Israel lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The entire country is a total area of 8,019 square miles (20,770 square kilometers), slightly smaller than New Jersey. The population is roughly 80 percent Jewish; of the total population, 32.1 percent were born in Europe or America; 20.8 percent in Israel; 14.6 percent in Africa; and 12.6 percent in Asia. Most of the 20 percent who are not Jewish are Arab.” (Culture of Israel, 2007) Within this small country lies boundless culture. “Four thousand years of Jewish heritage, over a century of Zionism, and more than half a century of modern statehoodhave contributed to a culture which has already created an identity of its own, while preserving the uniqueness of 70 different communities.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008)
A largely immigrant society, Israel's creative expression has absorbed many different cultural and social influences. The constant search for cultural identity is expressed through creativity in a broad range of art forms, appreciated and enjoyed by a great many people as part of daily life.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008)
Theater is a huge part of Israeli culture. “Theater in Israel consists of many different elements - contemporary and classical, native and imported, experimental and traditional - with playwrights, actors, directors, and producers of many backgrounds merging the foreign with the local and thereby gradually creating a distinctive Israeli theater.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008) Since its start in the 1950s, Israeli filmmaking has had some drastic evolvement. “Cinema exports are growing as more Israeli-made films become successful abroad and more dollar-earning foreign and co-productions are filmed on location in the country. Such major events as the Israel Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, combined with Israeli film festivals abroad, all help to promote awareness about Israeli film.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008)
The contemporary music scene in Israel is hugely varied and often audacious. Hip hop band Hadag Nahash, for example, uses music to display political cynicism. One of their most famous hits is "Shirat Hasticker ("The Sticker Song" in English), written with Israeli novelist David Grossman. The song's lyrics are a combination of slogans seen on Israeli bumper stickers. Many of the newcomers to Israeli music's pop scene have emerged through the TV program Kochav Nolad (A Star Is Born), Israel's version of America's American Idol.
Keeping informed of events in Israel, the Middle East and the world in general, is very important to Israelis. Listening to hourly radio bulletins, viewing television news broadcasts, and reading at least one daily newspaper are part of most Israelis' daily routine. Ha'aretz is Israel's oldest daily newspaper, which began in 1918. It is now written in both Hebrew and English and it is also available online, as many newspapers and periodicals in Israel are. Ha'aretz is a weekly newspaper in North America. There are also more than 1,000 periodicals, including magazines for special interest groups.
Over the years, sports have played an increasingly important role in the development of Israel. The structure of Israeli soccer, which is governed by the Israeli Football Association, is similar to that of English soccer and a number of other continental soccer federations. “The professional soccer league, with 12 teams in the top Premier League division, is followed closely in the media and attracts crowds of up to 20,000 people at games.” “In recent years Israeli tennis players have become a fixture at the world's biggest tournaments. Every four years Israel hosts its own version of the Olympics - the Maccabiah Games, which since 1932 has brought together thousands of Jewish athletes from all over the world. It is one of only seven worldwide competitions recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Participants compete in events including soccer, basketball, table tennis, and netball and attend an impressive opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan. Many top Jewish athletes have made their names at the Maccabiah, including American swimmers Mark Spitz, who went on to win seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, and Lenny Krayzelburg, who swam at the 2004 Athens games. Baseball is the newest professional sport to be introduced in Israel. The Israel Baseball League was launched in June 2007, with six teams playing at three fields. Quite interestingly, Israel has had success in disabled sports, winning medals at the Paralympic games and giving disabled athletes an opportunity to excel. Israel took 24 athletes to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, competing in cycling, horseback riding, swimming, shooting, sailing, archery, table tennis, and wheelchair tennis. The Israel Sports Association for the Disabled (ISAD) conducts a wide range of activities in many fields, including basketball, tennis, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, shooting, riding, archery, swimming, and sailing.
