Israel’s historical and future significance makes it an alluring place to visit and live. Nevertheless, modern Israel is a difficult place to etch out a living. The price tag, both for Israelis and visiting pilgrims, is very high. With this in mind, we invite you to explore our “Life in Israel” section where topics from “Climate” to “Finances” are discussed and examined.
Living in Israel is often seen as the enviable opportunity of a lifetime. How many people can say that they live in the Holy Land, the Land of the Bible, or in Jerusalem—God’s holy city? This is the place where it all happened, the land of kings and prophets, shepherd boys and giants. It is a land that flows with milk and honey where miracles happen, and where Bible prophecy is being fulfilled. However, it should also be noted that while this unique opportunity is both desirable and attractive, living in Israel is far more challenging than it would seem from the outside looking in. Anyone expecting a “holy” land—filled only with spiritual meaning and profound experiences—will be in for a rude awakening when he or she walks along the dusty, overpopulated, noisy streets of the modern cities that dot the landscape of Israel.
While Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English, as well as some French and Spanish, are all spoken in Israel, the chief language in use is Hebrew. In the 1920s, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda formulated a modern version of biblical Hebrew, which is spoken countrywide today. Many Israelis also speak English, and many signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
There are many opportunities to learn modern Hebrew while living in Israel, notably at special Hebrew schools called ulpanim. Most ulpanim offer full- or part-time classes at all levels of proficiency and vary in length from a few weeks to several months. If you have the time and the money, learning Hebrew in an ulpan can be an exciting part of life in Israel.
Israel’s climate at any one time is as diverse as the many geographical areas of the country. Generally speaking, Israel is characterized by lots of sunshine throughout much of the year. However, two distinct seasons do exist for most of the country: a dry summer season, lasting from May through November, and a rainy winter season, extending from December through April. Jerusalem is located high in the Judean hills and is therefore a little cooler and less humid than other low-lying cities in Israel. Average nighttime and daytime temperatures range from 5–13 °C (41–55 °F) in the winter to 17–35 °C (63–88 °F) in the summer. Volunteers who may be located at the BFP Distribution Center in Karmiel in the North, will find that summers tend to be hot and humid and winters are quite wet. Karmiel is 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level. The climate in Karmiel is dry, breezy and comfortable with a 55% humidity from April to October and 65–70% humidity from November to March.
Many religious laws, both Jewish and Muslim, affect what kinds of food are most commonly found in Israel. Religious law forbids Jews to eat dairy foods (milk and cheese etc.) with meat products. They are also prohibited from eating certain “unclean” birds and fish/seafood, as well as pork. Living according to these food restrictions is called eating/living kosher. Most Israeli diets are affected by kosher laws, also called kashrut (meaning properly prepared). To respect kosher clientele, the big supermarket chains in Israel carry only kosher products, and many restaurants (and most hotels) serve only kosher food.
Food in Israel is a wonderful mix of Middle Eastern, European, Asian, and Western cuisine. The markets sell traditional pita (a flat bread), hummus (a paste of pureed chickpeas), and falafel (deep fried balls of ground chickpeas), as well as an assortment of other delicious Middle Eastern treats, both sweet and savory. Fresh and dried fruit, nuts, and other exotic food items are readily available in markets and stores. There are excellent supermarkets and convenience stores, which sell a huge range of food items familiar to natives of most countries. Restaurants vary in cuisine and price to suit most palates and wallets. (Yes, Israel does have McDonald’s and Burger King for those wishing to have fast food.)
Israel has an extremely good public bus system. Egged, the state-run bus company, is the second largest bus company in the world. Their services extend throughout the entire country, with the exception of the Palestinian territories. This makes areas in and around Jerusalem, as well as the rest of the country, easily accessible with the bus line. Monthly bus passes are available in most cities, which enable commuters unlimited travel at a very reasonable price. Taxis are also widely used in Israel as a form of transportation. Although more expensive, taxis are the only mode of transportation available in Jerusalem during Shabbat (the Sabbath, late Friday afternoon until sundown Saturday). Rental cars can be hired throughout most of the country. While this is a very convenient way to get around, it also tends to be expensive—especially on a tight budget. Israeli roads are generally in good condition, and motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Generally speaking, clothing is relaxed and casual, especially during the hot summer months: loose-fitting pants and shirts for men and casual skirts and blouses or pants and shirts for women. Both men and women wear sandals in the summer. Israel’s department, fashion, and shoe stores carry the latest styles, both for men and for women. Fashions tend to lean toward European trends, but are still affected by the religious and cultural customs of the Land. Israel (Jerusalem, in particular) is considered holy to three major religions—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Due to this unique condition, clothing often reflects sensitivity to the religious and cultural aspects of these religions. Both men and women need to ensure that their shoulders are covered, and in addition, women need to take care that sleeves are to the elbow (bare arms are offensive to both Jewish and Muslim people). Shorts that are just below the knee, jeans, and trousers worn with skirts are also acceptable.
