Israel's Culture Guide

Israel is a melting pot of cultures, blending East and West. Israeli culture encompasses the traditions of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other smaller groups. Israel’s artistic, social, and culinary culture is influenced by Jewish immigrants from Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, South and North America, Ethiopia, Europe, and Russia.

Tel Aviv culture includes Habima, the national theater, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Israel’s dance culture spans the full spectrum from internationally renowned Batsheva Dance Company, and the Israel Ballet, to ethnic dance groups like Eskesta (Ethiopian) and Inbal (Yemenite). The culture of Tel Aviv can also be experienced in markets, at street food stalls, annual festivals, or live performances.

Museums in Israel cover all genres, from the Museum of Islamic Art and the Japanese Tikotin Museum to the Cartoon Museum and the Design Museum. Jerusalem is home to Israel’s largest and most important museum, the Israel Museum, as well as the Bible Lands Museum, Museum on the Seam, and the Tower of David Museum.  Jerusalem culture includes many sites related to Jewish history, such as the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum.

Cultural events in Israel occur on a regular basis, from jazz performances, and festivals such as the LGBT Pride Parade, to live performances in Caesarea’s Roman amphitheater or Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park. Plan to include some of the cultural events in your Israel itinerary.

Israeli Clothing Brands And Fashion Designers

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to go shopping”, Gertrude Stein wrote. One thing many of us like to do when taking a vacation is treating ourselves to something we’ve thought about purchasing for a while - something unusual, something we can’t buy easily at home, something original. And usually that ‘gift’ to ourselves is an item of clothing - something that will last, something unique, and something we can show off once we get home.A couple on the beach promenade in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo byToa HeftibaonUnsplashNow whilst it’s true that when you say ‘fashion’ you immediately think of cities like Paris, Milan, New York and London, there are many other countries that are coming up in the ranks in the fashion stakes and one of them is Israel. If you’re coming on vacation here, chances are you’ll be in one of the two biggest cities - Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - and the good news is that in both places there are endless shopping opportunities.Israeli Fashion Designers Who’ve Taken the World by StormSome of the popular Israeli clothing brands that are easy to find you’ll find in the big chains - Golf, Castro, Mango, Fox and Next. They sell all kinds of apparel that’s perfect for casual days at the beach and evenings in more fancy restaurants. They’re all quite reasonably priced and a good way to get bang for your buck. But if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind pieces, then where do you search?Today we’re going to look at some of the Israeli fashion designers who’ve taken the world by storm in recent years, and the kind of creations they’ve come up with. These popular Israeli clothing brands aren’t limited to one country either - some of these talented and ultra-driven designers are now New York-based, with flagship boutique stores in the US and around the world. In the infamous words of Anna Wintour, ‘You either know fashion or you don’t.” So let’s get to know it…Fashion neon sign. Photo byJason LeungonUnsplashDorin Frankfurt.Designed and Produced LocallyDorin Frankfurt is surely one of Israel’s leading fashion designers who has been making women’s apparel since 1983. Operating in the heart of Tel Aviv (both her factory and stores are based there), she produces limited edition designer clothes at affordable prices and for many Israeli women is the ‘High Priestess’ of style.Working with Margit Segal (who is still her partner today), Frankfurt insists that the operation remains in Israel and has resisted attempts to have work outsourced to the Far East. She employs many skilled local women and looks upon her business as a responsibility to others as well as a money-making venture.Dorin Frankfurt designs pieces that are incredibly elegant but also sustainable - she believes that clothes should be made to last in your wardrobe and keep you happy for years - she is no fan of the cheap, ‘throw-away’ culture. Moving away from European-style, her garments have what she calls an ‘Israeli style’ and her first jeans and vintage collections were actually named ‘austerity” (since, in the 1980s, Israel was experiencing a terrible recession).In 1995, she launched a menswear line and over the years she has designed outfits for the theatre and ballet. Recently, she has been joined in the business by her daughter Kianne, who graduated from the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design and is now in charge of the accessories division - bags, shoes, jewellery, etc.Dorin Frankfurt’s flagship store in Tel Aviv is an institution and her clothes are collected into the wardrobes of dedicated followers not just in Israel but also in England, Norway, New Zealand, the USA and South Africa. Mother and daughter still believe in her original aim - to create quality Israeli fashion items produced locally, rather than outsource to cheap-labour markets abroad.Dorin Frankfurt, 164 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv. Tel: 054-5925553.Dorin Frankfurt. Photo from Dorin Frankfurt Facebook pageMaskit.Hints of McQueen and ElbazLaunched back in 1954, Maskit has a fascinating history. Dreamed up by Ruth Dayan (daughter of the legendary Israeli General, Moshe Dayan) her aim was to create luxury but contemporary clothing. Her secret? To embroider the garments with traditional techniques that hailed from countries such as Syria, Tunisia, Hungary, Yemen and Bulgaria.Her enterprise created many jobs for local women at a time when Israel was in its infancy and the economy was struggling, but the brand was so successful it was soon being worn by stars of the era, including Audrey Hepburn, who made Maskit’s ‘Desert Coat’ famous.Eventually, the designs were being sold at New York’s top department stores (Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf) and collaborations with Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Christian Dior followed, alongside the opening of a flagship store in Manhattan. The company closed in 1994 but was relaunched in 2014 when Sharon Tal came on board. Tal’s experience at Alexander McQueen (she was head of the embroidery) and her internship with legendary designer Alber Elbaz has made her an invaluable part of the modern company. Maskit’s style is definitely still ‘desert chic’ - the colours are exotic and the fabrics natural - and their boast that their brand has as much history as Israel is surely true.Maskit, 48 Hei Beiyar Street (Kikar Hamedina), Tel Aviv. Tel: 03-688 4004Maskit outfit. Photo fromMaskit Design Facebook pageMews. Not Just a LabelIf black is the new black, then you can’t go wrong by making a trip to Mews. Founded in 2014, by Gal Shenfeld, this line’s unique selling point is in the colour - practically every garment is black. And, let’s face it, how can you go wrong with black - you can match it with anything, it never goes out of style and it’s the best shade to wear if you’re looking for a slimming effect.Based in Tel Aviv, this luxury women’s wear company is made up of classic garments, the fabrics all of the highest quality. They focus on movement and texture and their logo - ‘Not Just a Label’ - couldn’t be more apt. Shenfeld’s vision is to make clothes in a minimalist design, using cutting-edge materials and techniques.Located in the beautiful Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, close to the famous Shabazi Street (a must-visit for anyone who likes boutique clothing stores), their cotton sleeveless jumpsuits, crepe knot bow one shoulder midi skirt dresses and exquisite, meticulously designed eveningwear are what you’ll get when you buy from Mews. And, just like Maskit and Doron Frankfurt, everything you purchase will have been designed and made in Tel Aviv.Mews, 12 Tachkemoni St, Tel Aviv. Tel: 052 677 3733.Mews showroom, Tel Aviv. Photo fromMews InstagramDoron Ashkenazi.Classic Tailoring with Attention to DetailWhen it comes to Israeli men’s clothing brands, you can’t leave out Doron Ashkenazi, one of Israel's most celebrated designers when it comes to male fashion. Raised in Israel, he began his career at the Accademia di Bella Arti di Firenze, where he studied design and pattern making. On returning to Tel Aviv, he decided to start his own line, and in 1989 the company was launched, at their store on the trendy Shenkin Street. His emphasis has always been on classic tailoring techniques that pay tremendous attention to detail. In that respect, his designs are quite timeless, even though he does often use bold colours. His suits are loved by men across Israel and the wedding clothes he designs for grooms are gorgeous. At his store, you’ll see Italian design fused with Mediterranean-style streetwear, which creates a unique look. Whether you want casual or glamorous, his linen creations always turn heads. Even better, in recent years, Doron Ashkenazi has turned to recycling garments, in an attempt to rescue surplus material and be more socially responsible. His creations included a denim-style jacket made out of grey reflected fabric, flecked with all kinds of colours. If you had to sum up his style, it’s all about capturing the aesthetic of urban Tel Aviv. As he always said ‘It’s about creating a unique product.’Doron Ashkenazi, 187 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv. Tel: 02 527-2679Doron Ashkenazi - Menswear. Photo fromDoron Ashkenazi Facebook pageShahar Avnet. A Mix of Fashion and ArtShahar Avnet studied at the prestigious Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and after graduating, in 2016, was thrust into the spotlight, when a project of hers was represented at Graduate Fashion Week in London. Her creations are a heady mix of fashion and art, and she uses a range of techniques, including collage, drawing and embroidery in the dresses she designs. Avnet is a particular fan of tulle (soft silk cotton) and this was showcased by Beyonce, who wore one of her pieces on her world tour with Jay Z - nude-toned and long-trained… for sure her clothes are bold, fearless and designed for the independent woman. You also have seen her work if you’re a fan of Eurovision - the hit “Toy” was performed by Netta Barzilai, who won a multi-coloured kimono designed by her. Shahar Avnet is based in Tel Aviv and her couture is full of feminine silhouettes, intricate embellishments and all kinds of unusual details. And as she once commented, in Vogue” “The Beatles taught me that ‘all you need is love…my garments carry the label ‘love yourself’.Shahar Avnet, Kibbutz Galuyot Road 45, Tel Aviv. Tel: 052-881-1084Shahar Avnet dresses at Design Museum Holon, Israel. Photo from Shahar Avnet Studio pageGalia Lahav.Designing for the StarsWhen it comes to Israeli clothing brands popular in the US, you’ve got to mention Galia Lahav, who has made a real name for herself designing couture, in particular bridal wear. She established her own fashion company in Tel Aviv in 1984 but it was only after 20 years that she branched out internationally. Today, women like Jennifer Lopez, Bar Rafaeli and Priyanka Chopra wear her luxury creations, but it’s Beyonce who catapulted her into the limelight when she chose Lahav to design a dress for the renewing of vows and wedding. Lahav’s bridal wear is romantic, sensual, figure-flattering and puts its emphasis on comfort. Her dresses also have delicate embroidery, plunging backlines and dramatic trains. If you look at Beyonce’s dress, it was an off-the-shoulder creation, featuring chantilly lace, Swarovski crystals and pearls decorating the bodice. The price tag was estimated to be around $12,000 but - hey - the bride clearly thought it was worth it. Lahav also hit the headlines when she designed dresses for Venus Williams (in her role as Maid of Honour), six other bridesmaids and the bride’s mother, at the star-studded wedding of her sister Serena. The dresses, all of which were shades of nude, had different designs, ranging from plunging necklines to a more demure look. The result? Spectacular. Lahav also designs collections in evening wear, shoes and dresses and is a regular participant at New York Bridal Fashion Week.Galia Lahav, Herzl Street 9, Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 527-3075Wedding dress byGalia Lahav House of Couture. Photo fromGalia Lahav DesignsNili Lotan.Designs for the Modern, Urban WomanNili Lotan was born in Israel and is now based in New York. Like Avnet, she graduated from Shenkar College of Engineering and Design but quickly moved to Manhattan, since she saw it as the epicentre of the fashion world. She worked with top fashion houses including Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren.In 2003, she launched her own label, aiming to produce luxurious yet timeless pieces for women and 3 years later, she opened a shop above her atelier, in Tribeca. Putting in just $20,000, after two months she had made $250,000! Lotan was and still is a rule-breaker - she doesn’t believe in designing for the season. In fact, at first, she began her business by selling six basic pieces - two jackets, one top and three pairs of trousers, all made with Italian fabric. As she went from strength to strength, she expanded her range and now designs jeans, handbags and belts. This year, she expects to generate $100 million in revenue. Nili Lotan designs are definitely for the modern urban woman - they are sophisticated yet simple. She believes in clothes being comfortable, as well as chic and she loves natural colours - black, light blue and peach. Today you will see actresses and models like Julianna Moore, Jennifer Anniston, Cindy Crawford, Gigi Hadid and Rihanna wearing her dresses. As Lotan remarks, a wardrobe comprised of elegant pieces will serve you for years to come. Nili Lotan, 188 Duane St, New York, NY 10013. Tel:+1 212-219-8794A leather jacket byNili Lotan. Photo fromNili Lotan Facebook pageATA.Modest, Simple and FunctionalLast, but not least, we come to ATA. This is not an individual but an Israeli clothing brand, but we have to include it here because of its long and interesting history. The first company in the country to manufacture and design textiles, it was created in 1934 and ran until the mid-80s, when it closed down. However, in 2016 it was re-established as a brand and is currently based in Tel Aviv.ATA was founded by Erich Moller, whose family had come from Czechoslovakia, because of ideological conviction. He bought land on which to construct a factory and ATA came to stand for ‘Ariga Totzeret Artzenu’ (‘Textiles from Our Land’). Unsurprisingly, many of the workers came from kibbutzim and for many years employees and management earned similar salaries.ATA made its mark after World War II, by producing practical clothes that Israelis could buy with ration coupons. These included uniforms, shirts, trousers and the tembel hat (a national symbol of Israel, worn by committed zionists). ATA was known for its quality, and being committed to modesty, simplicity and functionality. After being closed for over 20 years, it was reestablished in 2016 and today works on the principle that clothes are meant to serve people, as well as offering a glimpse into our lives and cultures.ATA, Kikar HaBima 3, Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 962-7270If you are interested in a private tour of Tel Aviv, don’t hesitate to contact us.ATA clothing brand, Israel. Photo from ATA Facebook page
By Sarah Mann

