Israel is a fascinating mix of “this is just like America, wow” and “literally what is happening ever”. Worried about what to look out for? Don’t. I have already made all the mistakes for you (it’s not that scary, promise)!
Here are some things to prepare you for your journey:
Buy a rav-kav (bus card) immediately, or else you will be inundated with agorot (אגורות), the most useless spare change in all of existence.
The Great Shabbos Shutdown: Be prepared. American Friday night is Israeli Thursday night. Get your partying and grocery shopping done early because nothing is open until Shabbat is over.
- There Are Cats. CONTROL YOURSELF. Israelis do have cats for pets but the ones on the street are considered pests. To some of us this is basically an adoption free-for-all, which I greatly encourage. Many are somewhat cared for by local good samaritans but unless you are sure it is safe, be very cautious when approaching. Feed one and ten more will come. Feed eleven and you’ve done a real mitzvah! Good for you!
- There Are Boars. If you thought cats were bad, good luck! It’s one thing to see a wild boar off in the distance when you’re out hiking. It’s another to leave a bar, turn the corner, and see a giant hulking mass of darkness and anger munching on the backyard next door. Things in Israel are never boar-ing. (sorry)
- Learn some Hebrew. It doesn’t have to be a lot (though that would be nice!) since many Israelis speak medium to embarrassingly excellent English. But there will always be a situation where you need a bathroom, or a phone, or a drink, and every single sign is in Hebrew and the only person around is from another country entirely and has no idea how to help you.
- Smoking, drinking, rock n’ roll. If you’re coming from an American university campus, you may be familiar with the 25-foot rule:
Protip: Israeli enforcement of smoking rules has been shaky. Cigarettes are sold within campus cafeterias alongside occasional free vodka shots (?!) and fresh rugelach (רוגלך) which will taunt you daily. Set this to rock n’ roll music that came out 14 years ago and you’ve got a day in the life on an Israeli campus.
- Socializing takes work. Expanding your circle doesn’t happen automatically. If you’re starting at a University you might check out clubs, societies, and other organizations on campus. Kidding! There are none. BUT Israel is the size of New Jersey and you can travel from one end to the other in a day. A fair exchange?
Pictured: Did you think this was a joke
It’s also crucial to talk about food while we’re here. I’m a big fan of Israeli cuisine; it’s generally light and healthy, so long as you avoid the delicious pit of bourekas (בורקס). I miss my dollar pizza but what can you do? Here are some tips for a beginner taste-tester:
Hot dogs are expensive and it is because they are huge. My first hot dog came in a baguette. It was a commitment. Also, the word for hot dog is “naknikiyah” (נקניקיה). If you ask for a “dog that is hot” (כלב חם) you’ll get some very weird looks.
Pictured: not an Israeli hot dog, but definitely the best choice out of a surprisingly gross Google image search.
One day you will buy greek yogurt at the store. It is not greek yogurt. It is labneh (לַבָּנֶה ,لبنة).
One day you will buy a milkshake at the store. It is not a milkshake. It is sahlab (סַחְלֶבּּ ,سحلب).
Are you the type of person who loves using condiments? Forget it. Hummus (חומוס) is cheap and it goes with everything. Throw that ketchup in the trash and cover your entire body with hummus instead.
- Man, I hope you like pickles.
- I also hope you like candy (aka temptation) because it is everywhere. Open-air markets (shuk/souq, שוק/سوق) have entire street corners dedicated to it. University campuses have vintage candy dispensers on every floor that only cost a shekel and your soul. A typical Israeli treat is halvah (חלבה), which I would not be able to pick out of an edible chalk line-up. It’s a gummy life for me.
- Za’atar (زَعْتَر) is amazing. I feel bad for insulting halvah, so maybe this will make up for it. Za’atar is a bunch of spices that come already perfectly mixed so you can impress your friends while still being lazy. My friend already bought a two-year supply and used it up. It goes on everything. Dream big.
Pictured: Oh My God
Pictured: Is this really necessary
Pictured: A literal pyramid of Za’atar. Have you ever been so in love?