Like every country in the world, Israel has its own set of customs and traditions that may at first seem a bit strange to an outsider. While you are on your gap year in Israel, you are sure to come across a number of these, but here are a few to get you started.
You may encounter your first strange custom the moment you land in Israel. It is extremely common for Israelis to start clapping when their plane lands safely in Israel. While it isn’t clear if the pilot can always hear, it is certainly a well-intentioned gesture.
A slightly less endearing aspect of society, that you may encounter as soon as you step foot in the airport, is Israeli’s attitudes to queues. In most parts of the world queues are orderly single-line affairs, however, this is rarely the case in Israel. It is more a case of a bunch of people jostling to get to the front; you will also come across this every time that you try to get on a bus or other form of public transport.
There are a few traditions that are sure to make a huge impact on you the first time you see them. For instance, whenever a memorial siren sounds (on Memorial Day or Holocaust Remembrance Day) the entire country comes to a halt. You will see cars stop on the roads, regardless of where they are, people stop in the middle of whatever they are doing, and stand head bowed for the duration of the siren.
Another truly special part of life in Israel is the period just before Shabbat on a Friday. Across the country the streets significantly empty out and everything quietens down. It doesn’t matter if you are in a religious neighbourhood or not, you can’t help but notice the change in atmosphere before Shabbat begins. This atmosphere is more or less maintained throughout the weekend due to the absence of public transport and the closure of a great number of shops, restaurants and cafes.
On a lighter note, you are sure to notice that Israelis are ritualistic when it comes to the preparation of their Turkish coffee. There are different schools of thought regarding things such as when the sugar should be added, how many times the water should be brought to the boil, the size of the glass used and so on. You will find similar nuanced (or impenetrable, depending on your point of view) arguments about issues such as the best hummus or falafel available and which local bakery makes the best bread.
These are just a few of the many traditions and customs that help to make Israel the loveable, crazy and unique country that it is. During your gap year you are sure to notice many that aren’t mentioned here, some will drive you mad and some you are sure to love. Either way, be sure to make the most of them, as it is unlikely that you will find anything similar anywhere else in the world.