Education in Israel is a huge part of its heritage. “Following the tradition of past generations, education continues to be a fundamental value and is recognized as the key to the future.” “The educational system aims to prepare children to become responsible members of a democratic, pluralistic society in which people from different ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds coexist. It is based on Jewish values, love of the land, and the principles of liberty and tolerance. The education system aims for a high level of knowledge, with an emphasis on scientific and technological skills essential for the country's continued development.” Education in Israel begins at a very young age in order to provide children with an improved head start, particularly in terms of socialization and language development. It is not uncommon for many two-year-olds and almost all three and four-year-olds to attend some kind of preschool. Most programs are sponsored by local authorities, some within day-care centers operated by women's organizations while others are privately owned. The Ministry of Education allots special resources for preschool education in disadvantaged areas. Kindergarten for five-year-olds is free and required. “The curriculum aims to teach fundamental skills, including language and numerical concepts, to foster cognitive and creative capacities, and to promote social abilities.” “School attendance is mandatory and free from ages 6 to 18. Formal education starts in primary school (grades 1-6) and continues with intermediate school (grades 7-9) and secondary school (grades 10-12). About nine percent of the post-primary school population attends boarding schools. The multi-cultural nature of Israel's society is accommodated within the structure of the education system.” The majority of secondary schools offer academic curriculum in science and in the humanities leading to a matriculation certificate and higher education. Certain secondary schools offer specialized curriculum, which lead to a matriculation certificate and/or vocational diploma. Technological schools train technicians and practical engineers on three levels, with some preparing for higher education, some studying towards a vocational diploma, and others acquiring practical skills. Agricultural schools, usually in a residential setting, supplementbasic studies with subjects relating to agronomy. Military preparatory schools train future career personnel and technicians in specific fields required by the Israel Defense Forces. Yeshiva high schools, mainly boarding schools, with separate frameworks for boys and girls, complement their secular curriculum with intensive religious studies and promote observance of tradition and a Jewish way of life. Comprehensive schools offer studies in a variety of vocations, ranging from bookkeeping to mechanics, electronics, hotel trades, graphic design, and more. Accorded full academic and administrative freedom, Israel's institutions of higher education are open to all those who meet their academic standards. New immigrants and students lacking the necessary qualifications may attend a special preparatory program, which upon successful completion enables them to apply for admission. Most Israeli students are over age 21 when they begin their studies, after three years of required military service for men and two years for women. Currently, more than half of Israelis aged 20-24 are enrolled in one of the country's institutions of postsecondary or higher education. Regional colleges offer academic courses. A number of these colleges operate under the sponsorship of one of the universities, making it possible for students to begin studying for a degree near their home and complete it at the university's main campus. Some specialized institutes provide various disciplines in art, music, dance, fashion, nursing, rehabilitation therapies, teaching, and sports. Several private colleges offer subjects in great demand such as business administration, law, computers, economics, and related topics. At some, additional tracks are available, leading to certificates or vocational diplomas in a variety of subjects ranging from technology and agriculture to marketing and hotel trades. “The country's scientific and technological progress has been aided in recent years by an influx of well-educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Israeli scientists have made contributions in electronics, nuclear and solar power, and computer hardware and software, as well as in weapons-related technology. Cutting-edge firms have developed wireless and cellular telephone technology, as well as new applications for the Internet.” (Culture of Israel, 2007)
“Unlike the association of America with burgers and fries or the association of Japan with fish, rice, and sushi, it is difficult to associate Israel with just one kind of food. Instead, Israel boasts a unique cuisine of over 80 different cultures and traditions. To understand Israeli food, it is necessary to understand the dietary restrictions of many Israelis, the influences of other countries on Israel, and the traditions ofthe holidays.” (Schmidt & Yanofsky,2009) “Falafel , which is ground chickpeas mixed with onions and spices formed into balls and fried, are served in pita bread as a sandwich. Other popular dishes include tabouleh (a salad of bulgur wheat and chopped vegetables), hummus (chickpea paste), grilled meats, and eggplant. Cumin, mint, garlic, onion, and black pepper are used for flavoring. Baklava is a popular dessert of Arabic origin and consists of flaky dough layered with honey and nuts. Coffee is often prepared in the Turkish style, extremely strong and thick and served in small cups. Jews are bound by a set of dietary laws called kashrut, which, among other restrictions, forbid the consumption of pork and shellfish, as well as the consumption of both meat and milk products at the same meal. Not all Israelis observe these rules, but many restaurants do.” (Stanford, 2007)
In recent years, the awareness of international trends in the culinary world has increased dramatically. In fact, until about a decade ago, when most Israelis dined out, it was at Middle Eastern, North African, Balkan or Eastern European restaurants. In other words, people were eating the same things at restaurants that they were eating in their homes.
