Are you ready to go to Israel?
Here we will discuss some of the
information you might want to have before you leave for a visit to Israel as well as some suggestions about what to bring and how to
prepare for the experience of a lifetime.
Alcohol & Drugs
A Final Thought
How much you pack depends partially
on how long you stay. In Israel, you'll probably be moving around a lot
and you won't want to pack and unpack a lot of stuff. Generally, it's
a good idea to travel light and expect that you will need more room in
your bags when you go home than when you left to accommodate gifts, dirty
clothes and the tendency for clothes to take up more space on the return
flight. Also, remember that the power supply is 220 volt AC-50 cycles.
Make sure your electrical items can operate or purchase an adaptor kit
(hotels sometimes can spare them).
Israel is seven hours ahead of Eastern
Standard Time, eight hours ahead of Central Time, nine hours ahead of
Mountain Time and ten hours ahead of Pacific Time. It is two hours ahead
of Greenwich Mean Time.
You can't generalize anymore about
Israelis than any other people. You'll find good and bad. As a visitor,
you should always be courteous, even if you encounter a native who is
Unless you specifically go to Arab
neighborhoods, most Arabs you meet will probably be working in Israeli
hotels or merchants. If you do go to Arab towns in Israel or the territories,
you will find they are typically very hospitable and likely to invite
you into their homes for tea and a bite to eat. Some may be comfortable
talking about politics, others may not. Be a good guest.
Dress in Israel is casual. Even Israeli
prime ministers frequently wear short-sleeve shirts without ties. You'll
notice the checklist has a variety of apparel. You'll need warm clothes
during winter months. If you plan to go to religious shrines or services,
you should bring nice clothes. Jewish holy places usually allow you to
enter with shorts, but the shrines of other faiths often require more
modest dress. This is true also in religious Jewish neighborhoods where
women, especially, are expected to wear sleeves below the elbow and skirts
below the knees. One alternative is to carry a shawl that you can wrap
around your shoulders or bare legs, or a wrap skirt to cover your shorts.
Regardless of your personal views, respect those of the people who live
there and you will have no trouble.
Israel enjoys long,
warm, dry summers (April-October) and generally mild winters (November-March),
with somewhat drier, cooler weather in hilly regions, such as Jerusalem
and Safed. Rainfall is relatively heavy in the north and center of the
country with much less in the northern Negev and almost negligible amounts
in the southern areas. Regional conditions vary considerably, with humid
summers and mild winters on the coast; dry summers and moderately cold
winters in the hill regions; hot dry summers and pleasant winters in the
Jordan Valley and year-round semi-desert conditions in the Negev.
Israel has great food.
Most people are probably familiar with falafel -- fried ground chick peas
served with salad in pita. Meat eaters will love shwarma, lamb sliced
off a spit and served in pita (similar to gyros). Both are cheap, filling
meals. Lots of other Mediterranean specialties like shishlik (shish kebab),
baklawa (sweetmeat made of dough, honey, and nuts) and moussaka (baked
eggplant, minced meat, onion and parsley) will stimulate your taste buds.
The Americanization of Israel also means you'll find such familiar names
as McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Dunkin' Donuts.
The water in Israel is safe to drink;
nevertheless, it is different from what you are used to and people with
sensitive stomachs may want to stick to bottled water. Also, Israelis
don't usually put ice in their drinks, so if you want some, ask for kerakh.
Keep in mind that not everything
in Israel is kosher. Restaurants that are kosher serve either dairy
or meat and close on Shabbat.
The restaurant should have a Teudat certificate either in the window
or available for inspection. Unless the menu or check says otherwise,
tips are not included.
Forget what you've read in the papers
or seen on TV; Israel is a very safe place to visit. You are far more
likely to run into trouble in any major U.S. city than anywhere in Israel.
Behave in Israel the way you would in those cities. Be careful where you
go at night and travel in groups when possible. Generally, it is safe
in most places in Israel to walk alone at night. The territories are a
different story. It is advisable only to go into Gaza or the West Bank
in a group and with an Israeli guide.
One of the first things you'll notice
when you arrive in Israel is the number of people carrying guns. It can
be disconcerting. Soldiers carry them on the streets, in cars and on buses.
Soldiers are required to keep their weapons with them, and since so many
Israelis are on duty, it is common to stand next to someone on the bus
with an Uzi hanging around their neck. You'll quickly get used to it and
realize it's a fact of life in Israel and nothing to fear.
In an emergency, dial 101.
Whenever you go to a foreign country,
it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local language and
customs. Most people in Israel speak English, but, with the influx of
Jews from the former Soviet Union, you're almost as likely to run into
someone who speaks just Russian as Hebrew. Even if you aren't fluent in
the language, natives usually appreciate it when visitors make an effort
to speak in their native tongue. Below are a few common Hebrew phrases
that will help you get by in Israel. If you don't learn anything else,
memorize "Please," "Thank you" and "You're welcome."
|see you later
|I don't speak Hebrew
||AH-NEE lo m'dah-BEHR ee-VREET
|Do you speak English?
||at-TAH m'dah-BEHR ang-LEET?
|How much does it cost?
||kama zeh o-leh?
|Where's the bathroom?
||Ay-fo ha sher-u-teem?
Since most Israeli cities are small,
you can walk most places you need to go. You'll see a lot and have more
opportunities to interact with the people. If you're on your own, get
a map from a hotel or tourist office and you'll be in good shape.
You can rent a car, but driving in
Israel is not for the faint of heart. The roads are probably the most
dangerous places in Israel and the traffic, especially in and around Jerusalem
and Tel Aviv, is terrible.
