While I knew a bit about Israel due to my Christian faith, I had no idea what the current day country was like. Many times in the US we have so much media coverage about what’s happening in our town and country, and then only hear about bad things when they’re happening internationally. I thought I’d take a minute to share some fun facts about Israel that I learned on my recent trip.
Fun Facts about Israel
Birthplace/Home of Three Religions
Part of the animosity and contention that plagues Israel is due to the fact that the country, the city of Jerusalem to be exact, is considered the birthplace or central home for three major religions. The Jewish faith holds Jerusalem as the home to its first temple and the mecca of their heritage. Judaism made Jerusalem a holy city over three thousand years ago and has never wavered on the recognition of Jerusalem as part of their foundation and truth.
The Christian faith was later founded by Jesus, born a Jew, in Israel and much of the New Testament and Jesus’ history mentions the (second) temple (the first was destroyed by the Babylonians) and areas around Israel.
Later at the same spot where these temples originally resided, a spot known as the Temple Mount, is where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven in his dreams, as well as the direction he prayed towards. This is the foundation of the Islamic claim over the city and also why there is now the Islamic shrine known as the Dome of the Rock. This is a strong area of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Primarily Jewish Population & Calendar
As 75% of Israelis are Jewish (the other 25% of Israelis are mostly Christian or Muslim), the country runs on the Jewish “calendar.” The workweek is Sunday through Thursday, and the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Many Jews observe an event known as Shabbat, which begins at sunset on Friday and ends 25 hours later at sundown on Saturday (for Christians this is similar to what we think of as Sunday Sabbath or day of rest).
This means you will notice a slowing down of everything on Friday afternoon – because religious Jews do not drive, use electricity, or engage in work on the Sabbath (Shabbat). Most shops are closed and there is little public transportation on Shabbat. Conversely, Friday night is the “hot” night for clubs and restaurants, particularly outside Jerusalem. On Shabbat, at least one elevator in your hotel is designated a “Shabbat elevator,” stopping automatically at every floor so that the orthodox may ride but not “use electricity” by pressing buttons. On Fridays, the Muslim Sabbath, and Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, some stores owned by non-Jews may be closed too.
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages for the country of Israel, but many Israelis speak English quite well, and you’ll note most government and street signs contain all three languages.
Modern Technology Hotspot
Israel is quite technologically advanced, it’s considered “Silicon Valley East,” the world’s second-largest creator of IT software and systems. While strolling in Tel Aviv we passed a large office complex containing offices for Facebook. And you know that cool traffic driving app, Waze? Built in Israel. There are more cellphones, bookstores, laptops and museums per capita in Israel than in any country on earth.
And if you love “going green”, the worldwide green revolution began in Israel a century ago. More trees per acre have been planted in Israel since 1900 than in any other country on the planet. Israelis have been using solar power for heating water for 60 years. Water-saving drip irrigation was invented in Israel, and oh yeah, cherry tomatoes too.
Mandatory Military Service
While touring the Old City of Jerusalem, I was shocked to see a bunch of teenagers walking past me smiling and chatting while carrying assault rifles. Our tour guide explained that every citizen when they turn 18 are drafted to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Some citizens are exempt or excused due to religious reasons, however, many do serve. Boys are required to serve about three years, and girls two.
Perhaps you’ve joined a co-op preschool or store, but Israel has got something way beyond that, it’s called Kibbutz. The kibbutz movement began around the turn of the 20th century when groups of young pioneers from Eastern Europe decided to combine their commitment to egalitarianism and their love of nature and working the land with their Zionist creed. Kibbutz communities are completely unified in working, earning, selling, and sharing.
Today, some kibbutzim have decided to foster greater individual enterprise, while continuing to share elements of their cultural and social lives, and others have kept the traditional framework of a redistribution of the resources of all members. Until recently many kibbutz communities separated families and the parents worked while the kids were raised by kibbutz caregivers, allowing the parents to maximize their working focus.
Easy to Reach
If you live on the east coast, you can reach Tel Aviv in about 10 hours, shorter than it takes to reach Hawaii. From the west coast, I was on the inaugural United flight from San Fransisco to Tel Aviv aboard a new Dreamliner jet and it took about 15 hours. Et Al is the national airline for Israel and the security is very strong, they fly from the east coast as well as from LAX. Once you land in Tel Aviv, the multitude of highways make transportation around the country very easy. I highly recommend hiring a tour guide for your trip, many will act as your driver and guide for your vacation.
Hopefully, after reading these you’ll see that Israel is its own unique, and amazing country, one definitely worth visiting. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit and hope to return with my family sometime soon. Did you know that 2013 was the best year ever for Israeli tourism? Now’s your chance to get in on the action. :)
Be sure to stay tuned for more posts about Israel and check out my post about the Dead Sea: Salt, Skin Care, and Spas.
If you’d like further information about Israel, visit the Ministry of Tourism’s Go Israel website for many more facts and information. I thank the Ministry for arranging and hosting my trip to Israel, all opinions and thoughts are my own based on my personal experience.