Israeli holidays and festivals are generally religious in nature and often last several days with various levels of observance and celebration. These special days usually result in the shutdown of many activities throughout the country as families gather together for holiday meals and celebrations.
Pesach (Passover) is the first holiday of the year, when the Jewish people remember their exodus from Egypt. During this weeklong celebration, which usually occurs in March or April, observant Jews refrain from eating all yeast products to commemorate the hasty exit from Egypt, when there was no time to allow the dough to rise.
In May or June the holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) celebrates the giving of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to the Jewish people.
Later in the year Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), andSukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) are all observed and celebrated during the months of September and October. The last holiday of the year occurs immediately after the end of Sukkot as the Jewish people celebrate Simchat Torah (literally, “rejoicing in the Torah”).
There are also other joyful holidays during the year, such as Hanukkah (known as the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights) and Purim (Feast of Lots).
Throughout Israel, most businesses and public facilities close for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which lasts from late Friday afternoon until at least an hour after sundown on Saturday.
The currency of Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). The shekel is made up of 100 Agorot (agora is the singular form). Coins come in the 10 agorot and ½ shekel (50 agorot); and there are coins for 1, 2, 5, and 10 shekels. Cash bills are 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekels (sh’kalim is the plural form in Hebrew).
It’s best in the long run to convert your foreign currency to shekels and to do your purchasing with the money of the land. As a general rule, it’s cheaper to convert foreign currency in Israel than in your home country.
For your convenience, exchange booths are located throughout most major cities and in most tourist areas, as well as in the airport when you arrive. These booths usually accept cash (not coins), as well as traveler’s checks and sometimes personal checks from personal checking accounts. The exchange rate varies from day to day, as the global market affects the standing of the shekel.
ATMs (automated teller machines) can also be found throughout the country. ATMs in Israel are usually open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and accept most major foreign credit cards and ATM cards. The machines read foreign cards as “non-Israeli,” and then prompts on the screen pop up in English, rather than the usual Hebrew.
Israel is a very safe place in which to travel and live—contrary to the image that is portrayed by the international media. In spite of the relentless attacks against them, the people of Israel live very normal lives. They continue to celebrate holidays, attend weddings and birthday parties, go to school and work, worship in synagogues, and patronize movie theaters. Israelis believe that their best defense against those who wish to destroy them is to “live life” to it’s fullest. Terrorism is, indeed, a threat in Israel, however, a threat it is everywhere, and travelers need not feel like powerless bystanders. The chances of becoming a victim of terrorism are statistically very low and can be lowered further by taking certain precautions. Traveling in areas that are close to the Palestinian territories is discouraged; taking alternative routes that bypass these areas is advisable. In Jerusalem, the army and the police patrol the streets and public areas and usually search pedestrians’ bags for weapons.
With that said, we also wish to note that BFP, as an organization serving in Israel, has taken a very definite stance concerning our volunteer staff members living here. We believe that, as an organization and as members who make up this organization, we are here to serve and support Israel in the times they are now facing. “‘Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:14b). We believe that our staff are those who are called by the Lord to come and serve in the Land. Therefore, we do not tell people NOT to come, nor do we ask them to leave when things begin to heat up around us. At the same time, this is not to say that we are able to guarantee that tragedy will not strike. But in fact, there are no guarantees concerning anything in life. Still, we do ask those who are coming to serve with BFP in Israel to seek the Lord’s will for their lives and to follow what He directs them to do. This has been our counsel even long before the current Islamic violence began. Safety, therefore, is being in the center of God’s will for your life. It is not necessarily something we can fashion design according to our own will.
Israel runs on 220 volts at 50 hertz. If you bring appliances that run on 110 volts, it will be necessary to have a converter (which changes the voltage) and an adapter (which changes the shape of the plug to fit Israeli outlets). Converters and adapters can be purchased in Israel upon arrival. But it is probably less expensive and more convenient to bring both an adapter and a converter along with you if you plan to visit for only a short time (less than a month). Small appliances, however, can be purchased easily in Israel if you plan on staying for a long period of time.
Apart from its many wonderful biblical/historical sites, Israel offers an assortment of activities for recreational pursuits. These include hiking through the Judean Desert, snow skiing on Mount Hermon in the winter, body-surfing the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, or snorkeling over the coral reef of the coast at Eilat. For those who prefer less energetic activities, Israel has numerous museums, art galleries, and concerts to suit almost any taste. Modern movie theaters offer the latest movies from around the world complete with popcorn and sodas. And there are many tours that offer a variety of opportunities to see and experience the land, the people, and the culture.
Home to the world’s three largest religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—Israel is full of synagogues, churches of all kinds, and multiple mosques. The prevailing “religious” environment affects almost every area of life for the inhabitants of the land. From holidays, to occupations, to food, these religions color life in Israel in specific ways. While some might consider this aspect of Israeli life to be negative, there are actually many positive elements concerning living in the midst of such an environment. We encourage our volunteer staff to learn as much as possible about the land and its peoples, as well as what the latter believe, so that they can better articulate what “life in Israel” is really like when they return home.
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