Dance in Israel

Dance - one of peoples’ favourite pastimes…an activity, hobby or passion that individuals the world over take pleasure in. And in Israel that’s no exception - people have been dancing in Israel before it was created! There are mentions of dance in the Jewish sacred texts (today, Jews dance and rejoice with Torah scrolls at the festival of Simchat Torah) and this kind of expression has always been an important part of communal life, particularly weddings!.Dancing girl, Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo byOr HakimonUnsplashThe modern origins of dance in Israel can be traced back to the waves of immigration that began just the beginning of the 20th century. Jews from all over Russia and Eastern Europe who had Zionist sympathies brought with them the dances of their mother nations. This really led to the movement of ‘folk dancing’ - a way for individuals to express the culture they had learned as children.Today, dance in Israel incorporates all kinds of styles and techniques from traditional to contemporary. Dancing to music sung in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino, dance has taken on two major forms - traditional folk dancing and dance as an art form (using professional choreographers, stage productions, and trained artists). One thing we do know, however, is that whether you want to dance or watch a dance performance, you’ll be able to do so almost anywhere in Israel. Let’s have a closer look at all things to do with this wonderful activity…Market Dance, a ballerina in the Carmel Market.Photo byLiel AnapolskyonUnsplashFolk Dancing in Israel (Rikudei Am)Folk dancing has a long and colorful history in Israel - as a form of dance, performed to songs in Hebrew, it has been around for over 100 years. The beginnings of it can be traced back to pioneering Jews who arrived in the country in the 1880s, then the turn of the century, and later in the 1930s. In the ‘Aliyahs’ (periods when many Jews arrived in what was then called Palestine ) by these diaspora Jews, the desire for communal dancing increased, very much in line with the desire for the creation of a Jewish state. Dances brought to the Promised Land by these European Jews included the polka, rondo, and hora and it was the third of these that eventually became Israel’s ‘national dance’. The hora itself (a circle dance) was and still is, today, an iconic dance in Israeli folk dancing culture.Performed at festivals and celebrations, and set to Israeli music - folk, klezmer, or (most popularly) the tune of ‘Hava Nagila’ - it is danced at practically every wedding or bar mitzvah celebration both in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world. The hora was also made incredibly famous after the State of Israel was created, when Jews in Tel Aviv and across the land broke into spontaneous hora dancing, to mark their joy at Ben Gurion’s Declaration of Independence. Today, Israeli folk dancing is still very popular, with groups all over the country dedicated to its preservation. It’s also wonderful for tourists to watch in places like the Tel Aviv Beach Promenade, on Saturday morning, when locals gather by the Gordon Beach and perform folk dances for two or three hours, to the delight of passersby!Israeli folk dance (rikudei am), Karmiel, Israel.Photo credit: © Dana LifanovaBallroom dancing in IsraelIn recent years, ballroom dancing has become very popular in Israel, in part because of an interest in an ‘old’ hobby and in part because of shows such as ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ The studio in Ramat HaSharon (close to Tel Aviv) named ’Arthur Murray’ has made a name for itself teaching enthusiasts ballroom and Latin dancing.There is also a ballroom dancing academy open in Ashdod, a city home to many Russian immigrants who loved the pastime, back in the country of their birth, and took it up with gusto here. In recent years, Israel has even competed in ballroom dancing world championships! With more and more classes on offer throughout the country, it seems like the stereotype of ballroom dancing being an aristocratic, older person’s hobby - is finally being laid to rest.Ballroom dancing.Photo byPreillumination SeThonUnsplashContemporary dance in IsraelGaga - the most famous kind of contemporary dancing in Israel today has got to be ‘Gaga’. No, that doesn’t refer to anyone gone mad; rather it’s an innovative modern dance movement developed by the Batsheva Dance Company (see below, in ‘Dance Companies’) under the directorship of Ohad Naharin.Gaga is hard to define but essentially it’s a dance technique that focuses on physical bodily sensations, communication, and creativity. The Gaga method offers dancers the opportunity to develop stamina along with coordination, by exploring speed and form. Gaga, says Naharin, is both playful and powerful and, every year, dancers from around the world arrive in Tel Aviv, to learn more about it. Gaga performances are often given at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood and, in these trying Corona times, they also offer classes online.Earth Dance - Earth Dance in Israel is held each year (on the same day as similar Earth Dance events across the globe) in the tranquil Galilee region. This social, musical, and family-friendly event offers numerous activities, including dance performances from all kinds of traditions (think African, Indian, South American, and Asian…)Flash Mob Dance - the flash mob dance craze has reached many parts of the world, and Israel is one of them. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is when a group of people all gather together in a public space and then break into amazing dance routines in front of an unsuspecting public. Flash mobs have become increasingly popular in Israel in the last ten years and are often very well organized and a delight to watch. Here’s a flashmob dance event in Jerusalem that took place close to the Jaffa Gate and the Mamilla rooftop restaurant.Dancing students at the entrance of Suzanne Dellal Center. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinDance festivals in IsraelKarmiel Dance Festival - this world-famous dance festival first took place in 1987 and, since then, has been held annually, each July, in the charming town of Karmiel in northern Israel. Originally established as a festival for Israeli folk dance, their offerings have expanded widely over the years and now include performances from troupes across the world. Showcasing Israeli music and dance (think ballet, modern, hip-hop, folk to say the least) it brings dancers together from across the world, with no regard for age, skillset, faith or creed.Two major competitions take place within the festival - one involving folk dancing and the other choreography. Corona permitting (!) the festival will take place sometime this summer, on 5-7 July 2022.Activities will take place at venues across Karmiel, and will certainly include extended dance sessions, original productions, and new artistic creations, including a production that is put on on the last night, featuring hundreds of performers.You don’t have to dance either - you can go and watch, and enjoy some street food and live music while you’re at it! Our tip: don’t miss the opening act - a pageant in which thousands participate, accompanied by all kinds of musicians and orchestras. Karmiel Dance Festival at night, Israel. Photo credit: © Dana LifanovaTel Aviv International Dance - this annual festival has been taking place since 1999 each summer and runs for at least a week. It is held at the state-of-the-art Suzanne Dellal Centre, in Neve Tzedek, one of the city’s most beautiful and charming neighborhoods. This Tel Aviv festival showcases both Israeli and international dance companies and choreographers, and hosts between 2,000 and 10,000 attendees per day. Last year, there were 25 performances, 8 premieres and 13 new productions by Israeli artists, as well as 3 performances for young children and their parents.Jerusalem International Dance Week - this festival aims to promote Jerusalem as an international dance space and to make visible high-quality, contemporary Israeli dance to the top international festivals worldwide. The showcase events and the international choreography competition were founded in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011. Events are held at the Machol Shalem Dance House, and include original works of contemporary dance which, year after year, excite audiences from across the spectrum. Room Dances Festival, Israel- held both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this festival was established by Amos Hetz, 32 years ago. A performer and choreographer himself, he wanted to offer a platform for artists who wanted to create an intimate space between them and their audiences. The festival is usually held in November and runs for 3 nights, and this year’s event aims to focus on solo dancers/small ensembles who will perform in venues without a partition between stage and audience.Ballerina on the stairs in Tel Aviv. Photo byLiel AnapolskyonUnsplashDance Companies and Teachers in IsraelThe Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC) - directed by Rami Be’er, who is well-known in the dance world for his unique choreographic skills, this world-famous dance company performs across the globe. Based in the beautiful location of Western Galilee, they also offer intensive summer dance programs (two, four, and six weeks) for both high school and university students.KCDC was founded by the late Yehudit Arnon, in 1973, who - back then - had no idea how famous it would become. Today, in the ‘Dance Village’ there, the emphasis is on fostering excellence and creating a space for international dancers. They also offer special projects and guided tours.Vertigo - this modern dance company, based in Jerusalem, was established in 1992, by Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al. They perform works both by Wertheim and independent choreographers from Israel and around the world. Located on Bezalel Street, in the downtown part of the city, they also offer workshops, training, and classes.Dance neon sign. Photo byGeorgia de LotzonUnsplashBatsheva - this world-famous company, situated in Tel Aviv, was founded by the legendary Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, in 1964 and really was a consequence of the growing interest in modern dance in the USA at that time.Dancers were trained in the Graham technique, although their performances often ended up being most unlike their American counterparts. In 1990, Ohad Naharin was appointed as Artistic Director and is probably best known for his introduction of the “Gaga’ method (see the section above, in ‘Contemporary Dance.’)Batsheva’s Tel Aviv home is at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Neve Tzedek and today is at the forefront of modern international dance.Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollock Dance Company - this eponymous dance company was established in 1992 and is also based in Tel Aviv, performing at Suzanne Dallal. They have 12 regular dancers and are known for their unique performances, particularly when it comes to choreographers.Yasmeen Godder Dance Company - Yasmeen was born in Jerusalem but moved to New York City at 11, and graduated from the High School of the Performing Arts, then moving on to study with Martha Graham. After returning to Israel, she settled in Tel Aviv where she now teaches concert dance. Her works have been performed in France, Germany, and the USA, and in 2007, she established the Yasmeen Godder Studio in Jaffa.Ballerina in Tel Aviv.Photo byLiel AnapolskyonUnsplashDance Schools in IsraelThe Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance - as well as its extensive music programs, Academy has a dedicated dance department, focused on producing dancers, teachers, and choreographers who have a broad background in performance, instruction, and creative activity. They offer both theoretical and practical training and a state-of-the-art building in which to learn both dance and movement techniques.Mehola - this dance school has five branches across Israel and offers unusual and modern repertories for children to learn. These include folklore, jazz, hip hop, musical, and even ‘Zionist’ themes. There are also classes in fields such as character dancing, technical polishing, and character development. International Ballet School, Tel Aviv - with both children and adults divisions, this ballet school’s philosophy is that the dance should be able to express their individuality. Set up in 2017 by Nicholas Barez, it offers local and international families alike a unique opportunity - to learn the French classical ballet technique in a very multicultural environment. Ballerina at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Photo byLiel AnapolskyonUnsplashThe school runs two language sections - one in Hebrew, the other in English/French. These two then merge into a single English-speaking program for those aged 12 and above. They also offer intensive courses at Hanukkah, Passover, and in the summer.Fresco Dance - Established in 2002 by Yoram Karmi, this Tel Aviv-based company performs regularly throughout the year in Israel and also abroad. They have produced dance pieces that premiered in the Israel Festival in 2007/2010 and in festivals around the world. Placing their emphasis on technique, as well as individual style and character, they give performances both for adults and children.Bikurey Ha’Itim Dance - both a dance school and university, this Tel Aviv center offers part-time and full-time courses for students aged 18-22. Their evening classes are open to the entire public, giving you a chance to practice your Brazilian moves, the Lindy swing, Argentinian tango, Cuban salsa, and even a little ballroom!If you are interested in Israeli culture, feel free to read more articles devoted to theatre in Israel, music of Israel, and sculpture in Israel.Tango dancers.Photo byPreillumination SeThonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Best Street Food in Israel

One of the many reasons people travel is to see and experience things outside their comfort zone, and that definitely includes trying new cuisine. And the good news for any ‘foodie’ going to plan a perfect vacation in Israel is that your taste buds are in for a delightful surprise. With its eclectic population (Jews here hail from Europe, Africa, South America and Asia), there’s a dish for every palate and Israeli street food really has its roots in immigrant experience.Food sold outside Mount Zion gate, Jerusalem.Photo byRiaonUnsplashPrepare Your TastebudsMoreover, whilst Israel has really upped its game on the food front (with plenty of high-end fine dining experiences) if you’re on a budget, or simply don’t want to blow a fortune on lunch/dinner, you’re going to be pleased. Whether you’re in the big cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv or tiny towns up in the Galilee or down in the Negev, you’ll be confronted with certain ‘street foods’ that the locals adore, particularly dishes made with simple but fresh Mediterranean ingredients.Cheap, Healthy and FreshVegetarians and vegans will be in seventh heaven. If you’re looking to eat without meat, Israel won’t disappoint you - indeed, you’re going to be amazed at how easy it is to find plant-based foods, without skipping on taste or flavour. And, as you can imagine, the other great thing about Israeli vegan street food is that it’s cheap - for less than $10, you’ll be chowing on dishes that will keep you full for hours (and won’t necessarily wreck your cholesterol levels either!)Today we’re looking at some of the best street foods in Israel - many found in ‘holes in the wall’ in the backstreets and beloved by the locals for their down-to-earth atmosphere and warm welcome. Often run by families, for generations, you’re often going to have to wait in line but actually, that’s a good thing - after all, the longer the line, the better you know the food is going to be! Hungry? Then read on…Shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce. Photo byUlvi SafarionUnsplashFamous Israeli Street Food1. Falafel - you can’t talk about Israeli street food without first mentioning the humble falafel. For decades, it’s been Israel’s favourite snack and although some will tell you it’s had its day, don’t believe them - you’ll find falafel stands on every Israeli street corner (each with their own ‘secret’ recipe for making this delectable dish).For anyone who doesn’t know, falafel are bite-sized balls made out of chickpeas, flavoured with herbs and spices and then deep-fried, before being placed in a soft pita (which acts pocket) and served with tahini (a sesame seed paste) fresh salads and sometimes even a slice of eggplant thrown in! Falafel is popular all over the Middle East (it actually originated in Egypt, where it was first made with fava beans) and is incredibly popular amongst vegetarians. Every falafel you try in Israel is bound to taste slightly different, depending on how much garlic, parsley and spices are used, but few come away feeling disappointed. Falafels and salad in a takeout box. Photo byPille R. PriskeonUnsplash2. Sabich - hot on the heels of the humble falafel is the sumptuous sabich. This Iraqi Jewish sandwich is made either of pita or laffa, and is made up of egg, potato, salads, tahini, parsley, eggplant and a delicious mango sauce called ‘amba.’ The ingredients are simple yet fantastic and when you bite into one, it’s a veritable flavour explosion. The history of the humble sabich can be traced back to the Iraqi Jews who arrived in Israel in the 1950s. On Shabbat mornings when they were in a hurry to leave for synagogue, they would eat a cold meal of these foods, stuffed in a pita (having cooked the eggplant the previous evening). In the early 1960s, a stand in Ramat Gan (a suburb of Tel Aviv) began selling them and the trend quickly caught on. Today, it’s beloved by Israelis - some of whom enjoy it with hummus and sour pickles. The ultimate sandwich…An Iraqi falafel shop in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash3. Hummus - we’re not sure if hummus needs an explanation but here goes…this delicious dip/spread is made from chickpeas, lemon, garlic and tahini and is a quintessential Middle Eastern dish. In Israel, it’s fair to say that hummus isn’t just a food, it’s a way of life. Also, wherever you go in Israel you’ll find people telling you that their town/region’s hummus is by far and away the best! Hummus in Israel comes in all shapes and sizes - topped with pine nuts, sprinkled with sumac and cumin and some partnered with ‘foul mudammas’ (a fava bean dip). You’ll also see locals eating it with slices of raw onion and sour pickles - yes, it sounds very odd but - trust us - a lot of people try it and become instant converts.Hummus is also popular in Arab communities all over Israel, especially in Galilee, Jerusalem and the small village of Abu Gosh and, just like falafel, every place serves it a little differently, sometimes using recipes handed down over the generations. Bottom line - you can’t come to Israel without indulging in a few plates of this delicious chickpea spread…Ingredients for hummus. Photo byNatalia YonUnsplash4. Bourekas - if you want to indulge, and don’t care about the calories, then head for a bourka stand in Israel. These delicious crispy yet flaky phyllo dough parcels are stuffed with all kinds of savoury ingredients before being sprinkled with sesame seeds on their tops. And because they’re small (ergo portable), they’re the ultimate ‘to go’ food in Israel - grab a few, and munch away, morning, noon or night.Originally from Turkey, (the word ‘borek’ in Turkish means ‘pie’) you can find them filled with potato, salty cheese, yellow cheese and spinach. They’re popular not just in Israel but all over the Middle East and particularly with Jews from North Africa, who serve them at festivals and family celebrations. 5. Shawarma - popular across the Levant, this roasted meat (which could be lamb, veal, chicken or turkey) is cooked slowly on a revolving spit, before being cut into thin slices and served in pita/laffa with different sauces. This is not the healthiest of snacks (watch out, arteries) although in Tel Aviv they’ve even opened a ‘vegan shawarma’ joint called Goodness, which promises all the taste without the possibility of a heart attack! Jaffa oranges against the background of an Israeli flag. Photo byBenjamin RascoeonUnsplash6. Malawach - this delectable flatbread is composed of layers of puff pastry (which resemble a thick pancake). The bread is brushed with oil then cooked in a frying pan - it's so buttery, you won’t believe it. Brought to Israel in the 1950s by Yemenite Jews, it was traditionally eaten by them at breakfast and served with grated tomato, a fried egg or even sometimes a drizzle of honey. This flaky bread is not good for your waistline but the perfect treat after a late night out, an indulgent breakfast or simply when hunger strikes!7. Shakshuka - introduced to Israel by Tunisian Jews, this classic North Africa/Middle Eastern dish is incredibly popular amongst Israelis, particularly for breakfast. It’s a simple concept but one that everyone seems to love - eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, garlic and green peppers. Traditionally served with pita bread, it’s incredibly satisfying - spices always vary but prepare to taste cumin, coriander, caraway seeds and even turmeric in your order.Classical Shakshuka. Photo bySara DubleronUnsplash8. Malabi - this traditional Israeli dessert is centuries old and made from rice flour, milk. sugar and flavoured with distilled rose/pomegranate water. It is a traditional Sephardic Jewish dish (Sephardic Jews hail from west Asia and northern Africa) and is served at the end of the holy Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, to break the 25-hour fast. Malabi is also served at Turkish Jewish weddings, as a way of symbolising the sweet life that awaits the new couple. 9. Knafeh - this Middle Eastern dessert is made with spun pasty then soaked in a sweet syrup, before being layered with sweet cheese, nuts and pistachio. It’s particularly famous in Nablus, in the West Bank, where it’s made with their traditional Nabulsi cheese. Whether you eat it soft or crispy, the gooey cheese, sweet taste and orange flavouring are to die for and we’re sure you won’t settle for one piece.10. Halva - this delicious sesame seed candy is beloved by Israelis and the perfect snack if you’re on the go. Mixed with sugar, or honey, it's often flavoured with vanilla or swirled chocolate pieces and look out for the pistachios too! Flaky and dense, you’ll see it sold not just in supermarkets but in huge wedges at food markets (vendors will cut off pieces for you, so you can mix and match!)Halva at the Carmel market shop. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinStreet food in Tel AvivSo, what are the 10 best-kept street food secrets in Tel Aviv? From the Carmel Market to the mean streets of Dizengoff and the alleyways of Jaffa, we’ll tell you…1. Abu Hassan, Jaffa - this family-owned hummus joint in Jaffa has been voted best of its kind in Israel and we know why. Simple and delicious, this is local food at its best and the servings are so large, they can often feed two. A must visit.2. Ha Kosem, Shlomo HaMelech Street - In English, the name means ‘the Magician’ and this downtown Israeli street food joint is an institution. Whether you want falafel in a pita, shawarma in a laffa or chicken schnitzel on a plate, they’ll help you out - and whilst you’re waiting in the long long line, they bring out piping hot falafel balls to keep your spirits up. Our tip: try the ‘rimonada’ (a cold drink made of lemonade and pomegranate juice). 3. Sabich Frishman - always busy with the locals, they’ll stuff your sabich with goodies you can’t imagine and the mango sauce is superb. Worth every minute of waiting and every shekel - and the guy behind the counter will make it as spicy as you like. 4. Mashawsha, Pinsker - this Galilee-style eatery is close to the Tel Aviv beach and specialises in mashawsha. This is a ‘light’ hummus with tahini which has a more airy texture. They also serve falafel balls, jugs of sweet lemonade and excellent knafeh. Great value and friendly staff to boot.5. Dr Shakshuka, Jaffa - known for its Libyan-style home cooking, this place is a real institution. Enjoy breakfast there on Friday morning, whilst lingering over a coffee in their courtyard, before spending time at the Jaffa Flea Market, full of second-hand goodies and hipster bars.A food stall in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo byNicole BasteronUnsplash6. Shmuel - in the heart of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, this is the place to go if you want meat - kebabs, chicken breast, liver - and all in pita bread. A great place for a casual lunch - it might be no-frills but the food is 100% authentic. 7. Shlomo and Doron - street food in the Carmel Market never was this good. Creative preparation makes the taste exceptional and the prices are very reasonable. Don’t worry about the basic appearance of the place - this hummus is top-notch, so grab a table outside and indulge. Our tip: if you’re not too full from lunch, try the malabi dessert. 8. Burika Centre - the twist in this snack is that it’s put in a fresh pita, and accompanied by sauces and vegetables. Our tip: try the potato and egg with tahini and tomatoes. Unbelievable! 9. Shakshuka - just off the main drag of the market, you’ll find this unpretentious little place. Their homemade shakshuka is fab and they also do Greek, Italian and Spanish versions! With some of their crusty bread dipped in the dish, you’re going to leave happy. 10. Sabich Tchernikhovsky - prepared lovingly and with great attention to detail, this tiny place is well-known in Tel Aviv. Stand in line, order one then sit on a bench opposite and enjoy it. The fried eggplant is wonderful and if you really want to push the boat out, order one with cheese!Assorted spices stall, Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashStreet food in JerusalemLina, Old City - in the Old City’s Christian Quarter, just off the Via Dolorosa, this popular hummus joint has six tables but is always popular, particularly for its hummus with pine nuts, creamy eggplant dip and crunchy fries. Run by two brothers, who took it over from their dad (his pictures are on the wall) the food is good value for money and super tasty.Arafat, Old City - close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, this tiny place has no menu, friendly staff and just a few tables. They only serve two things - hummus and chicken with rice, but no one ever complains! The hummus is creamy, flavourful and made every hour. The only problem is they often sell out early, so don’t arrive after 2 pm!Knafeh cooked in Jerusalem street. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on UnsplashStreet Food at Mahane Yehuda Market, JerusalemFalafel Brothers Levy - a renowned spot in the Jerusalem food market, on the corner with Agrippas street, this falafel joint is a legend - the crispy balls are crunchy and flavourful, the pita is soft and the salads are fresh. There’s almost no seating so you’ll have to get it to go, but you won’t be disappointed.Ha Agas - this family business is beloved by locals and vegans alike for their hummus, stuffed vegetables, black lentil patties and vine leaves with rice. Just a few tables inside but there’s always something good boiling in a pot. Cheap, yummy and friendly - it’s a must-try! Our tip: try the hibiscus juice!FishenChips - this fast food joint in Mahane Yehuda Market features the British classic, but without the mushy peas and swapping mayonnaise for salt and vinegar on the chips! Crunchy batter on the outside and soft flaky fish on the inside, you can order either red tuna or cod. There isn’t much seating so head for the benches across from the stand and soak up the market atmosphere.If you want to try Israeli street food, join eitherCarmel Market Food Tour.Fresh juice stall, Jerusalem. Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Music of Israel