Taxis are a common mode of transportation,
but, as in most places, drivers are not always honest. They will frequently
try to take you for a ride without using their meter. NEVER let them do
this. Always ask before you get in the cab how much the fare should be
and insist they use a meter. The one exception is for long trips, such
as between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (and from the airport) where the fares
are usually set before you leave. For those longer trips, it is usually
more inexpensive, though less comfortable and convenient, to take a group
taxi or sherut. You can also learn a lot about Israel by
talking to cab drivers; they're usually not shy about offering their opinions.
You do not have to tip cab drivers.
The most popular mode of travel is
the bus. Busses are inexpensive and the newer ones are very comfortable.
Don't be afraid to ask the driver or other passengers for help in identifying
your stop. Because of the long distance, some people choose to fly to
Eilat (under $200 in early 2000), but it's usually part of the itinerary
on student trips traveling by bus.
You can make overland crossings into
Egypt at Rafiah, about 30 miles southwest of Ashkelon, and Taba,
the last town Israel returned to Egypt as part of the peace treaty, which
is just south of Eilat. Buses run between Cairo and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
It is also possible to take a series of taxis. The trip is a long one
through the desert, broken up by a short boat ride across the Suez Canal,
that you are unlikely to forget.
It is also possible to visit Jordan
by crossing the Allenby Bridge near Jericho (about 25 miles from Jerusalem),
going via the Arava Terminal in Aqaba near Eilat or taking the northern
route through the Jordan River Terminal just north of Bet She'an.
Even if you're on a tour, you may
have some free days to tour and you'll need a place to stay. Israelis
are wonderfully accommodating and if you have long-lost relatives, they're
more than likely to be excited to meet you and offer you a bed.
If you don't have friends or family
in Israel, it is usually possible to find people who will take you in,
particularly for Shabbat.
This is one of the best ways to really get to know Israelis.
Some yeshivas will also let people
stay in their dorms. Keep in mind that you are allowed to visit in the
hope you'll decide to spend a prolonged period studying there, but usually
there's no requirement that you attend classes. Of course, you might find
the opportunity to study with some of the world's leading scholars rewarding.
Israel has youth hostels that are
inexpensive and part of the international hostel system.
Many kibbutzim also have guest houses.
Though less luxurious than hotels, don't expect them to be cheap.
Israel has camp grounds as well in
many of the beautiful parks around the country and in the desert.
Israel is a good place to buy souvenirs.
As in other Middle Eastern countries, haggling in Israel is a tradition.
Keep the following points in mind when you're shopping:
It is rare that you should ever
have to pay the full price listed on an item (note this applies mostly
to souvenirs, not everything in the markets and is not true of ordinary
retail shops like department stores).
Always be ready to walk out of
a shop and don't be surprised if the sales person follows you out.
Don't think you'll get any better
deal from Jews than Arabs. Sometimes the opposite is true.
The merchants in the market in
the Old City, in particular, can be very aggressive. Don't be intimidated.
Remember, you're the customer and it is their job to satisfy you.
Keep in mind what you can afford
and don't let yourself be talked into paying more. You'll probably
see the same items in more than one store, so shop around before you
Be clear on the exchange rate
before you buy.
Haggling is an art, and involves
some gamesmanship, but it isn't polite to waste a merchant's time
if you have no intention of buying something.
Items common in the U.S., such as
film and books are likely to be more expensive in Israel than at home.
By paying with a credit card, you can usually get a better exchange rate.
Sometimes you can get a better price if you pay with U.S. dollars.
Also, Israel assesses a Value Added
Tax (VAT) of 17% on goods and services. Prices should include this tax.
For purchases over $50, you can get a refund of the tax at the airport
before you leave. To do so you'll want to get to the airport early so
you can go to the customs office. When you make your purchase, the merchant
should put it in a clear plastic bag with a copy of the receipt inside.
Keep the original. The bag must be sealed and remained unopened to get the refund.
Staying in Touch
If you can't live without knowing
what's happening in the U.S., you can watch CNN in most hotels and pick
up an International Herald Tribune newspaper. The Jerusalem
Post is the only daily Israeli paper in English. Channel 1 on television
also has programs in English and recent movies are in the theaters with
Long-distance phone calls can get
very expensive, especially if made from a hotel room, where substantial
service charges are added. Most major long-distance companies have numbers
in Israel that allow you to use their rates. It may be less private, but
you'll save money using public phones. A prepaid phone card can also be
purchased from the Post Office.
Cell phones are probably the easiest
and most cost-effective way to communicate in Israel and you may find
it remarkable how good the service is compared to the United States. While
I often can't talk to my wife right near my home in Maryland, I had no
trouble talking to her from the middle of the desert or anywhere else
in Israel. If you are planning to use a cell phone in Israel purchased
in the United States, be sure that it is either a triband or quadband.
Check with your provider before you leave to be sure the phone will work
in Israel; you may also need to pay extra for an international calling
plan. You can also rent cell phones at the airport when you arrive in
Israel. You will have to pay a fixed price for the phone and an allocation
of minutes. If you go over the allotment, additional charges apply and
there is no rebate for unused minutes.
A Final Thought
Israel is like a museum. You will
see relics that date from antiquity, buildings that are not considered
old unless they were built thousands of years ago. Israel offers you a
time portal, almost like the ones you see in science fiction movies, through
which to see the past. Virtually every step you take is on ground many
consider to be holy. You can visit all the sites and have a wonderful
time and learn a lot, but if you think of Israel only as a museum, a place
no different than Rome or Athens, you will miss perhaps the most remarkable
aspect of Israel -- the vibrancy of the modern Jewish state and its people.
Israel has increasingly become Westernized and "Americanized,"
but it is still a place very
different from any other on earth.
You are in Israel to have fun, make
friends, experience different cultures and learn about your heritage.
It is a trip of a lifetime, so make the most of it!