If you’re planning to travel to Israel, get ready for a unique Israeli cultural experience. During my trip, I was blown away by all the stark differences between life in Israel and life in many of the other places I’ve visited. The country is rich in culture, heritage sites, religious places, and some pretty interesting natural beauties as well. Heading in, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I like to give destinations the benefit of the doubt because I know what we hear about in the media isn’t always an accurate portrayal. Israel definitely lived to all the hype and one of my favorite aspects of that trip was meeting such extraordinary people.
Israel is Awesome!
Of course, the sights of Israel are awesome. You have more than 8000 years of history laid out before you in the Old City and that’s definitely something you should not miss. It also makes for incredible photos at every turn. But people are what make history special because culture relies on people. As anyone knows, Israel is definitely a land of culture clashes. In Jerusalem, walking on one street is ok but (depending on the time of the week) it might be frowned upon to walk on another due to religious beliefs. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all consider Jerusalem a Holy City…and they don’t always get along. Relations between the different religious sects can, at times, be strained. And this is all part of the Israeli cultural experience.
Israeli Cultural Experience: It’s the People
Yet, at the same time, while tensions can run high, it seems the different cultures of Jerusalem seem to co-exist relatively peacefully. This is the part where cultural experience magic happens. My accommodations in Israel were your typical backpacker digs…aka a hostel. Israel, in particular, inspired me to stay in a hostel because I really wanted to meet new people, get a locals perspective on the places I visited, and learn some new stories. As a result, I met a closeted, gay-Arab Muslim man from Nazareth and his story is for another time; a young, German, Buddhist planning to search for himself in the desert like Jesus did; and a pretty radical Christian who believes love is love. That’s only a few examples on top of the locals I met really trying to push Jerusalem into the future while cherishing their history.
These are the types of things I cherish…they’re the best cultural experiences. But it gets better.
Understanding the People
You see, I also like to understand what and why others believe the way they believe. Abraham Hostels provided me with an excellent opportunity to understand a little bit more about Jewish culture through experiential learning. The hostel offers all kind of great tours, adventures, and experiences. One of these cultural encounters takes place at the hostel as they put on a Shabbat dinner for anyone wanting to participate. The dinner only cost 50 NIS (which is about $15) and consists of a delicious spread of local foods, many of which are customary for a Shabbat dinner. It also includes wine and is a great way to meet more fellow travelers. During the dinner you learn the importance of Shabbat to Jewish people, listen to a few of the prayers recited at each dinner, and enjoy Shabbat songs. Then everyone eats together and enjoys the feast! It’s really a fulfilling Israeli cultural experience.
Full disclosure: I am not Jewish. However, when presented with the opportunity to understand more of a culture through experience, I quickly jump aboard. It is not a requirement that I be Jewish to have this experience. An open mind is all that is necessary. If you decide to have such an experience, make sure you are ready to participate fully. This means you need to sit respectfully through the prayers and appreciate what is going on around you.
If you’re interested in learning a bit more about this Israeli cultural experience, here are some great facts about Shabbat and the dinner!
What is Shabbat?
Shabbat is a full day of rest and celebration that begins on Friday at sunset and ends the following evening after nightfall. It is the Jewish Sabbath and no one really works on this day.
Don’t do these…
There are many activities which are forbidden during Shabbat such as driving, turning lights on or off, operating electrical appliances, cooking, or carrying items in public. However, only the most Orthodox observe these rules strictly. Most of our meal was cooked the day before so be prepared for cold chicken. Don’t worry…it was still tasty! In Jerusalem Shabbat is more strictly observed and you won’t find anything open. However, in Tel Aviv it isn’t as strict and you’ll find bars open that night.
Candles are technically lit before Shabbat begins. The purpose of candles is to create a peaceful and festive home.
Shabbat Prayers and Wine
Shabbat begins with a prayer over wine called kiddush. It also includes a special collection of Psalms and singing Lecha Dodi. At our Shabbat dinner, it ended with another prayer ceremony called havdalah which is typically used to usher out the Shabbat on Saturday.
Every Shabbat meal begins with two loaves of bread to remind participants of the double portion of manna that fell every Friday as the Jews wandered the desert post-Egypt exodus. You should was your hands before breaking bread. The food served can include stew, soups, various salads, and even a nice dessert. I personally enjoyed the hummus! The meals are convivial and celebratory and I used it as a time to really get to know some of the people present.
Thinking of visiting Jerusalem? Check out the 5 things I learned during my trip!
What kind of cultural experiences do you prefer?
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