamant atheists are sure to spend Friday night dinners breaking bread with their families. And then they’ll be hauling home tupperware containers of Ima’s home cooking to get them through the next week. And don’t let them know you’re free next Friday unless you plan on heading to dinner with strangers!
But it’s not only Jews who rest of Shabbat. Many Arab-owned businesses stay open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv and around the country. The Muslim day of rest is Friday, and you’ll often see families barbecuing at the beaches and parks. And don’t think you’ll find a city where the call to prayer won’t be heard echoing through the air. One thing is for sure – no matter your religion or level of observance, Israel has a place for you.
It won’t take long before you discover the sweetness of the sabra culture while visiting Israel. Israeli hospitality is sincere and generous, with an open-door policy to family dinners, holiday seders, and even celebrations. Don’t be surprised if you receive an invitation to a wedding or bar mitzvah from a new acquaintance. Try not to melt as you observe a CEO whip up a cup of coffee for the visiting electrician. In Israel, there’s always an extra seat at the table, a spare roll-out bed, and several sets of hands to help assemble furniture.
Israelis love to joke that they live in a developed country within a developing country. The land boasting some of the world’s top innovation still flips on the boiler each morning before showering. The cities, in a constant state of construction, consist of modern towers, renovated historical buildings, and dilapidated structures. Don’t be surprised if, while cruising down a busy street filled with cars and cyclists, you encounter a horse-drawn carriage. Israeli culture is in a constant state of development, yet its roots remain firmly grounded in its history.
Israeli culture was born from a spirit of innovation. How else could Tel Aviv, Forbes‘ 2nd best city in the world to visit, spring up in the arid desert? If you want to see an Israeli beam with pride, ask them about how they invented the cherry tomato. For such a small country, Israel’s innovation achievements in everything from medicine to hi-tech startups is downright astounding. Regardless of all the impressive advancements, one should never underestimate the number of uses for a roll of duct tape.
Our guide to Israeli customs and culture is here to smooth the bumps along your journey. Find a hotel in Israel, or tours of Israel to see even more of this unique place. Or follow our guide to getting around Israel to drive yourself from north to south and everywhere in between!