Israel is a long way from its 100th birthday but in the last century, all kinds of influences have combined to create a very diverse and unique musical culture in the country. From enthusiastic amateur singers, cabarets, and small choral societies in the 1920s, to the establishment of the Israeli Philharmonic after the state was created, stretching onto the 1990s, when almost a million Russians emigrated to Israel, many of them excellent musicians, the music scene has been popular!Amusician playing bass guitar at a concert, Israel.Photo by Anton Mislawsky on UnsplashToday, Israeli opera, jazz, and pop music are also forces to be reckoned with, so if you’re traveling to Israel, you can be sure of finding a ticket to something very exciting. Moreover, not just Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa but many other cities and small towns sponsor their own choirs and hold annual music festivals in Israel. Whether it’s a small recital, a full-scale symphony performance, Madonna performing in Yarkon Park,an Israeli folk singer giving a concert in the restored Roman theater at Caesarea, you can be sure of finding incredible musical performances the length and breadth of the country.What Defines Israeli Music?So, what are the characteristics of Israeli music? That’s a hard question to answer! There are all kinds of global influences, for sure - including Russian folk songs, Eastern European Klezmer band traditions, Yemenite ballads, Hasidic melodies, and, of course, the enormous influence that Arabic music has had. And that’s before you even begin to factor in Greek, Ethiopian, central European, and Latin American influences. Of course, that’s to be expected - after all, if Israel is the ultimate melting pot, then why should its musical heritage be any different? Since immigrants began arriving in the Holy Land at the turn of the 20th century, they have been looking for ways not just to express themselves but also to define the ‘national spirit’. This has resulted in a wealth of talent - whether it’s classical, jazz, folk ballads, or pop and rock, the music scene in Israel is incredibly diverse.Beautiful old violin on a red tablecloth, Israel. Photo by Leonid Portnoy on UnsplashNational Musical Instruments of Israel:The history of musical instruments in Israel is a long and rich one. It is fair to say that music played an integral part in the local culture - cymbals and tambourines were used to celebrate joyful occasions, lyres and harps were played at royal concerts, and trumpets were sounded to remind people of momentous events and to celebrate victories.Several musical instruments in ancient Israel are specifically mentioned in the Bible, whilst others are referenced in historical manuscripts. These include: kinnor - this ancient Jewish lyre is also known as King David’s harp since it is the instrument the famous Israelite played. It is Israel’s national instrument and a spiritual instrument for Christians. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus describes the kinnor as having 10 strings, constructed out of a sheep's small intestine, and played with a plectrum (pick). However, the book of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible states that David played the kinnor "with his hand".Shofar - shaped like a horn, this Hebrew trumpet was blown to summon people to prayer, war, or solemn ceremonies. It was also blown by the Cohen priests to mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the tradition continues in synagogues around the world today, each Rosh HaShanah.David Playing the Harp Before Saul, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe shofar is mentioned several times in the Bible. These include the book of Joshua, where the blowing of the shofar was part of the battle to capture the city of Jericho, and in the book of Judges, where it was sounded by Gideon and his warriors in order to terrify the opposing army. Shofars are made out of ram’s horns and, indeed, make a powerful sound (almost like a blast) when blown.Oud - this stringed musical instrument was played regularly in medieval times and is still popular today, in Islamic culture. It is the parent of the European lute, usually with 11 strings grouped in six courses. It has a deep, pear-shaped body, a relatively short neck, and a fretless fingerboard. In Arabic, it means something close to ‘wood stick’ or ‘flexible stick’. It is still played today at traditional music concerts in Israel and the Middle East.Kanun - this stringed instrument can be played either solo or as part of an ensemble and its origins go back to before the birth of Christ. Also part of the lute family. Arabic kanuns are usually made with five skin insets that support a single long bridge, resting on five arching pillars. They have ornamental sound holes called kafes and are played sitting or squatting, plucking the strings with tortoiseshell picks.Darbuka - this goblet-shaped percussion instrument is still widely played in Islamic classical and folk music throughout North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Lutes, flutes, and bells were also commonly used in biblical times. Daniel, the prophet of Jehovah, wrote of the orchestra of King Nebuchadnezzar - their instruments actually included the pipe, the zither, and the bagpipe!Oud, the traditional musical instrument of Israel, similar to modern lutes. Photo by Youssef Abdelwahab on UnsplashThe History of Music in IsraelMusic has always been an integral part of the country, beginning with the pioneers who arrived from Russia and Europe. As they built the land, they were encouraged to sing - and in groups. Public ‘sing-a-longs were a popular pastime, especially in the kibbutz, because many of the leaders of the day thought it would promote the ‘national spirit.’Today, Israelis young and old still love to sing these songs - particularly out on hikes and sitting around bonfires. This mixture of patriotism and nostalgia for the early days of the state is something many visitors to the country really do find fascinating and touching.Musical cabarets in the 1920s and Aliyah in the 1930sCabarets became popular in British Mandate Palestine in the 1920s and were responsible for the fame of quite a few artists, including Shoshana Damari (a famous Yemenite singer who began her career at ‘Li La Lo’ in Tel Aviv - a cabaret that revolved around drama and satire.By the 1930s, the political tide was turning and the rise of fascism meant Jews were no longer safe in Germany and wider Europe. Many fled and some of them arrived in Palestine - and the country gained an orchestra as a result. In 1936, the Israeli Palestine Philharmonic made its debut, under the leadership of Arthur Toscanini. (Shortly after, a radio orchestra was set up (today it is known as the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra) and the concerts it broadcasted were soon attracting tens of thousands of listeners).Since 1948, the Israeli Philharmonic has gone from strength to strength and is now recognized on the global stage. It even rises above politics from time to time - in the 1980s it performed on the Israel-Lebanon border, playing to audiences on both sides of the fence, who had come to enjoy the concert!Evgeny Zlatin, an Israeli pianist, Jerusalem Academy of Music. Сourtesy photoThe Israeli Conservatory of MusicOne of the oldest and most prestigious institutions in Israel, this Tel Aviv Conservatory was founded in 1943 and serves today as a center to nurture the talent of young musicians in Israel. It boasts a music library, a state-of-the-art concert hall, and a separate wing for opera and chamber music classes.The Jerusalem Academy of Music and DanceThe Conservatory is one of three institutions that make up the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. It offers all kinds of educational programs in music for students from preschool through to graduate level in Israel.What Kind of Music Will I Hear in Israel?If you travel around Israel, you’ll hear all types of music - in the open-air markets, in restaurants, on the local and intercity buses (Israeli drivers love to sing and play music whilst they’re on the road!), in religious services, national ceremonies and just on the streets in different neighborhoods.These musical genres range from ‘Eastern’ (meaning that which originated in Arab-speaking societies), Hasidic (religious music which has its origins in Eastern Europe, especially Poland), Iraqi Jewish music, Ladino songs (which began in Spanish-speaking societies), Yiddish (secular in origin, and often part of ‘Klezmer’ bands) Israeli-Arab (with an emphasis on long, melodic notes) and modern-day Israeli pop.Daria Zlatina, an Israeli pianist, Jerusalem Academy of Music. Сourtesy photoMizrahi - in Hebrew ‘mizrach’ means ‘east’ and this kind, of music, is associated with Sephardic Jews. The movement began in the 1950s, with performances by locals in neighborhoods in which Jews from Arab countries mainly lived. They performed songs in Hebrew but in an Arabic style (on traditional instruments). By the 1970s, Mizrahi musicians like Avihu Medina and Zohar Argov had become very popular and, today, Mizrahi pop is the most common and prominent form of pop music in Israel.Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish music - the Hasidic movement began in the second half of the 18th century in Eastern Europe and placed a great emphasis on expressing joy through song and dance. Today, Hasidic music can be heard at simchas (celebrations) such as weddings and bat mitzvahs, as well as at the Rabbi’s table {the ‘tisch’).Hasidic music has a number of genres including niggunim - religious Jewish songs (or tune) sung in groups, often quite repetitive, using sounds such as “lai, lai, lai”, “bim-bim-bam” or “ai, ai, ai” instead of actual lyrics. Some can be woeful and others very joyful. Niggunim are central to worship in Hasidic Jews life, and a soulful reflection of how mystical intense prayer can be.Iraqi Jewish musicin Israel - in the 1930s, Iraqi musical groups were almost always Jewish! Today, in Israel, this continues in the form of beautiful Arab music, including love songs, folk chants, and traditional music.Tamar Eisenman, Israeli rock and folk singer and songwriter. Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinLadino music in Israel- Ladino was the language of the Spanish-speaking Jews, throughout medieval times, with music in the form of ballads sung by women in a dramatic style, either in private or during celebrations. Yiddish music in Israel - this kind of music is sung in the language of the Jews from the tiny villages of Eastern Europe - Yiddish, It includes songs from Yiddish theatre, Klezmer bands, and songs modeled on French melodies and German lieder. Klezmer dance tunes, ritual melodies, and virtuosic improvisations were often played at weddings. Today, Klezmer is making somewhat of a comeback and, in fact, an international Klezmer festival is due to be held in August 2022 in Jerusalem, featuring musicians from around the globe.Israeli Arab music - these melodious songs have become increasingly popular in the country in the last 20 years. One of the most popular on the scene is Ziv Yehezkel, who seems to have captured the hearts of Arabs in Israel. Now, after Israel’s signing of the Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the UAE, it’s quite likely to mean new inspiration for Arab music singers in Israel. Sarit Hadad, an Israeli mizrahi singer.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinSecular music in Israel - in recent years, many modern artists and pop singers from Israel have broken onto the scene, not just within the country but the wider international stage. Some of the more famous include: Etti Ankri - Born of Tunisian parents, this singer has become famous for her moving and emotional songs and is also called the ’contemporary voice of Israel’. Ofra Haza - an icon in Israel and known in the west as ‘the Israeli Madonna’ Haza became famous for her Yemenite songs and after representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, her song ‘Im Nin'Alu’ itself became a Top 20 hit in the UK.Dana International - after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1988 with her hit song ‘Diva’, this once Drag Queen and proud transexual singer shot to fame and her songs were soon being played at every dance venue in Israel and every gay bar across Tel Aviv! Netta Barzilai - well known simply as ‘ Netta’ this singer shot to fame after winning an Israeli tv competition - her prize was to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon. There, in May 2018, she won the contest with her song ‘Toy.’Musicians performing atJerusalem Knights Festival, Israel. Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