Nightlife in Israel is comparable to New York and Las Vegas and may be even more exuberant. That's pretty hard to imagine. “The nightlife comprises of the best of entertainment in the nightclubs or a nice and cozy evening in a pub or bar. The streets remain dazzling with neon and the people are always friendly and in a party mood. The nightlife in Israel attracts thousands of the tourists with its alluring charm that has enthralled the party fanatics for years. One gets the taste of the different cultures which makes the nightlife of Israel even more exciting. The country is home to three major communities of Jewish, Christianity and the Muslims. This mixture is clearly reflected on the lifestyle of the country and in turn on the nightlife.” (Asia Rooms, 2009)
I conducted an interview with one of my best friends of nine years, Guy. Guy was born in Israel and moved to Staten Island when he was two-years-old. He visits family in Israel at least once a year and is full of knowledge on the culture. He was able to embellish on what I read in my research. Being that there is so much information on Israel, quite a bit of information out there is vague. And, of course, there's nothing quite like first-hand accounts coming from someone who lives in this culture. One of my first questions of the interview was in regards to education. According to Guy, “Schools are very advanced here especially when it comes to Mathematics. Practically everyone goes to college after serving in the army and continues on for their Masters. Popular degrees are computer science, law and engineering. Many people have been laid off like in the US, but the Computer High Tech industry is always booming here.” Another thing I was so curious about is their standard of living. Guy always seems to be ahead of styles and trends, so I was always curious about their fashion sense and what malls are like. In response to this inquiry, Guy said, “The standard of living here is high. Israelis love to travel, buy expensive clothing brands and usually spend more than they earn. At the mall you will find stores like Diesel, Zara, Levis, and Aldo but they love Abercrombie, Polo, and Victoria's Secret because the stores here don't sell it. These brands are also very expensive.” I also was curious to know what the average income is and Guy answered, “The average good salary is at least 40K a year, but people out of college earn much less than that.” I was also curious about socialization in Israel. Is it a big thing to go to a lounge or bar? According to Guy, “The nightlife here is pretty crazy, because the law is much more lenient than in the US, clubs are open past sunrise and although the drinking age is 18, it's not really enforced. Coffee shops are very popular and a big part of the culture here.” Another thing I wanted to clarify was the cuisine. Just like many other cultures, I was wondering if Israel had their “signature food.” Guy said, “The national food is Shawarma and Falafel. We have pizza, McDonald's, and Chinese food just like the US. The most popular meal of the day here is breakfast. Israelis love cheese and other dairy products, yogurts etc. The dairy section here is about three times the size as the US.” I was also curious to know if Israelis were familiar with American music. “Aside from Israeli music, everyone here listens to everything that's on MTV. Hip hop has become very popular in the last five years. The most popular music is Techno, Trance and House music.” I was also curious about cars. Many countries in Europe have cars that we don't have here in America. “We have Mercedes, BMW and all that good stuff but the general population drives Honda, Mazda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. Also, most cars are Manual and not Automatic. Everyone here learns to drive Manual shift because Automatic cars are expensive.” And lastly, what are homes like? “In the big cities most people live in new and older apartment buildings. In the less populated cities you will find private homes with big back yards etc.”
No research I did really went into depth with the whole aspect of fashion, socialization and standards of living. I had this preconceived notion that Israel wasn't so modern. I envisioned little villages with dirt roads, small schools, and open markets. It's amazing that Israel is the complete opposite. I suppose this is what intrigued me the most to study further in the interview with Guy because it's something I could never really find online. Israel is much more modern than I had envisioned and its cities are comparable to New York, which is something Guy always insisted to me. Israelis are actually very much like Americans. Shopping malls are huge there. There are 42 malls in Israel! In fact, “Tel-Aviv is notable more for its secular pleasures: entertainment venues, shopping malls, exotic markets, nonstop active nightlife, gorgeous golden beaches and wonderful restaurants.” (Dr. Clue) Tel-Aviv has been dubbed the “Sin City” of Israel. They're fashion trends are pretty spot on with America and may even be ahead of us, just like the rest of Europe. I was also amazed at the universities. The campuses are just like those of American Universities in both physical attributes and they way in which they operate. Schools and technology are just advanced as America, which I was quite surprised about. In closing, I have to say that I am completely amazed by Israel. My warped image of it was completely wrong and my jaw just kept dropping at images I came across of malls, schools, fashion, apartments and houses. My friend always told me how beautiful and amazing it is, but I thought that was him just being biased. I guess I had to see for myself.