When North Americans Google Israel…

Written by
Jennifer Greenberg
...the results are absolutely shocking. Only eleven hours away by plane, North Americans are vast oceans apart when it comes to their perception of Israeli culture.

Is the green line really green?

No. Nor is it a visible line. The “line” aspect refers to the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel’s armies and those of its neighbors (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The “green” aspect refers to the green ink that was used to draw the borders on the map during the armistice talks. So, if you took a detour to the border in search of a thick green line spray-painted along the sand, prepare to be disappointed. The only green lines you’ll find spray-painted across Israel are the graffiti tags of Tel Avivian street artists. 

Can I wear shorts in Israel?

Though the uninformed tourist may think everyone in Israel is Ultra-Orthodox and the misguiding guidebooks may deem sleeveless shirts and shorts unacceptable, this is very much not the case. Stroll the boardwalks of Tel Aviv and you’ll find people from all walks of life in bikinis, jean shorts and tank tops. Even the term “business casual” barely exists in Israel, where many a workplace are more casual than the Western world. All this to say, with Israel’s Haredi (“Orthodox”) population racking in at around 10% of Israel, it’s safe to say that as long as you respect conservative clothing in religious areas and places of worship, you can head down to those Tel Aviv waters with shorts and a bikini. After all, in this heat, you’ll be grateful.

Why is everything closed on Friday? And why is there work today? It’s Sunday.

The Israeli work week is different than most global countries. Since Israel does not have a full separation between state and religion, as a Jewish country, it follows the Jewish calendar. This means that Israel’s weekend falls on Shabbat which starts Friday evening and ends Saturday at sundown. Therefore, while most countries and religions consider Sunday the day of rest, for Israelis, it is the first day of the work week. Sunday mimics that Monday not-so-funday, but also anoints Thursday night the time to party all night long.

Where are all the bagels and lox?

Although Jewish North Americans wait all week to munch and Sunday brunch on the sesame sprinkled rings of doughy goodness, you may be surprised to discover that bagels and smoked salmon are not an Israeli staple. In Israel, you can find bagels at the occasional café (like Tel Aviv’s Café Xoho) and smoked or salted fish has found its way into the markets; however, the classic bagel-cream cheese-lox-caper combination is an American invention. For the true Israeli version of weekend brunch, wake up early Saturday morning and head to a local café or stand (common in more rural area) to pick up the flaky Jewish Yemenite pastry called Jachnun.

Define: Sababa

Deriving from Arabic, Israel has adopted the term “sababa” into their slang dictionary. It can be used to express enthusiasm, satisfaction, or agreement. Sababa most commonly means “cool,” but more loosely translates to “great,” “grand,” “no problem,” “all-right,” “wonderful” or the ever-so-common “I’ve used all the Hebrew words I know so I’m just going to tack this one onto the end of my sentence to fit in with the Israelis.”

Can a Jew get a tattoo?

It is written in the Torah: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28). The prohibition of tattooing stems from the second half of this quote. However, the debate is ongoing and many Jews interpret this prohibition as the tattooing of G-d’s name on their bodies. Either way, the belief that Jews with tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery is entirely a myth. Otherwise, the tattoo taboo would ban Holocaust survivors from Jewish burial. Jews with tattoos can be buried with their families and participate in all synagogue rituals. 

Where can I find shakshuka in the sukkah?

Hukkah, shakshuka and anything rhyming with “ukkah” in the sukkah is an annual event crafted by Americans for Americans. Hillel organizations across the Americas have come up with these witty names to encourage diaspora Jews to assemble on Sukkot. In Israel, Sukkot means building and decorating bamboo shelters, camping out under the stars with family and friends, and celebrating the harvest while shaking a lulav and etrog, all to commemorate our periods of wandering through the desert.

Does it snow in Israel?

Wishing for a white Christmas is pretty useless in the Middle East. You can dream, but snow is extremely rare in most parts of Israel. While everywhere from Haifa down will almost never see winter snowfall (except the rare, rare flurry), the north is graced with snow every so often. While the length and quality of the ski season doesn’t even compare to the Canadian Great White North, in the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon gets enough powder to open Israel’s only ski mountain. Conditions may be equivalent to a Canadian’s spring skiing, but for the yearning Canuck missing their -40 degree weather, it’s worth the schlep.

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