The History of the Hebrew and Yiddish Languages in Israel

When you arrive in Israel, one of the first things that will strike you is the letters of the Hebrew alphabet! You’ll see them on storefronts, menus, banners at Ben Gurion airport, and all kinds of public transport. The letters in this alphabet (referred to by scholars as Jewish script or ‘Ktav Ashuri’) certainly can puzzle visitors (luckily for them, the Roman script is widespread too!)A historic Old Testament scroll rescued from the city of Lodz in Poland.Photo byMick HauptonUnsplashEarly Hebrew was the alphabet used by Jews before the 6th century (basically the Babylonian Exile) and existed in local variants. For sure, it developed over time but essentially it had - and still does - 22 letters, but only with consonants represented.The letters are written in block form. Just as interestingly for the visitor, it was - and is still - written from right to left. And it’s not the only language in Israel you’ll see written this way either - Arabic (although written in cursive, not block letters) and Yiddish are also written right to left.As we all know, language is an incredibly powerful tool in society - it helps people communicate with each other, build relationships, and also enables them to promote their culture. Language lets people share common ideas, express feelings and desires, and, in turn, forges all kinds of ties between people. And never more so than in Israel which was in the interesting position of only having revived Hebrew (in its modern form) in the last 150 years!Today, we’ll be looking at language in Israel - how linguistic scholars and Zionists alike promoted a Hebrew revival and how this Hebrew revival impacted Yiddish speakers (many of whom had come to Palestine/Israel from Eastern Europe and knew nothing of Hebrew, save for what they could read in the Bible). We’ll also take a look at how Yiddish is still used in small religious communities in Jerusalem and how it’s even making a bit of a comeback amongst the young and secular in wider Israel. Let’s go! Lamir Geyen! ! בוא נלךA wall at Netiv HaAsara facing the Gaza border reads the words “Path to Peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashHebrew From Ancient Times until the 19th CenturyHistorically, ‘square’ (block) Hebrew was established in the land of Israel, some time between the ½ BCE and slowly developed into what is now the modern Hebrew alphabet, in the next thousand years. By 10 CE, classical Hebrew existed in three clear formats - formal (used in books), rabbinical (used by medieval Jewish scholars), and local scripts.So actually, Hebrew had roots that dated back a long time, which makes the story of it being brought back to life even more extraordinary. As mentioned earlier, 150 years ago Hebrew was not a spoken language - it was effectively dormant and used simply for prayer. Only because of Eliezer Ben Yehuda - an individual of exceptional vision - was it brought back from life. How did he do it?A Hebrew RevivalBen Yehuda was born in Lithuania and arrived in Israel (then Palestine) in 1881. Settling in Jerusalem, he heard many languages around him - Russian, Polish, Arabic, German - and soon he took the view that these new arrivals needed a common tongue to unite them. As a Jewish nationalist. Ben Yehuda believed both in the return of Jews to their historical homeland (the Land of Israel) and a ‘national tongue’. To make the latter challenge a reality, he decided to transform ancient Hebrew - used just for prayer for thousands of years - into a modern language.Ben Yehuda campaigned vociferously for Hebrew to be made the official language of instruction in schools and set to work expanding the existing Hebrew vocabulary. He created more than 300 new words (including ‘toy’, ‘car’, ‘ice cream’, and ‘newspaper’). He also dedicated himself to compiling the first modern Hebrew dictionary and later edited the first Hebrew-language daily newspaper. On a personal note, Ben Yehuda was a stickler for discipline and, in schools today, every Israeli child hears the story of how he only spoke Hebrew to his own children (even when they wept). In fact, his son Ben Tzion was the first child in modern times to grow up using this language as his mother tongue because of his father’s sheer determination.Mia's Mosaics "We Were All Once Refugees". A collaboration with Kuchinate, a Women's African Refugee Collective, Tel Aviv. Photo byAntoine MerouronUnsplashHebrew as the national language of IsraelThanks to Ben Yehuda’s sterling efforts, more and more communities of Jews who had arrived in the First Aliyah (1881-1903) and the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) established Hebrew schools in their surroundings. As a result, by 1922 there were enough Jewish pioneers speaking Hebrew in their daily lives that the British Mandate rulers recognized it as the official language of Jews in Palestine. Since then, modern Hebrew has developed a lexicon of more than 75,000 words including almost 2,500 deliberately designed Hebrew alternatives for foreign words. Whilst Ben Yehuda himself never lived to see the creation of the State of Israel, this idea of the Jews speaking their own language in their own land came to pass. Arguably, this made him one of the most successful language revivalists of all time as well as one of the most prominent historical figures in Israel! Today, modern Hebrew (or ‘Ivrit’ as it’s called) is the standard form of the Hebrew language spoken in Israel, and every new immigrant who arrives is offered, courtesy of the government, a free ‘ulpan’ which is a language instruction program, teaching them the basics.Road sign in Haifa in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashSo whatis the Yiddish language?Today, in every school, restaurant, and business place in Israel you’ll hear Hebrew spoken. But as well as the fact that it was only adopted ‘officially’ 100 years ago, there’s another reason Hebrew wasn’t widely spoken back then - it’s because Yiddish was incredibly common. Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazi Jews - Jews who hailed from Central and Eastern Europe.Written in the same alphabet as Hebrew, by the 19th century Yiddish was spoken widely in any community in the world where a Jewish population existed. The history of Yiddish is indeed a fascinating one. Scholars have traced its origins back to the 14th century when Ashkenazi Jews emerged as a community in Europe. From its birthplace, in German-speaking areas, it eventually spread to all of Eastern Europe. A fusion of High German (‘Hoch Deutsch’) vernacular and Slavic words (especially Polish and Ukrainian) it even has a historical trace of Romance language expressions in it. Yiddish is an incredibly rich language, as a result, even having what is called ‘artificial loanwords’. This actually means that the word borrowed from elsewhere and used in Yiddish doesn’t even exist in the original language. A good example is ‘tate-mame’ which means ‘parents’ in Yiddish. (And not to forget aboutYiddishe mama). In Slavic, these two words mean ‘dad’ and ‘mum’, but there’s actually no such phrase in Polish (or, indeed, any other Slavic language).As a result, many of the Jews who arrived in the Holy Land (then Palestine) spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue. They came from all walks of society - writers, politicians, business leaders, artists, social activists - and they were devoted to their language. This, of course, would become problematic for them as time passed, since they were also Zionists, therefore felt obliged to promote the Hebrew language in its new, modern format.Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.Photo byArno SmitonUnsplashHebrew vs YiddishBetween the first aliyah and the creation of the State of Israel, therefore, Yiddish was spoken widely, although as time passed, modern Hebrew became predominant. However, Yiddish culture was alive and kicking in all kinds of forms - on the stage, in music venues, and in European-style cafes on Tel Aviv’s trendy Dizengoff street.So what changed this? Essentially, a huge cultural and ideological shift in Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. after the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. After millions of Jews had been murdered in the camps, the remaining survivors began looking for new homes. Some went to North America, others to Europe, and some even to Australia but many, of course, set sail for Israel.The then-Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, had made a decision not to turn away a single refugee, in his quest to bring Jews from across the globe to this new homeland. But not, as Ben Yehuda had also said, to be a collection of different peoples - to forge a new country and a new national identity. This didn’t just mean having Hebrew as the official language of the state, it meant actively encouraging Yiddish speakers to abandon their ‘mamaloshen’ (mother tongue).Ben Gurion’s vision (and that of many of his contemporaries) was to create a new identity for the Jews - strong, proud, and ideologically committed. He encouraged immigrants from Eastern Europe to forget the ‘shtetls’ (villages) where they had been raised, and ‘shake off’ everything to do with their old lives. Candles from Safed with inscriptions in Hebrew, Israel. Photo byJoshua SukoffonUnsplashIt was their obligation - he argued - as citizens of this young nation - to be pioneers and part of that duty was to abandon the culture of the diaspora. And thus the ‘Sabra’ was born - the ‘new’ Israeli who was resilient, the Jew who would fight back against tyranny (the implication being that many Jews in Eastern Europe had gone to their deaths ‘like lambs to the slaughter’).As a result, Yiddish didn’t have an easy time in the 1950s, in the state of Israel. Many of the state’s population spoke it as their mother tongue but were embarrassed and ashamed to speak it publicly. Even worse, legislation was passed, protecting Hebrew from ‘competitor’ languages, particularly Yiddish, forbidding theatre productions to be performed and newspapers written in other languages. Additionally, diplomats and anyone else who represented Israel abroad actually had to Hebraize their names.Many children of Holocaust survivors also recount their ‘shame’ at having parents who spoke Yiddish together, instead of Hebrew. The awful truth was that, in the 1950s, the enormity of the Holocaust was not really understood, and - as a result - many of the refugees were ‘blamed’ for not fighting back against the Nazis. A lack of consciousness about this dark period meant that children born in Israel often ‘rejected’ their parents (and as some admit, did not want to have anything to do with their ‘old world’ language and customs). As a result of this dilemma, and the growth of modern Hebrew, today in Israel only about 3% of the population speak Yiddish on a day-to-day basis. So who are they?View of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Photo byRiaonUnsplashYiddish in the Haredi Ashkenazi World in IsraelWithin Jerusalem is a special neighborhood, named ‘Mea Shearim’ which in Hebrew means ‘one hundred gates’ or ‘a hundredfold’. One of the oldest of the city’s neighborhoods, the people who live there are of Haredi background - that is Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Their day-to-day language of communication is Yiddish. The residents only use Hebrew for religious studies and prayer at synagogue, since they believe Hebrew is a sacred language that should only be used for communicating with God.For any visitor to this quarter of Jerusalem, it may almost seem as if they have stepped back in time, into a world of yesteryear. Men wear black frock coats and large black hats. Women are always dressed modestly - no skirts above the knee or plunging necklines and blouses that cover the elbows. They also cover their hair, either with headscarves or wigs.For anyone visiting this neighborhood, they will hear Yiddish on every street corner. They will also see it written in the form of ‘Pashkvils’ which are street posters, used both for political manifests and obituaries. Whilst Mea Shearim is open to all, there are large signs at its entrance (both in Hebrew and English) reminding people to behave respectfully by dressing modestly and, on Shabbat, not using their cellphones or taking photographs.The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel.Photo byIvan LouisonUnsplashPreserving Yiddish Culture in Israel TodayBut what of Yiddish in the rest of Israel? Well, there is, thank goodness, a more ‘happy’ side to this story - after years of it being sidelined (and ‘downgraded’) in Israeli society, there has been a resurgence in interest in the Yiddish language and culture. Today, you can attend lectures in cities across the country, given about famous writers (such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote ‘The Magician of Lublin’ and Shalom Aleichem, who penned ‘Tevye the Dairyman’).There is a Yiddish theatre in Tel Aviv called ‘Yiddishspiel’ which was inaugurated in 1987, as a result of the campaigning of the then Mayor, Shlomo Lahat. Its mission is to restore this wonderful language (which had almost disappeared from Israel) to the public - who can learn about its charm and glory, and the extraordinarily rich culture that lay behind it. Today, it is flourishing and puts on several productions a year, which are viewed by Israelis and tourists of all ages.Furthermore, many Israelis (especially children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) have now signed up for Yiddish classes. Tel Aviv University has begun hosting Yiddish summer camps and the Hebrew University now offers classes for credit. Every year, in Israel, the National Authority for Yiddish Culture now gives out prizes to prominent figures in the fields of arts and literature who contribute significantly to the Yiddish language and culture in Israel.So, what are you waiting for? Visit Israel and learn more about these two interesting languages for yourself!People in Tel Aviv cafe, Israel. Photo byYaroslav LutskyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Sculpture in Israel

Israel is a country packed with culture - and for art lovers, there’s an incredible amount to see, and not just in the endless museums scattered all across the country. Sculpture is not what often springs to mind when you say ‘art’ in Israel but it is a medium that’s becoming more and more prevalent.Sculpture in Ilana Goor Museum, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinWhether you’re walking in Israeli sculpture gardens in the big museums of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, exploring kibbutzim and moshavim (small settlements) in the countryside, or just traveling from place to place and stopping off randomly along the way, you’re going to see sculptures. There’s even one at Ben Gurion airport, at the arrivals gate - a figure reading a book (well, Jews are said to be the people of the book!) Let’s have a look at some of the most popular installations you can see when visiting Israel...From when can we chart the beginnings of Israeli sculpture?It’s fair to say that we can trace the beginnings of Israeli sculpture back to the founding of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 1906. (Bezalel, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the most important artisan of his time, and, appointed by Moses, led the project to build the Ark of the Covenant). Bezalel is situated in Jerusalem, on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. It was founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz, a Jewish painter, and sculptor, and is Israel’s oldest educational institution. Schatz had a vision of a ‘national style’ of art that would blend traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern works with a European tradition.What is interesting is that even though Schatz himself was a sculptor, sculpture was not really considered a priority, and much more emphasis was placed on the art of painting, as well as design. Of course, at that time, there were not many sculptors in Israel. The majority of them were immigrants from Europe and their work was often a fusion of European styles with a national artistic trend that was developing in the land of Israel (and, after 1948, the State of Israel).Palmahim Beach sculptures, Israel. Photo byChen MizrachonUnsplashBoris Schatz - The Father of Israeli ArtSchatz himself was considered the Father of Israeli Art. Before arriving in Jerusalem he had studied in Paris and had learned his skill from teachers who took quite a classical approach, so unsurprisingly his own work was very much influenced by this training. Nevertheless, because he was a Zionist, his subjects were primarily Jewish. He took figures from the Bible such as Mattathias ben Johanan and created them in sculptures as a way of representing good over evil. Still, for decades to come sculpture was very much on the periphery of the curriculum. Commemorative SculptureIsrael is filled with monuments commemorating events in the history of the state - both from 1948 (when it was established) until today and before 1948. Many of these are sculptures and have been designed specifically to invoke the notion of remembrance. These sculptures are a form of visual art but what makes them different is that they have been designed to commemorate historical events - and in Israel’s case, tragic events, the most important one being the Holocaust. Sculptures exist all over the country, commemorating what was probably the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people. Fountain "Zodiac Signs", Jaffa.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinSculpture at Yad VashemPerhaps one of the most moving places to witness these is at Yad Vashem, Israel’s museum to the murdered six million. Located at Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, visitors can explore the extensive museum and walk through the grounds, where there are 20 outdoor sculptures that relate to remembrance and the Holocaust. These works include The Warsaw Ghetto Square, the Pillar of Heroism, and the Yad Vashem Candelabra.The Warsaw Ghetto Square - designed by Nathan Rapaport, this monument is made of two bronze reliefs on a red brick wall (symbolizing the wall of the ghetto). On the right, the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps is depicted - young, old, healthy, and sick. On the left, there is a portrayal of the Ghetto Uprising, where men and women, with rifles, stones, and guns, fought heroically against the Nazis.The Pillar of Heroism - this is a three-sided pillar, made of shining stainless steel conclave panels, the front of which bears the inscription: “To the martyrs...the ghetto fighters...the those who rebelled in the the fighters of the the soldiers in the those who saved their the courageous people who took part in the clandestine the heroes of valor and revolt …”The Yad Vashem Candelabra - this symbolic menorah was designed in 1985 by the sculptor Zohara Schatz, the first woman to ever win the Israel Prize. The six-branched aluminium candelabra represents the six million Jews killed and the piece, considered to be one of the museum’s great emblems, is at its entrance.Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem. Photo bySnowscatonUnsplashSculpture at the Weizmann Institute, RehovotIn 1972, Danny Caravan created the monument “To the Holocaust” at the Weizmann Institute, Israel’s leading scientific institute in Rehovot, a city close to Tel Aviv. Inside a rectangular plaza (which is sunken) is a large bronze sculpture of a broken Torah scroll, balanced in a very unsound way (as if it could fall at any moment) on a white stone basis. A stream of water that flows constantly drips down a crack in the center of the base. The dripping water symbolizes the tears of those who were sent to their death. A Star of David is engraved on the Torah as well as a series of numbers - these are carved to represent the numbers tattooed onto the arms of victims of the camps. There is also an inscription of the first line of the Shema - a central prayer in the Hebrew liturgy and one said traditionally by Jews before death draws close. Sculpture at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’EmekThe only Holocaust monument established in Israel before the creation of the state in 1948, this is a monument to the children who perished in this terrible time. Located at Kibbutz Ha’Emek, it is nestled in the Jezreel Valley, a beautiful part of northern Israel. A stone wall surrounds a small plaza and carved into the wall are four alcoves, each with sculptured figures. They movingly depict the tiny spaces in which children hid and the ways in which their parents tried to protect them.The Gate of Faithby Daniel Kafri, Jaffa, Israel. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashThe Billy Rose Sculpture Garden at Jerusalem’s Israel MuseumThe Billy Rose Art Garden, named after the New York theatrical producer and designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, is considered to be one of the most wonderful sculpture gardens of the 20th century. Located in Jerusalem’s world-famous Israel Museum, Noguchi began planning the garden in the early 1960s on the steep slopes of the grounds of the museum and divided it up into different sections, using walls of fieldstones. Noguchi worked with a Zen principle in mind and used materials such as water, gravel, and concrete, as well as incorporating many plants indigenous to the Middle East into his design. Completed in 1965, and set against the backdrop of an astonishing and dramatic Jerusalem landscape, visitors can wander the gardens and see works by many famous sculptures, including Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Joel Shapiro, and Menashe Kadishman.Notable pieces include the Indian artist Kapoor Anish’s ‘Turning the World Upside Down’- an hourglass-shaped reflective piece that effectively turns the world on its head. Apparently, it is meant to represent the vision of the former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who saw Jerusalem as a ‘merger’ of heaven and earth.Another piece that is infinitely photo-worthy (and loved by Instagrammers!) is Robert Indiana’s famous ‘Ahava’ sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Ahava, in Hebrew, means ‘love’ and is spelled out in four Hebrew letters (aleph, heh, bet, heh). Visitors can climb inside the huge steel weathered letters and pose for the camera with the Jerusalem hills in the background.Park Sculpture by Eli Ilan, Har HaBanim, Ramat Gan, Israel. Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Tel Aviv Museum of Art Sculpture GardenEstablished in 1999, the Tel Aviv Museum’s sculpture garden gives visitors the opportunity to view over 30 contemporary works by sculptors both from Israel and around the world, in its permanent collection. The Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden in Memory of Dolfi Ebner is a true place of peace and tranquility in busy Tel Aviv. A sunken garden, it is surrounded by eucalyptus trees and the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. Visitors should look out for the Tel Aviv–Yafo Mosaic, created in 1999 by Italian artist Enzo Cucchi. It forms the path linking the upper level to the lower one. Another interesting sculpture is by Israeli artist Yitzhak Danziger in 1963. Close by, in Nata’s Garden, are two other sculptures on permanent display: ‘Sisyphus and Jacob Meet by the Well’ by Sigalit Landau and ‘Wreaths’ by Erez Israeli."Mizpor Shalom" - The Ursula Malbin Sculpture Garden, HaifaSituated in Haifa, this is the first sculpture garden in Israel devoted entirely to a female artist. Here, visitors can view many of Ursula Malbin’s works, created in the last 60 years. Mitzpor Shalom (which in English means ‘Peace Park’) is close to the Bahai Gardens.Tel Aviv Museum of Art.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Omer Open Museum Sculpture GardenThis sculpture garden can be found just outside of Beersheba, the getaway city to Israel’s Negev desert. Omer is a small ‘yishuv’ (a settlement created before the State of Israel was created) and on the grounds of its Open Museum visitors can see a range of artworks from the museum collection. The collection includes sculptures by the following artists: Ilan Averbuch, Shlomo Selinger, Shlomo Schwarzberg, Ofra Zimbalista, Gengiz Çekil. As well as the permanent works, the garden also features temporary sculpture exhibitions. Omer is one of three Open Museums (the other two are Tefen and Tel-Hai, in the north of Israel) and another sculpture garden - Dalton - which have all been established within industrial parks in Israel.Kibbutz Dalia Sculpture Garden, GalileeLocated in Galilee, this sculpture garden was established by kibbutz member Nathan Ezra Yenuka who wanted to focus on art and present it in a way that really represented the spirit of the community. There are 24 works to see and they are made of all kinds of material, including polyester, marble, and even local rocks. Bahai Gardens, Haifa.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinVarda Yatom Sculpture Gallery, Upper GalileeLocated in Kibbutz Sasa, in the Upper Galilee, artist Varda Yatom is considered to be one of Israel’s leading ceramic sculpture artists and has a wonderful gallery which you can visit, and meet Varda herself. The kibbutz also boasts a museum of archaeology (free entry) and panoramic views of northern Israel and Lebanon. Our tip: don’t miss their ice cream parlor - the flavors are fantastic!Sculpture Park at Mitzpe Ramon, Negev HillsThe brainchild of Ezra Orion, this sculpture park is located on the edge of the Maktesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater) which was formed over millions of years. It runs for 2 kilometers and was created in 1963 after artists from across the world were invited to arrive and create whatever piece they chose. The only condition - they had to chisel their pieces out of one large rock. Take a trip to the Negev desert, visit Mitzpe Ramon and decide for yourself what some of these weird and wacky creations represent!To explore Israeli sculpture in detail feel free to join our private tours.
By Sarah Mann

The Druze in Israel

Israel is home to all kinds of religious and ethnic groups - Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of the Baha'i faith. But one group isn’t talked about as much - and that is the Druze. Indeed, even in Israel, many of its citizens don’t know much about this small minority who have lived in the religion for thousands of years.Druze man in his car. Photo by Marquise de Photographie on UnsplashThe Druze community is, within the Levant, not a small group - in fact, it numbers between 800,000 and a million followers. Based mainly in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel (and a small number in Jordan) there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding them since many of their practices are kept secret not just from ‘outsiders’ but even from members of their own community.Indeed, even today, only a small privileged number of Druze known as ‘Uqqal’ (followers) participate fully in Druze religious rituals and are given access to the teachings of their secret scriptures. Moreover, since Druze have historically been forbidden from marrying outside their own faith (and intermarriage today is still unusual) it is hard for those outside their society to fully grasp the inner workings of their community.So what do we know about the Druze, particularly those in Israel? Is it possible to visit them and experience their hospitality? Can one convert to the Druze faith or pray with Druze? And how do they seem themselves, as a minority in the state? Let’s take a closer look at some of their beliefs and practices, and find out more about these fascinating people...Druze guard in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashHistory of the DruzeThe history of the Druze is indeed a fascinating one with historians, anthropologists, and geneticists still arguing about their origins today. There remains much dispute as to whether the Druze are of Turkish, Arabian, Persian, or Caucasus descent. No one is entirely sure but recent findings point to them hailing from a region somewhere between northeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and southwest Armenia, bordering the Ararat and Zagros mountains. The Druze are first mentioned by a 12th-century traveler named Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote of them as being ‘fearless mountain-dwelling warriors who favored the Jews.’ Historians now believe the first Druze worshippers lived in Cairo, under the protection of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the ruler of Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. After his rule, however, the Druze were persecuted terribly and many fled to other parts of the Levant. (This persecution may, in part, account for the fact that their faith soon became ‘closed’ to outsiders).Pyramids of Giza, near Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Simon Berger on UnsplashDruze ReligionWithout a doubt, the Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group. With a tradition dating back to the 11th century, their faith incorporates elements of different traditions including Islam, Hinduism, and even classical philosophy. The Druze place a great emphasis on spiritual purity and religious philosophy and their faith has many mentors, including John the Baptist, Moses, Jesus, and the Prophet Mohammed. However, unlike Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, the Druze have no clear holy days, pilgrimage obligations, or even a clear liturgy. Druze people are also admirers of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle! What is interesting about the Druze religion is that although the faith originally developed out of the Ismaili Shia branch of Islam, the Druze certainly do not identify as Muslims. In fact, Druze's philosophy supports the idea of reincarnation and believes that at the end of the cycle of rebirth (after many reincarnations) the soul will be united with the Cosmic Mind. This is a much more Hindu-like approach! The Druze do adhere to the idea of ‘theophany’ i.e. the appearance of a Deity (or even a personal encounter with a Deity), as well as their belief in the oneness of God. However, their holy book - known as the Book of Wisdom - is not known to many (it is not accessible or even comprehensible to those outside the faith).Aristotle's Metaphysics translated by Joe Sachs.Photo byTbel AbuseridzeonUnsplashThe Druze comunity in IsraelThe Druze population in Israel, according to the most current census carried out in 2019, stands at approximately 145,000. This is a dramatic increase since the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 when the Druze community numbered just 14,500. This means that the Druze account for 1.6% of the total population of the country.Druze communities can be found in the north of Israel, predominantly in Galilee, the Carmel, and parts of the Golan Heights. Whilst it is certainly possible to visit Druze villages in Israel and experience great hospitality, it should be noted that in many respects they are a tight-knit and secretive spiritual community.One of the largest and most interesting Druze villages in Israel is Daliat-el-Carmel, around 20 kms southeast of Haifa. It has a bustling Saturday market (which is closed on Friday, the Druze sabbath) where you can buy handcrafted items and Druze souvenirs from Israel (don’t forget to bargain!) as well as local Druze restaurants and cafes at which you can sample excellent hummus. The Druze holiday of Nabi Shuʿayb atDaliat-el-Carmel, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockOlder residents will be wearing long flowing gowns; younger residents dress in more Western-style clothing. Within the oldest part of town, look out for the shrine of Abu Ibrahim, whom the Druze consider a prophet, as well as the Oliphant House, home to Lawrence Oliphant, a British diplomat, mystic, and Christian Zionist of the 19th century.Just outside of the village (a few minutes' drive away) is the Carmelite Monastery of St. Elijah (also known as the ‘Muhraka monastery’). It is believed to be the place where Elijah offered a sacrifice to God, which in turn, was answered by God who sent down fire from the heavens. Inside the catholic chapel is a small sanctuary but it is the gardens that are really lovely, offering visitors the chance to engage in some peaceful contemplation or take the walking trail. For spectacular panoramic views of the Carmel, climb up to the roof. Daliat el-Carmel makes for an excellent day trip, which lets you also visit the charming artist’s village of Ein Hod, nearby.The Carmel Mount, Israel.Photo byYoav NironUnsplashDruze ZionismThe Druze community in Israel is extremely patriotic and their loyalty to the state is without question. The cultivation of a ‘special relationship’ between Jews and Druze began in the 1930s, in the form of a paramilitary alliance (which may have gone some way to alienate Druze Palestinians from their Sunni Muslim neighbors). Since the establishment of Israel, the general consensus has been that the Druze are natural allies of the Israeli state since they are loyal to the point of being prepared to fight in combat units. Israel has also recognized them as a separate Arab community since 1957. ||Druze IdentityAccording to recent research, 90$% of Israeli Druze feel very connected to their community and say they have a strong sense of belonging. The Druze in Israel are overwhelmingly proud of their identity and also believe (like many Jews and Muslims) that they have a special responsibility to take care of other members of their community around the world.What is also interesting is how they define themselves - what being Druze means to them. Is it culture, faith, or history? Here there is no clear consensus. Again, because no one can convert to the faith or technically leave the faith, outside accounts of Druze culture that exist are quite limited. A street in Daliat-el-Carmel, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn terms of the ‘rules’ that they must follow, these include a prohibition on alcohol, tobacco, and pork. Polygamy is forbidden and men and women are technically viewed as equals, although whilst the role of women in Druze society is slowly changing, the Druze women are still seen, primarily, as mothers and daughters within the social hierarchy. Marriage is encouraged, but no Druze couple is permitted to marry until the prospective husband has built them a home. In terms of their economic contribution, historically Druze worked on the land but many have now entered the mainstream workforce, and are represented in all sections of society. Even Druze women, who traditionally worked in fields of teaching and education, are breaking into the world of finance and high tech. Indeed, spearheaded by fintech company Finastra in Kfar Saba (just 45 minutes drive from Tel Aviv), Druze women are being actively recruited into computer programming careers.The Druze FlagThere are variations of the Druze flag but the one thing all versions contain is five specific colors - green, red, yellow, blue, and white. Each color has different symbolic meanings: Red - the moon, the soul, and the ‘feminine’; green - the sun, the mind, and the ‘masculine’; blue - mental power and ‘the will’; yellow - ‘the word’ (i.e. the purest form of God’s truth); white - ‘the realization’ (i.e. the fulfillment of the word).The Druze Flag.By © Verdy pRelations with the Jews from 1948 to Present DayOn the eve of the War of Independence, the Druze had no hesitation in allying themselves with Israel, unlike most of the Palestinian Arabs. Historically, in 1942, after the Sunni leadership in Jerusalem threatened in 1942 to take control of the tomb of Jethro (‘Shuʿayb’’ to the Druze) in Tiberias, the Druze sided with the Jews and this has continued since - indeed, Druze soldiers have fought for Israel in every war since 1948. Today, not only are they well represented in the IDF but they also work in Israel’s diplomatic Corps and the Border Police. Military service and public officeThe Druze are very active in public life and not just subject to the military draft (the Israel Defence Force) but willing participants. Actually, for more than 40 years, there was a military unit composed primarily of Druze Infantry, called the ‘Herev’ (in Hebrew ‘Sword Battalion’). Distinguishing itself, it was awarded with two citations over the years (one for its operational activities in Lebanon, in the second war, and the other for infiltrating an Egyptian intelligence unit in the Negev).The Heruv battalion was dismantled in 2015 although, today, 80% of the Druze population in Israel is still drafted into the IDF and their soldiers have a stellar reputation for excelling in combat units.The Golan Heights.Photo byAviv Ben OronUnsplashStatus and position of the Druze in the Golan HeightsThe Druze who live in the Golan (as opposed to around the Carmel and the Galilee) in general have a more complicated relationship with Israel. In general, they refuse citizenship of Israel and in Majdal Shams, many still have relatives on the Syrian side of the border. Madjal Shams overlooks the divide between the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan and the plateau controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Indeed, after the Golan was first annexed, the local Druze went on strike for some weeks until the Israeli government promised not to issue them with identity cards.To sum up then, if you’re visiting Israel, and especially if you’re planning on spending some time in the north of the country, particularly around the Galilee and Nazareth, why not visit one of the Druze villages - including Isfaya, Beit Jann, Pe’kin, Kasra, and Julis. With their tradition of warm hospitality and excellent cooking, you can see for yourself what makes them such a unique and extraordinary part of Israeli society.If you wish to explore the Druze culture and to distill the Druze secrets, feel free to book aHaifa and the Carmel Private TourThe destination sign at the Golan Heights.Photo byKarima AonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Bedouins in Israel

One of the many incredible things about Israel is its diversity - and not just in landscapes! A first-time visitor to the Holy Land will, most likely, be amazed at how many different kinds of people they see and talk to, whether it’s on the streets of large cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in tiny villages in the Galilee or in the desert areas of the south.Riding Through The Desert, Israel.Photo byRobert ByeonUnsplashBedouin in Israel: FactsAnd if you ask someone “What kind of people make up Israel’s population?” it’s quite likely that they will respond with a number of answers. Most people know that Israel is a country formed in 1948, to represent Jews, and they also know that the land is home to a fair number of Arabs (both Muslim and Christian). But what about other, smaller, minority groups such as the Druze, the Bedouin and the Bahai?Today we’re going to be taking a look at the Bedouin - a nomadic tribe of people who have lived in Israel’s Negev desert for hundreds of years - and explore their history, their culture and lifestyle and how they feel about their lives in Israel today. Who are the Negev Bedouin?The Bedouins in Israel are a small community of nomads, who live in Israel’s Negev Desert, and are part of Israel’s Arab Palestinian minority. The number of Bedouin in Israel today is estimated to be around 200,000-250,000, which accounts for approximately 3% of Israel’s total population. However, in the Negev desert (which is sparsely populated) they actually account for one in four residents. The Bedouin tribes in Israel can be divided into three different groups, depending on their origins. The first are descendants of ancient Arabian nomads, the second hail from certain Bedouin tribes in the Sinai and the third are Palestinians who came from more cultivated areas.Rahat, the cultural capital of Bedouin in the State of Israel. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashHistory of the Bedouin in Israel.From the Spice Route to 1948The majority of the Negev Bedouin can trace their history back to the Hejaz region, located in the north of the Arabian peninsula (in modern terms, between Saudi Arabia and the Sinai area). Between the 14th and 18th centuries they began migrating to the Holy Land - of course, when you consider the history of ancient Israel, this means they are relatively new arrivals! They travelled along the IncenseRoute and, in fact, many became wealthy because of their ability to trade luxurious goods. Historically, the Bedouin were (and still are) nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes. They would wander from place to place, in search of agricultural land where their sheep and goats could be put out to pasture, and after they left an area, it would replenish itself naturally. Since they were highly dependent on water, they moved places according to the climate.In the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither the Ottoman rulers nor the British Mandate had any real interest in the desert part of the country, which meant that Bedouin - for the most part - were free to live and act as they chose. Of course, this all changed after the War of Independence (leading to the creation of the State of Israel, in 1948). After Egypt’s soldiers invaded Israel, the Negev soon resembled a terrible background and, soon after, around 90,000 Bedouin fled to Egypt and Jordan. By the end of the war, only 11,000 remained!Mohamed, part of the Israeli Bedouin community in the Negev. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashBedouin History from 1948 onwardsThose in positions of power in the newly created state quickly realised that much of Israel’s landmass (actually, 60% of it) was desert. Not surprisingly, they regarded the Negev desert as an area where development and growth could take place and, in their haste to settle the land, did not give sufficient thought to the Bedouins already there. Today, many historians argue that this policy has continued, insofar that every Israeli government since 1948 has ignored Bedouin claims to the land in their haste to develop it for their own purposes. (To read more about this subject, take a look at ‘Land Ownership’ below)Where Do Israeli Bedouin Live?Israeli Bedouin live in small villages and ‘townships’ in the southern Negev desert. Essentially, this is a ‘triangle’ located between the outskirts of Beersheba, Israel’s gateway city to the south, and the small cities of Dimona and Arad. You can also see Bedouin walking with their animals, en route from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.Fun fact: it was actually a Bedouin shepherd boy who discovered the Dead Sea Scrollsafter one of his sheep became lost from the flock and he went into the Qumran Caves to look for it. The result? One of the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century (the Dead Sea Scrolls can be seen today, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where they are housed in a building that has been described as an ‘architectural masterpiece.’A camel rests between trips, Negev Desert.Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashBedouin Villages in IsraelAfter the War of Independence, few Bedouin remained in the Negev but as the years passed, they slowly began to return. By 1954, about 11,0000 were recognised by Israel as citizens and between 1968 and 1989, Israel built seven townships for them in the northeast of the Negev. Eventually, it is estimated that about 60% of them relocated to these towns, especially to the largest - Rahat. Indeed, by 1984, the population of the town had grown sufficiently to be recognised as a city by Israel, which means today that it is the largest Bedouin city in the world. The other six townships in the Negev in which Bedouins in Israel live today are Tel as-Sabi (Tel Sheva). Ar-arat an-Naqab (Ar’ara BaNegev), Lakiya, Hura, Shaqib al Salam (Segev Shalom) and Kuseife (Kseife). Having a Bedouin Experience When In IsraelIf you’re travelling in Israel, it’s actually possible to see, first-hand, how this nomadic tribe lives, by taking a day tour (or even, sometimes, an overnight tour) to one of the many Bedouin villages in the Negev desert. The experience itself many report as being extraordinary - and one thing for which the Bedouins are well-known in Israel is their hospitality.There is no one typical trip but almost every ‘Bedouin Experience’ will contain certain components, including food, hiking (or trekking with camels) and an overnight stay. Many trips include travel to off-the-beaten-track locations, up in the Judean Hills, or in arid parts of the Negev. Negev tour, rocky desert on horseback, Israel.Photo byGreta Schölderle MølleronUnsplashIt’s possible, often, to take jeep tours (similar toJudaean Desert Safari Private Tour), partake in the age-old ‘coffee ceremony’ (after which you can try pita that’s just come straight from the fire), visit ‘off the grid’ villages and take night hikes under the starry skies. Bedouin lunches and dinners are usually served in a ‘khan’ which is a large Bedouin tent. Meals often take the form of feasts - visitors sit on traditional mats (not tables) and food is served on platters that serve many people. A typical dinner could include homemade pita, salads, tahini and hummus and eggplant, followed by ‘Maklube’, a traditional Arab-style dish. Maklube is a traditional one-pot dish, filled with rice, roasted vegetables and meat, which is flipped upside down when served (‘maklube’ means ‘upside down’ in Arabic!) And whilst it's not common to be served alcohol at these meals, you will be offered juices and sweet baklava for dessert! An overnight stay in a Bedouin tent is often the highlight of a visit. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but are often large enough to accommodate dozens of people. Woven out of goat hair, in their most basic form they have mattresses for guests and in more luxurious tents the experience is more like ‘glamping’. Don’t worry either - they have thick rugs on the floor and warm blankets, so you won’t catch a cold, even on winter nights.The Negev Desert, Israel.Photo byMatan PerlmuteronUnsplashLand Ownership Issues:The question of land ownership is still a complex one in modern-day Israel - legally, as well as socially and historically. As stated above, Israel built seven townships (one which became a city) but what is also problematic is the number of unrecognised villages in the country, in which basic services - such as electricity and water - are often hard to come by. As a result, these villages are often ‘off the grid’ and their inhabitants suffer as a result.In the meantime, the Negev Bedouin have been claiming ownership of land in the Negev desert that amounts to 12 times the size of Tel Aviv! Since the 1970s, over 3.000 claims have been filed - the Bedouin argument is that these lands were illegally taken from them after 1948. They wish for these lands to be legally returned to them since they argue that they are indigenous people whose rights are continually being violated by the Israeli government. They argue that these lands are theirs as they were to their grandfathers and fathers and that after the state of Israel was declared, they were not allocated adequate space. In contrast, the Israeli authorities have argued that Bedouins are trying to take over many parts of the Negev by building homes on empty land, staking out farming and grazing areas. Since they have no permits to build, the Israeli government argues that they are effectively building on state-owned land, which is illegal...Israel is currently in the process of building a number of new villages or towns for the Negev Bedouin and these townships are intended to meet all of their future needs. The Israel Land Administration (ILA) also says it is doing everything in its power to deal with the problems of the landless Bedouin in the Negev. Clearly, the matter is very complex, since there are thousands of claimants (approximately 15,000) who represent the clans of the original claimants.The Negev Desert from the car window, Israel.Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashIdentity and Culture of Negev BedouinThe Bedouin are extremely tribal in nature and are organised in clans, in which are many extended family members. Bedouin culture is also patriarchal - the head of each family, as well as of each larger unit, which makes up the tribe, is called a sheikh.Each sheikh is aided by an informal tribal council of male elders. Furthermore, polygamy is widely practised in Bedouin society, which means it is quite usual for a Bedouin man to have a number of wives and sometimes even dozens of children. In places such as Egypt and Jordan, the Bedouin are often referred to as Arabs and this is technically correct. However, there is a real distinction - Bedouins are different from other groups because of their extensive kinship networks (giving them a great deal of community support) and rich culture.It is fair to say that the Bedouin have a very traditional (even conservative, by Israeli standards) culture. However, modern-day standards mean that they are far less homogenous a social group than they were, say, 50 years ago and many Bedouin now are pursuing professional and academic careers. In certain instances, they have also been incorporated into the military and police service.For sure, Bedouins are known for their extraordinary hospitality and also resourcefulness (after all, they have managed to survive in harsh climates, with limited resources, for hundreds of years). The Bedouin are also extraordinarily independent - as animal herders, they are used to migrating into the desert during the rainy season and returning to cultivated land in the dry summer months. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many of them have struggled to adapt to ‘urban living’, after moving to towns.A Bedouin man in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo byLukas BeeronUnsplashThe Bedouin Attitude towards IsraelThis is a very interesting question since there is a lot of ambiguity in Bedouin attitudes towards Israel. On the one hand, they are not ardent nationalists and struggle to identify with the concept of Zionism. On the other, many are proud Israelis, who choose to serve in the IDF (service which is mandatory for all Jews).Since Israel is very advanced in terms of education and high-tech, this means that more Bedouin have the opportunity to take advantage of technological progress and gain a university education (particularly women).Still, it is fair to say that the Bedouin community suffers from discrimination in Israeli society (particularly because its towns do not have the level of services and resources that they should have). Many Bedouin are still on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder in Israel and - by moving to townships - they have lost the traditional livelihoods that sustained them for centuries and, for them, that means a loss of ‘freedom’. So their attitude to Israel, essentially, remains ambivalent.If you are interested in Bedouin culture, feel free to book one of our customizable private tours!
By Sarah Mann

Farming in Israel

Israel is a land of beaches, mountains and holy sites, but it’s also a land of lush green fields, vineyards and olive groves. And since the turn of the 19th century, when immigrants began arriving from Europe, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge about farming techniques, the agricultural system in Israel has gone from strength to strength.Sweeties growing in Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinOstensibly, you wouldn’t be surprised - after all, Israel has a typically Mediterranean climate and fertile soil, making it ideal for the establishment of farms. But when you bear in mind that over 50% of the country is desert terrain, and only 20% of the land is naturally arable, you then begin to realize how remarkable Israel’s farming achievements are.World-Class Agriculture and Cutting Edge Farming Techniques in IsraelFrom hydroponic farming (think cherry tomatoes - an Israeli invention!) to koi farming, from avocado, oranges, grapefruit, and apples to date palms, olive groves, antelopes, and alpacas, and even snails, Israeli farming is today, a highly developed industry. Below, we’ll be taking a look at how farms took shape in the land, over the centuries, how farming techniques have evolved, and some of the products they yield today. We’ll also take a look at some of the numerous farms you can visit across Israel - from high up in the Galilee down to the Arava and Negev deserts, and not just learn about the products (and even taste them) but to stay overnight in guest accommodation.Israeli farm.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsFarming in Israel - From Ancient to Modern TimesWhen did agriculture begin in Israel? Well, some archaeologists think as long ago as 23,000 years! Evidence points to the development of rural settlements - hamlets, villages, and farms - some with fields and some with terraces, many having access routes to markets. Archaeologists have also excavated digging tools and stone objects, as well as olive and wine presses. From as long ago as the Bronze Age, it is clear that every aspect of the inhabitants’ lives revolved around the cycles of nature. In fact, the Gezer Calendar, written on a limestone tablet in the 10th century, actually records the annual schedule of agricultural work. In the Bible, of course, Israel is famously referred to as the land of ‘milk and honey’ and compared to Egypt (beyond the Nile) and the Arabian desert, it truly was. The ancient Israelites feasted on wheat, olives, grapes, barley, pomegranates, and figs, not to mention melons, lentils, cucumbers, and chickpeas. Barley was harvested in May, grapes were picked in August, and olives were harvested in the Fall. A relatively dry climate and hilly terrain provided valleys for growing (Jezreel in the north and the Sharon in the South) and springs close to Jericho made it possible to plant around the Jordan.A lychee farm in Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsThe Kibbutz and MoshavIsrael is also known across the world for its kibbutzim and moshavim. The kibbutz is a collective community, where all wealth is jointly owned and was traditionally agrarian. Today, many have privatized and are highly successful - Ein Gev, in the Galilee, has banana plantations, an Israel-type model dairy farm, and an ostrich breeding program. Yotvata, in the Arava desert, has a huge milk products factory, supplying millions of Israeli children with their much-loved ‘choco’ (fabled chocolate milk).The moshav in Israel is also an agricultural settlement, but here all of the members are individual farmers who live together. Historically, the farmers would share equipment and avoid hired labor but today many Israelis who are not farmers buy land there and build their own private homes.Built on land owned by the Jewish National Fund, the moshavim historically represented a middle ground between privately owned settlements and the communal kibbutzim. Today, many are still involved in Israeli farming ventures including grape cultivation, chicken rearing, dairy production, and beekeeping.A ripe harvest in one of the Israeli kibbutzim.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsModern-Day Farming Techniques in IsraelToday, Israel is hailed as a global leader when it comes to advanced farming techniques - think hydroponic, vertical, and robotic farming practices. In its most simple form, hydroponics ‘skips’ the soil, finding different materials to support the plant roots and grow the crop directly, in water-rich with nutrients. This means farmers can grow and produce food anywhere in the world, at any time of the year, as well as netting higher yields using fewer resources. You also don’t have to wait for ‘the season’ or worry that your crop will be lost due to bad weather! Smart Design that Improves Productivity in the Midst of a Pandemic!The Israeli farmer is also becoming adept with the techniques of vertical and robotic farming. Vertical farming in Israel allows farmers to grow crops in vertically stacked layers. One Israeli agri-tech start-up in Raanana (about 40 minutes drive from Tel Aviv) - VerticalField - created these farms in urban areas, using technical expertise and smart design geoponic technology. Equally innovative is Israel’s robotic system that automates greenhouse tasks, at the same time gathering data (to improve quality). In the pandemic, for instance, many Israeli farmers worked with robots, operating the software from their homes. This meant the number of staff at greenhouses could be kept to a minimum and social distance maintained!Equally fascinating are the start-ups that have revolutionized milk production in Israel, using robots that will completely automate the production, at a much lower cost than normal. This kind of technology and scientific know-how is being exported all over the world so that farms in South East Asia and South America can improve their own practices when it comes to feeding and milking cows. Blossoming almond grove, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinUrban Farming and Revolutionary Restaurants!This is also a growing trend in Israel, particularly in the big cities. ‘Green in the City’ is at the forefront of all kinds of aquaponic and hydroponic solutions, including hothouses on the roof of the Dizengoff Mall shopping center in central Tel Aviv! Cucumbers, mint, lettuce, kale, and green onions are amongst the many things people can pick up from baskets (there are no sellers, it works on an honor system).Tel Aviv Restaurant L28 even took it one step further - the produce they use actually comes from their rooftop kitchen. Urban agronomy involves sunlight, insects, and chemistry but it really can work, as they’ve proved. They also have a ‘wet well’ using hydroponics) to grow greens on the menu! What Kind of Farms Can You Find in Israel?Where do we begin? Fruits and vegetables? Animals? Spices? Delectable cheeses? Here are a few of the farms that have really made a name for themselves in the last few years, and have become popular both with locals and people coming on a trip to Israel. Antelope Ranch, Arava Desert - this farm/ranch is great for kids, as they have a ‘Noah’s Ark’ and a mini-safari. The place is full of antelopes and zebras, different birds, and surrounded by desert hills. You can camp here or take a private ‘zimmer’. A real African experience in Israel!Olive grove in Latrun, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinHerb and Spice farm, Kibbutz Hulata, Galilee - here you can buy over 200 types of herbs, spices, and medicinal plants, all grown locally in Upper Galilee. With over 50 years of experience, this family knows all about growing, drying, and blending herbs, using traditional methods. Desert Olive Farm, Sde Boker - this is more of a getaway than a farming experience! Here, you can experience the Negev desert, either by staying in an Indian tent, an African ecological cabin, or a luxurious suite, as you enjoy the peace of the desert by day and the bright starry skies at night.Kornmehl Farm, Negev desert - located in the Negev Hills, this is a great place to come if you love goat’s cheese, a new variation of a French classic. Anat and Daniel rear goats who roam freely and are not fed antibiotics and their artisanal cheeses are to die for! Alpaca Farm, Mitzpe Ramon - overlooking the Ramon Crater in Mitzpe Ramon, in the Negev, this farm is guaranteed to be a hit with the kids, who love to pet these South American animals. This is a working farm, with the wool from these furry creatures used to create unique items of clothing, and as you walk around you are even welcome to feed the alpacas and llamas! There are also 20 horses available for riding…!Antelope ranch in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo by Dennis van Lith on UnsplashEin Camonim - in Israel’s Upper Galilee, this is another goat farm in Israel that’s been going since the late 1970s and boasts an excellent restaurant, where you can try all kinds of classic cheese. They also make their own olive oil using ancient stone presses. Try their all-you-can-eat vegetarian gourmet buffet, which includes freshly baked bread. The kids are also welcome to pet the goats…Shvil Hasalat, Negev - located down south in Israel’s Negev desert at moshav Talmei Yosef, here you can take a 3-hour tour, led by Uri Alon, an international agronomist). You’ll stop at places such as strawberry and tomato greenhouses, orchards of Chinese oranges, and a herb section and after an explanation of how it all works, you’ll get to pop some of the fruits in your mouth!Hava and Adam Farm - equidistant between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this farm gives young adults the chance to learn more about sustainable living and permaculture, by volunteering on their organic farm. They put an emphasis on personal development too and provide long-term programs for those who are interested in working on the land long-term. Mandankoi, Kibbutz Magan Michael - up on the coast, less than an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, you can tour this Israeli fish farm, which is a leader in koi breeding. A great place to learn about - and purchase - all kinds of tropical fish.Crocoloco Crocodile Farm, Arava - Located 140 km north of Eilat, in the barren desert, this farm is run by a South African couple who are crazy about a certain kind of reptile. They offer guided tours and lots of fun facts for kids about these amazing creatures and if you’re lucky you’ll even get to hold a baby one in your hand! Educational and fun.Vineyard in Israel.Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on UnsplashChampignon Farm, Western Galilee - founded in 1982 as a family business, today this farm employs a wide range of workers including agronomists, growers, maintenance workers, and exchange students. They’re growing all kinds of edible mushrooms using unique methods that yield high-quality crops, and the produce tastes amazing!Vered HaGalil, Western Galilee - lovely farm accommodation in charming, rustic cabins, with beautiful views looking down on the Sea of Galilee. Guests can enjoy horseback riding at sunset too. This unique farm stay in Israel has 120 dunams of greenery and orchards, so you’ll really be able to relax in peace and quiet.Kurlander Farm, Moshav Beit Hillel - up in the Golan Heights, this fantastic state-of-the-art dairy farm is run by three generations of the Kurlander family. Take a tour and learn all about newborn calves, learn about the secrets of milk production and enjoy some tasty chocolate milk. Kids can pet and feed the animals and you can take home fruits and olive oil too. If you call ahead, you can arrange a visit to their orchards and olive groves. Tours are held each day at midday. Davida Animal Farm, Yish’i - not too far a drive from Jerusalem, this charming farm is a great place to bring young children, with admission price including a petting corner and horse riding and bouncy houses. Kids can also have a ‘tractor experience’ and watch goats being milked. A good place to bring a picnic - they have tables in the shade!The Camel Ranch, Dimona - not too far from Beer Sheva, this is a chance for kids to learn more about can actually take a trip out into the desert on them. The owners are kind and serve you mint tea too! Our tip - try the ice cream - it’s made from camel milk! For those that want to make a weekend out of it, they offer simple clean accommodation, with kitchen facilities and you can sit out by a bonfire at night, after dinner.If you are interested in visiting some Israeli farms, consider joining Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley Farm Private Tour.Old-fashioned farming in the Biblical Garden in Yad HaShmona, Israel. Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash
By Sarah Mann

Fruit and Vegetable Picking in Israel

Farming is a big deal in Israel. No, seriously! The first Jewish immigrants to the country (decades before the State of Israel was established) went not just to cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but also to remote areas across the country, with the deliberate aim of settling and cultivating the land. Whether it was the barren Negev desert or swampy malarial parts of the Galilee and Jordan Valley, they were determined to make things grow.Lemons are grown in Israel.Photo by Dan Gold on UnsplashToday, just over a century later, for Israeli farmers living on kibbutzim and moshavim (collective and semi-collective settlements) their work is, in some ways, still a way of fulfilling the dream their forefathers had of being a free people in their own land. Israeli farmers, today, are not just growing produce to be self-sufficient but they also feel a strong connection to their land. Oh, and they’re contributing to Israel’s economy too!And when you travel out of Israel’s big cities, you can see the fruits of their labor (no pun intended!) everywhere. Israel’s a world leader in new and innovative agricultural techniques (think hydroponic tomatoes and vertical farming) and when you’re in the Golan Heights, the Galilee, or even the desert, you’re never far from a vegetable field or a fruit orchard.Cherry orchard in Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsEvery Israeli child learns about the ‘halutzim’ (pioneers) in school and one really fun and creative way to keep that tradition alive is by taking them on a day trip to one of these places to pick vegetables and berries. Fruit picking and vegetable picking are an activity that’s great for all the family. After all, whether you’re old and young, it’s nice to be out in the fresh air, plucking something straight from the ground or tree.It’s also incredibly rewarding, as a parent, to teach your children that fruits and vegetables don’t grow in the supermarket. Whether it’s strawberries, cherries, beets, or carrots, the feeling you get as you (literally) get your hands dirty, is a fantastic one. And the best part? Not only do you get to pop a few fruits in your mouth (all you can eat, very often) but you take a basket or two home at the end of the day. Fruit and vegetable picking (katifim) is very popular in Israel. Let’s have a look at some of the places you can pick fruits, vegetables, and berries in Israel, take tours of the local areas you’re in, and also find overnight accommodation in Israel on the farms themselves or in the locale.Tomato greenhouse, Israel.Photo by Benjamin Rascoe on UnsplashBustan Bereshit Farm, Golan HeightsLocated in the Golan Heights, this is probably the largest fruit picking site in Israel. With around 100 dunams of land at their disposal, you can pick all kinds of seasonal fruits, including raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, sweet and sour cherries, apples (all varieties, even from Asia), figs, grapes, peaches, and nectarines. Once you’ve paid your entry fee, shuttle buses will transport you out to the fields and then you can get picking, straightaway! Admission is 37 NIS (12 USD) and includes a tour in a tractor car for the entire family. Bustan Bereshit also offers a variety of attractions - rope-climbing, horseback riding (and pony riding for younger kids), an ‘animal corner', and even baking classes.There are shady areas at which you can relax and picnic, as well as a cafe selling coffee and light refreshments. There’s also a store that sells all kinds of produce made in the Golan. Bustan Bereshit, Ein Zivan. Tel: 04 688 3512.Picking cherries, Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsStrawberries Meshik Farm, Hod HaSharon, Central IsraelJust half an hour's drive from Tel Aviv is this wonderful strawberry farm where there are all kinds of delicious strawberries. Even better, each year they introduce a new variety, so if you come back you’ll never be bored. It’s a little bit more expensive than your average fruit-picking farm but definitely worth it. Tut Meshek, Asirey Tsiyon St, Hod Hasharon. Tel: 052 591 2244Hapardes Hakasum, Central IsraelJust 15 minutes drive from Tel Aviv, close to the city of Petach Tikva, lies HaPardes Hakasum. Pardes means ‘ orchard’ in Hebrew and this is a good place for the whole family to spend time. As well as guided fruit picking Israel tours, they also have craft tables, a petting zoo, soft play, and a pita-making class. The function hall is a good place to hold a birthday party for a group of youngsters. HaPardes HaKassum, Hashlosha 1, Kfar Ma'as. Tel: 050 2566 0206.Picking berries, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana MatsMeshek Levy - Sha’al Berry Picking, Golan HeightsNestled in the Golan, this farm is run by the Levy family, and here you can pick all kinds of wonderful fruits, including figs, sabras (Israel’s national fruit) and clementines, sweet and sour cherries, blueberries, mulberries, Chinese dates, and both red and yellow raspberries. The site is open from May to October and offers competitive picking prices. There’s a cafeteria, offering light bites and a sandbox and animal petting corner for young kids. All produce sold is kosher mehadrin and the site is closed on Shabbat. You can also camp at the Levy family’s moshav (they have a dedicated site) or if you’re looking for a little more comfort, book one of their rustic cabins. They also offer jeep tours and night safaris...a real adventure for those who like to live dangerously…Meshek Levy, Sha’al, Golan, Tel: 052 460 0465.Dates on a plate.Photo by Mona Mok on Unsplash‘Farming Circus’ Moshav Yogev, Emek Israel, Central IsraelAlways popular with kids, here your kids can enjoy themselves in more ways than one. This agricultural circus is unique in Israel in that it teams up agricultural activities with a circus show - hilarity, juggling acts, and even a ride on a unicycle! The moshav has organic gardens and if you take the tour, it includes a visit to their greenhouse, where you can learn more about their Italian planting hydroponic system. In the winter, you have the chance to pick all kinds of vegetables, including beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, kohlrabi, and potatoes. You pay for entry to the circus and then have the option after to pay to pick. Agricultural Circus, Moshav Yogev, Emek Jezreel. Tel: 073 374 4211.Blueberry Picking. Photo by Ava Tayler on UnsplashThe Orchard, Moshav Beit HillelMoshav Beit Hillel lies on the banks of the Hasbani river, about 3 kms from Kiryat Shmona in the Golan Heights. It’s a great place to pick your own vegetables and seasonal fruits, and the guides give a lot of detail. After you’ve picked your produce, you can make salads and drink tea. There’s a picnic area with benches, a coffee shop and a good Italian restaurant called ‘Cheese’ (we’d recommend trying the gnocchi and, for dessert, their delectable cheesecake). They also offer bike trips along the Snir River and Kfar Blum kibbutz, close by, can organize kayaking tours. Moshav Beit Hillel, Upper Galilee Tel: 052 525 7671.Banana farm. Photo by Tistio on UnsplashShvil HaSalat FarmDown in the Negev, ‘Shvil ha Salat’ (which means’ Salad Trail’) is the perfect opportunity to tour greenhouses and eat your way through them at the same time! In their Tomato Greenhouse, you learn about how these sweet treats grow upwards and in the Greenhouse of Flying Strawberries, you’ll find out why water and a certain kind of soil make them such a tasty fruit. And don’t miss the Orchard or Chinese Oranges either - afterwards, you can make necklaces out of the fruit!Shvil HaSalat also offers kids the opportunity to bake bread with olive oil and za’atar (a local spice) with Bedouins, then head off to the Field of Carrots, where the whole family can pick a bunch of these orange goodies, then take them home and make them into juices, soups or lunch snacks. Fun and nutritious! Shvil HaSalat, Nachal haBasor, Negev region. Tel: 08 998 2225.Cabbage picking.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsKtofoti, Bethlehem of Galilee, GalileeLocated in the Galilee near Kiryat Tivon, around 10 ms north-west of Nazareth, this self-picking farm is a wonderful place with all kinds of fruits and veggies - think strawberries, cherry tomatoes, lettuces, potatoes, carrots, onions, cauliflower, and even artichokes. There are also guides in the fields, who are very helpful. Entrance is 45 NIS (14 USD) per person (which includes anyone over two years old) although every fourth family member pays 40 NIS (12,5 USD).You then pay 30 NIS per family basket or 20 NIS for a small basket. Everybody above two years old must purchase a ticket). And every fourth family member pays 40 NIS. Moreover, you pay 30 NIS per family basket or 20 NIS for a small basket. It’s not super cheap but a lot of fun and, if you look on the web, you might find some coupons, giving you a discount.A cup of raspberries.Photo by Julia Potatoes on UnsplashKurlender Farm, Golan HeightsSituated high up in the Golan region, the Kurlander farm, on the banks of the Hasbani river, has been run for decades by three generations of farmers. They operate a state-of-the-art dairy farm and, for young families, this can be a wonderful day trip. Their English-speaking guides are helpful and informative and on any tour, everyone gets a taste of their chocolate milk and some samples of cheese. You’re even given the opportunity to learn to milk a cow, and the kids can bottle feed the calvers!Kurlender also sells grapefruits, tangerines, and oranges in the winter, and other produce made locally including honey and olive oil. Oh, and if you travel there on Friday you can sample one of their famous ‘Galilee breakfasts’ - a delicious dairy feast! There’s plenty of accommodation nearby, including a guesthouse, zimmers and even a spa.Carrot picking.Photo by Harshal S. Hirve on UnsplashBe’er Tuvia, Negev regionWhen it comes to flowers, who doesn’t love anemones and buttercups? These gorgeous buds, also known as Ranunculus (‘Nuriot’ in Hebrew), tend to flower at the end of April, for about a month. Visiting this place is therefore the perfect springtime activity. Be’er Tuvia is a moshav near Kiryat Malachi, which is about an hour 10 minutes drive from Tel Aviv. The entrance is 40 NIS per family - for this, you will be given some scissors and a plastic can (to put the flowers you’ve picked). If you don’t want to pick, you can just pay 20 NIS and take photos of the masses of red, yellow, pink, and white flowers that surround you. You won’t be disappointed.To learn more about farming in Israel, feel free to read this article. If you would like to visit a farm in Israel, please book one of our private tours.
By Sarah Mann

Sports in Israel

Sports in ancient Israel are mentioned in the Bible although some practised by Egyptians and Greeks were condemned by the sages for involving pagan practises. But others were definitely ‘kosher’ e.g. running. Although sport was not supposed to detract away from the idea of studying the Torah (Jewish Bible), there are dissenting ideas. Rabbi Kook, for instance, argued: "When the holy people will be physically firm and strong, holiness will prevail in the world.” The theatre in Caesarea is also evidence that sports were popular, back in the day.Kitesurfing in the Red Sea, Israel. Photo by Raimond Klavins on UnsplashMajor sports in Modern Day IsraelThe sports tradition in more modern times has continued, particularly with football which first came to the Holy Land under Ottoman rule. In 1928, the Palestinian Football Association was formed and the British Mandate of Palestine national team played Egypt in 1934 in a World Cup qualifying game (they lost - and badly!) After the creation of the State of Israel, they were renamed as the national team of Israel and their first match as an independent nation was against the US Olympic Team. So what are the most popular sports in Israel? Well, we’d have to say football and basketball for starters.Israel’s Premier League was started in 1999, and today is a member of UEFA. The national stadium, first located in Ramat Gan, was where games were originally held but today games are usually played at Bloomfield Stadium, in Tel Aviv. Football (soccer), arguably, is Israel’s national sport today, just edging out basketball in the popularity stakes. ‘Ligat Ha Al’ - the Israeli Basketball Premier League - makes up the top 12 basketball teams in Israel and was set up in 1954. It is well-known in Europe and in recent years they have had more links with the NBA in North America.Surfers at Alma Beach in Tel Aviv.Photo by Zoltan Tasi on UnsplashThere are also many other sports that are popular in Israel - swimming, rowing, tennis, chess, boxing, figure skating, and gymnastics. Golf is a relatively new sport in Israel but there is a full-sized course in Caesarea. Baseball became more popular in the 1990s, and today there’s a very successful ‘Baseball for All’ program running in Israel, which encourages Jewish and Arab Israeli students in 6th grade to play together three times a year. Indeed, Israel was only just pipped to the post (by the Netherlands) in the European Baseball Championship in September 2021.Martial arts are very much enjoyed, particularly Krav Maga (a self-defense and fighting system, developed by the Israel Defence Force). There’s also Kapap - a ‘fusion of different fighting styles like boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu, and knife combat. Extreme sports in Israel are also becoming more popular. Whether you want to rappel down the side of the Ramon Crater, a canyon in the Golan Heights, or sandboard in the dunes of the Negev desert, there’s a tour for it. The bicycle race Giro d'Italia in Israel.Photo by Yoav Aziz on UnsplashWater Sports in IsraelWith its fabulous Mediterranean coastline, the Sea of Galilee, and the beautiful Red Sea besides. Israel is a paradise for anyone who loves water sports. Diving - there’s no better place to dive than Eilat, with its clear waters, stunning coral reef, and shoals of brightly colored tropical fish. For beginners, there are authorized PADI courses available and for more experienced divers Eilat Coral Beach is a great spot to explore. For those nervous about going underwater, it’s also fun to snorkel. Jet skiing - available both in Eilat and the Sea of Galilee, either take a trip out with an instructor or rent your own! Trust us, it’s an extremely exciting experience. Stand Up Paddle Boarding - this sport is growing in popularity - these boards look much like surfboards but are infinitely more stable, so you move around without tipping over precariously. Ideal for exploring on flat water, you’ll see both locals and tourists out on the Mediterranean, enjoying themselves in this way.Sea Kayaking - If you want to go out on open waters such as lakes, bays, or the Mediterranean Sea in Israel, Because they are long and narrow, they’re great for negotiating waters. Sailing - it’s easy to hire a yacht in Israel and spend a few hours on the sea, topped off with a wonderful sunset. Clubs in Tel Aviv and Herzliya rent out vessels from a few hours to a get set!Swimming in the Jordan River, Israel. Photo credit:© Jenny EhrlichBeach Sports in IsraelMatkot - this is, unofficially, Israel’s national beach sport and much loved by the locals. It’s a wooden paddleboard game, where two players smash the ping pong-sized ball back and forth and observers hope they don’t lose an eye when the ball goes astray!Beach Volleyball - also very popular in Tel Aviv.On summer Saturday mornings in particular, at Gordon Beach, you’ll see plenty of young, attractive people (dressed in very little) getting fit, by way of the free courts there.Sports Events and Festivals in IsraelThere are so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin but here are a few we can’t resist mentioning...The Maccabiah Games are held every four years - essentially it’s a quadrennial Jewish Olympics, bringing together the most promising Jewish athletes from around the world. First held in 1932, It is the third-largest sporting event in the world, with 10,000 athletes competing and hosts open, junior, master, and disabled events.The games were named after Judah Maccabee, a Jewish leader who defended his country from King Antiochus. Today, the torch that lights the flame at the opening ceremony takes place in Modiin, his birthplace. The Maccabiah Games recognizes all 28 current Olympic sports, as well as chess, netball, and cricket! Women in Yoga Project, Israel. Photo by Mor Shani on UnsplashTel Aviv MarathonUsually taking place in February, this is a huge event, both for locals in Tel Aviv and runners around Israel. Over 40,000 people have been participating in the last years and because Tel Aviv is quite compact, the marathon passes through many parts of it. Starting in the north, at Yarkon Park and culminating in the south, in Jaffa, it’s a great day out, either as a participant or just a spectator.Jerusalem MarathonTaking place a month after Tel Aviv’s marathon, in March, back in 2013 Women’s Running Magazine this was chosen as one of the top 10 international spring running events worldwide. And whilst Tel Aviv is very flat, Jerusalem is incredibly hilly so this is a very challenging marathon, even for experienced runners. The good news is you can choose the length of your run - and the astonishing views of Jerusalem are to die for. Because it takes place at the beginning of spring, weather conditions are also good. Have a look at this video, to see for yourself.Beach volleyball in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo by Kai Pilger on UnsplashFrom North to South - Marathons Across IsraelThere are also many more marathons in Israel, held in all parts of the country. There’s one in the Dead Sea, where you’re literally running the lowest race on earth! The Sea of Galilee event is the oldest of its kind in Israel (45 years old) and has a flat course. The Crane Race, in the Hula Valley, offers a variety of marathons (half, 19k, 5k, and family events) around Hula Lake, where you can see thousands of cranes migrating. And let’s not forget the ‘Volcano Run’ in the Golan Heights. Beginning in Mount Hermon and ending at the Yarmuk River, you can enjoy running up and down five peaks, past a dormant volcano and breathtaking views. Probably not for the fainthearted! The desert marathon is held in Eilat, beginning in the desert and ending on the shores of the Red Sea. The Bible marathon recreates a run mentioned in the Bible, with its starting point at Rosh Ha’ayin (once Eben Exer) and ending at Shiloh (an ancient Сity of the Tabernacle). And let’s not forget the Arad-Masada race - beginning in the desert and ending at the foot of Masada, it’s renowned for its ‘afterparty rave’. After all, isn’t a dance party the perfect way to end this kind of race!People exercising on sports ground in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichTel Aviv Night RunHeld annually in October, this 10k race is fantastic fun - and unique in Israel because it’s held at night. It’s a tradition for anyone who runs to wear neon clothes (pink, yellow, green), and anyone over 14 can sign up. The route is completely urban and with thousands of people cheering on the runners, it’s a fantastic experience. It begins at Rabin Square, Rothschild Boulevard, down trendy Dizengoff, and into the finish area at Yarkon Park. Oh - and then there’s an all-night celebratory party with music and dancing - Tel Aviv style!Sail Tel AvivSail Tel Aviv is Israel’s largest maritime sports activity, and runs from between two to four days, usually in the spring, celebrating all things to do with the sea. Held next to the beach, it’s free for the public and involves many different kinds of competitions and activities. Come and look at the sand sculptures and the photography exhibitions, grab a bite, listen to some music. If you’re brave, you can even sign up for the open experience day with SUP, kayak rowing, and boat sailing! Israman Eilat and Ironman TiberiasA full & half Iron-Distance Triathlon takes place in Eilat, in January and another arduous one in Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, in November. So if you’re up for swimming, biking, and running, you know where to go!Skaters in Tel Aviv. Photo byYoav AzizonUnsplashSovev Tel Aviv Bike FestivalUsually taking place in October, around the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Sovev Cycle Tel Aviv offers the participant three different routes - the 8km (for beginners and family), the 21 km (for anyone in good shape), the 40 km route (if you’re experienced) and the 60km (for masters of the sport!) Bara Epic IsraelTaking place in northern Israel, between the Crusader city of Acre and the Sea of Galilee, this event is designed for avid mountain bikers! The race routes change annually, to make sure long-term participants never get bored (!) and range from 75 to 100 km per day. It’s all very challenging, with the idea to finish within a designated time limit. If you like spectacular scenery and something to test your stamina, this is an ‘epic’ choice! Here’s a short video, to give you a taste of how exciting it is.Israel RideThis great fundraising ride, where all proceeds benefit environmental charities, takes place in the Arava desert and lasts 5 days. Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or want a more ‘recreational’ experience, there’s a route for you. The crew supporting you organize local accommodation, hearty food, and a chance to learn about the ecology of the area, and the challenges environmentalists there face. Shabbat is a day off too, so you’ll get to spend some quality time with your fellow riders. Old and young are equally welcome too.Skiing in Mount Hermon, Israel.Photo credit: © Evgeny BrizeliWheels of LoveThis charity cycling event takes place in southern Israel, often in the Arava desert, and whether you choose the three or four-day routes (the offroad is a little more challenging) the monies you raise will help an incredible cause - ALYN, which is a Jerusalem Hospital caring for children and adolescents. Mud Run Tel AvivFor those who are looking for a bit of levity, there’s nothing more fun than the Mud Run. Beginning at Ganei Yehoshua in Yarkon Park, you can challenge each other in an obstacle race of either 2, 5, or 10 km, and very few finish in a clean state. As the organizers say ‘Get Ready to get dirty!’Among other major sports in Israel are martial arts, sport fishing, and sky sports.Finally, Bein Harim is happy to help if you want to join a private or group day tour, whilst taking part in a sports event in Israel. Feel free to contact us, by phone or mail, to talk more about your needs. We’ll be delighted to help.
By Sarah Mann

Souvenirs in Israel

If you’re a first time visitor to Israel, not only are you going to be bowled over by the sheer variety of places to visit and things to see, you’re also going to be tempted at every turn by things to buy. And why not? After all, picking up something for yourself by which to remember your trip is a great idea.Assorted souvenirs at Jaffa flea Market, Israel.Photo byTamara MalaniyonUnsplashBut as well as souvenirs from Israel for yourself, what about your friends, family and colleagues, especially those who haven't visited, but are curious about the Holy Land. What are you going to bring back for them? Well, don’t worry - you aren’t going to return home empty-handed. An enormous number of different arts and crafts are produced in the State of Israel, including Judaica, jewelry, sculptures, ceramics, cosmetics, textiles and apparel. Today, we’re going to look at this history of how these items came to be popular and where you can purchase some of them, on your next vacation in Israel…The History of Arts and Crafts in IsraelThe history of arts and crafts in Judaism is an interesting and unusual one. According to the rabbis who penned the Talmud, obeying the laws that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai is not in itself enough - it is also a great deed to carry out the rituals of prayer and worship in a way that is beautiful. As a result, many things associated with Judaism - both in the synagogue and in the home - were made as crafts, over the ages.These included menorot (candelabrum), mezuzot (the small ‘boxes’ that Jews attach to their doorposts, with a miniature biblical scroll inside), kippot (the head coverings that observant Jews wear) and many other ritual objects. Today, they can be found in stores across Israel, particularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and they make wonderful gifts for anyone you know back home who care about their Jewish heritage.In more contemporary times, whilst the British Mandate ruled Palestine, between 1917-1948, the crafting of metal jewelry, by new arrivals from Yemen, became very popular. At the same time, because of the large number of German immigrants who arrived in the Holy Land in the 1930s and 1940s, ceramics became popular. This was because many of those who arrived were potters, and soon established studios to carry out their profession.Traditional Jewish Menorah. Photo byLuis GonzalezonUnsplashToday, in Israel, you’ll see statues everywhere - not just in museums but in public life, in installations, along the cliffs of the crater in Mitzpe Ramon, outside Ben Gurion airport, all around the big cities and also dotted throughout the countryside. Indeed, there are many artists on kibbutzim and moshavim (agricultural settlements in Israel) who take advantage of their space to build workshops and sell their wares to people visiting. Weaving and textile production are also popular in Israel - indeed, as some have commented, Tel Aviv was a textile centre long before high tech came to town. The history is fascinating - because over the ages Jews were not allowed to join trade and craft guilds, textile and wholesale manufacturing became one of the few industries where they could earn a living.Jewish traders in Morocco and Spain, throughout the centuries, imported cotton and silk and were also well-known for their weaving. And in Austria and Germany, before World War II, the majority of department stores and retail businesses were owned and run by Jews. Not surprisingly then, when immigrants began arriving in Palestine / Israel, they brought with them their experience and skills, which is why their craftsmanship became renowned for its quality.Today, in Israel, both Jewish and Arab communities also have a history of wood and leatherwork. Israeli Arabs, in particular, have a long tradition of carving out of olive wood, as well as basket weaving, fine embroidery and glassware. There are also famous sculptors and artists such as David Gerstein (known for his metal statues) and Kadishman, well known for his colourful paintings of sheep! One thing is for sure - creativity abounds…Jewelry at the flea market in Jaffa, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockTraditional Souvenirs in IsraelIf you want to err on the side of tradition, you can ‘play it safe’ and start your souvenir hunting in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and home to stores both in downtown west Jerusalem as well as the enormous, bustling, vibrant market scene in the Old City.Judaica is constantly a popular gift from Israel and the number of Judaica souvenirs may quickly overwhelm you. As we mentioned above, if you’re looking for religious artefacts, then there are too many to mention - candlesticks, Kiddush cups (in which Jews bless their wine), challah trays (on which the delicious Friday night bread is served up). Hannukiot (the candelabra lit especially to commemorate the ‘Festival of Lights’ in the winter) embroidered bags for men to carry their ‘tallit’ (prayer shawl) and even beautifully decorated ‘seder plates’ for the Passover holiday.The Israel Museum in Jerusalem doesn’t just have a world-famous collection (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) but a wonderful gift shop, with many of the products inspired by different eras in the Holy Land. There, you can pick up vintage posters from the 1930s, books, stationery, accessories for the home and even beautiful paperweights, spelling out ‘Ahava’ (Love, in Hebrew) in the shape of the famous statue in their sculpture garden.Jewelry Souvenirs from IsraelJewelry souvenirs from Israel make a great gift - jewelry is something many women and young girls love receiving and whether you’re looking for a traditional or modern piece. How about a Hebrew name necklace? Or a pair of contemporary-style earrings from an up and coming artist in the Jaffa Artists Quarter? Star of David pendants are, for obvious reasons, very popular, as well as rings (which can come with biblical inscriptions). Pieces made with an Eilat stone (a beautiful shade of blue-green) also make wonderful souvenirs.Dead Sea salt island. Photo byKonstantin TretyakonUnsplashDead Sea CosmeticsYou can’t come to Israel and not go home with a souvenir from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth and a place where all kinds of wonderful bath salts, mud packs, hand and foot cream, body lotions and moisturisers are on offer. Trust us, they smell amazing, and are also fantastic for your skin, since they contain local minerals such as magnesium, sodium and potassium from all around the area. Not only are these products made from top-quality ingredients, they’re vegan, gluten-free, and also eco-friendly (taking care not to pollute the delicate eco structure in the area) and their manufacture uses sustainable and green methods at every turn.Christian Souvenirs from IsraelYou are going to be spoilt for choice picking out religious souvenirs from Israel - whether you’re in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth or the Galilee region, there are an endless number of gifts from Israel you can pick up to take home with you. Jerusalem - walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem is one of the things that people say is the best part of their vacation to Israel, and as well as the astonishing number of religious sites (churches, mosques and synagogues) there’s also a fantastic shopping opportunity. Traditional wooden Christian souvenirs in Jerusalem gift shop, Israel. Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThis enormous Bazaar is packed to the gills with beautiful souvenirs - rosaries and crosses, soaps, Armenian pottery, traditional sweets like baklava and halva, and meaningful gifts for young adults, such as communion cups.Bethlehem - Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus and something that’s really worth picking up for a Christian friend is a wood carving of the Nativity scene. Also look out for incense, olive oil soap and icons depicting Jesus at the Last Supper.Nazareth - Nazareth is the city where Mary was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and where Jesus spent many of his formative years. After you’ve explored the Nazareth churches, go to the market and look out for the excellent local honey, scented candles and olive wood art.Galilee - when travelling around Galilee, the visit to the baptismal site of Yardenit is a must. Whether you’re a Christian pilgrim who wants to be ritually immersed in the Jordan, or simply a curious onlooker, this place is magical. It also has a large restaurant and an equally large store, with all kinds of Christian souvenirs. These include holy water from the Jordan river, crucifixes, anointing oil, religious candles and precious metal crosses.Icons and Judaica items in an Israeli gift shop.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinCool Souvenirs from IsraelThere’s always going to be a friend or family member you know who likes something a little unusual in the way of a gift. Don’t worry - there are plenty of cool souvenirs in Israel to take home. In particular, we’d suggest a wander around Tel Aviv’s hippest (and often hipster) neighbourhoods, where you’ll see all manner of unusual items on display.Bauhaus Centre - Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus Centre, established to promote Bauhaus architecture and design in the ‘White City’ has a fantastic book and gift store in the heart of the city, on Dizengoff Street. Whether you’re looking for original Bauhaus items or something more contemporary, you’ll find something very unusual! Some of their most popular products include smooth-papered coffee table books, posters of 1930s ‘White City’ buildings, fridge magnets of historical figures in Israel (think Ben Gurion, Theodor Herzl, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan), coffee coasters, sterling silver miniatures, and attractive and stylish clocks, bookends and pens.Jaffa Flea Market, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinJaffa Flea Market- the ‘Shuk haPishpeshim’ - or ‘Jaffa flea market’ in English - in this historic area inJaffa, is adored by locals and visitors alike and a great place for a morning or afternoon out. Open six days a week, it’s the perfect place to rummage for bargains as well as hunt in vintage stores.Friday morning and afternoon is when it really comes to life - as well as the shopping, there are street musicians, funky bars playing all kinds of music, coffee shops to spend a few hours in and plenty of good eateries, where you can try some authentic Middle Eastern food - particularly hummus, shakshuka and knafe.One part of the market is strewn with tables, where you can poke around to your heart’s content, looking for old jewelery, postcards, badges, clothes, and toys. Some of the things are in pretty good condition too - the merchants arrive here at 5 am usually and the serious bargain hunters show up around 7-8 am but if you’re patient and a little lucky, you’re probably going to be able to find something ‘local’ to take home with you.A Jaffa cafe, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockAs well as bargain hunting, there are a number of great vintage stores, selling furniture, light fixtures, retro posters of the State of Israel, beautiful rugs, and all kinds of accessories that wouldn’t look out of place in your home. Warning - these vintage stores aren’t particularly cheap, but the chances are that anything you do pick up is really going to be authentic. So if you’re the kind of person who prefers ‘mismatch’ to ‘department store’ then head here.Nahalat Binyamin - twice a week, next to the Carmel Market (Shuk haCarmel), artists around Israel set up their stalls for this special craft market, which sells all kinds of handmade goods. Whether you’re looking for jewelry, a puzzle game, a clock with the outline of Charlie Chaplin, or some local soap, this is where you should come. All of the stall owners are obliged to sell only their own products, so not only are you supporting local businesses but you can be sure that whatever souvenir you take home really is made by hand.David Gerstein Gallery - as mentioned above, David Gerstein is an internationally-recognised sculptor and one of his famous statues is a fantastic souvenir to take home with you. Whether you like the guy on the racing bike, the butterfly, a traditional ‘hamsa’ or something romantic like ‘1000 kisses’, these beautiful, vibrant pieces will add a certain something to any home and won’t fail to impress the recipient. Hamsa with Home Blessing Sale at Carmel Market, Tel Aviv.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinFood Souvenirs from IsraelThey say that Israel is the land of milk and honey, so why not take back some kind of sweet treat as a souvenir? Israel is famous for producing Medjool dates (grown both in the Arava desert and the Jordan Valley) and something else worth picking up is ‘silan’ which is a marvellous date honey syrup. Halva - a sesame candy (similar to fudge, but made from a nut or tahini base, instead of butter) is also delicious and easy to pack in your suitcase.Olive oil is produced all over the Galilee region and is top quality - from mainstream types to boutique brands, which you can order online or pick up whilst on a day trip or driving tour in northern Israel. And, finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Bamba - Israel’s favourite snack. Adored y babies, kids and adults alike, this peanut-flavoured treat is utterly moreish - and incredibly light to pack (which means you can buy plenty of it). Enjoy whatever you buy - and enjoy your trip to Israel!Spices sale at Carmel Market, Tel Aviv.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Safed Klezmer Festival

Klezmer: a Yiddish word meaning musical instruments; it is an Ashkenazi and Eastern European Jewish musical tradition which originated in the 18th century among Hasidic Jews.saxophoneEach August the hilltop city of Safed welcomes thousands of local and international visitors to the biggest Jewish soul music festival in the world. This is one of Israel’s largest and most important festivals. At the festival there will be performances by numerous Klezmer groups and solo artists.The Klezmer musicians are mainly from Israel but there are also several international groups. Throughout the historic alleys and streets of Safed temporary stages are set up each year so that the festival can take place outdoors, on the streets for all to enjoy. Some of the performances will be given in Safed’s historic public buildings like the Red Khan. All of the performances at the festival are free.In addition to the musical performances of Klezmer music there will be other festival activities including “Klezmerim for kids” a workshop where kids can get involved creating and learning more about the Klezmer tradition. There will be workshops for professional musicians and Klezmer master classes conducted by leading artists in this field. There will also be tours of the city and workshops for those interested in Kabala, the mystical Jewish tradition which originated in Safed. Local artists will be selling their creations at market stalls and there will be food stands to provide delicious local delicacies. Visitors to Safed can come for one night or for all three of the festival days as there will be constant events, activities and performances. This festival is intended for both secular and religious visitors – so long as they like music!Practical Information: When: mid-August, annuallyWhere: Throughout the old city of Safed. If driving to Safed for the festival park your car at the designated parking lot outside the city and take the free shuttle.Admission: Free
By Petal Mashraki
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