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+ The currency in Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS)

+ 1 NIS = 0.32 U.S. Dollars


+ Definitions:

Arab – a term used to describe people who were originally from the Arabian Peninsula and adjoining territory.

Muslim – a follower of Islam. In the Middle East, most Muslims are Arab. But the majority of Muslims in the world are not Arab.

Palestinian – a member of the native Arab population of the region of Palestine (including the modern state of Israel).

Jew – someone who practices Judaism and traces their descent back to Abraham and the Israelite nation.There are 3 major branches of Judaism: Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism (which is the most liberal branch of Judaism, the largest percentage of Jews in the U.S. are Reform Jews).

Orthodox Judaism – the most traditional branch of Judaism. Orthodox Jews devote time and energy to the study of Torah and strictly observe God’s commandments.

Israeli – the term used to describe citizens of the modern state of Israel. Most Israelis are Jewish, some are Arab. If one is referring to the ancient people of Israel, the proper term is “Israelites.” The proper term for current residents of Israel is “Israelis.”

Zionism – a movement originally in support of the creation of a homeland for Jews, and which now actively seeks to protect and expand the Jewish state of Israel

+ Israelis greet each other warmly with either a slap on the back (for men) or an air kiss on both cheeks (for women). Tourists, however, are usually greeted with a handshake. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men won’t acknowledge women, and very religious Jews of either gender don’t shake hands or mingle socially with members of the opposite sex.

+ Israelis are known for their bluntness. That openness extends to discussions on religion and politics, too, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind (but expect candor in return).

+ Roughly 6 million of Israel’s citizens, about 75%, are Jewish.

+ Among the Arabic-speaking citizens, the vast majority are Muslims. Within the 1.6 million Muslim population, there are 200,000 Bedouins. There are about 125,000 Christian Arabs, and 130,000 Druze (a religious sect that broke from Islam about 1000 years ago).

+ Arab Christian/Palestinian Christian – A minority of Arabs in the Middle East are Christian, and if the Arab Christian happens to live in the land of ancient Palestine, then they would be called a Palestinian Christian.

+ Some Jews are followers of Jesus, but they most often do not want to be called Christians. Some are okay with the term Messianic Jew, but it is somewhat controversial. Most simply call themselves “believers”.


+ Hebrew is the national language of Israel, but travelers can get by with English. Most of the hotel and restaurant staff will speak English as well as the shopkeeper. However, knowing a few words are appreciated.

Thank youToda (pronounced Toh-dah)

PleaseBevakasha (pronounced bey-vak-a-shaw)

Hello or GoodbyeShalom  (pronounced shah-lohm)

Good morningBoker tov  (pronounced boh-ker  tohv)

Good nightLayla tov (pronounced  lahy-lah tohv)

PatienceSavlanout  (pronounced sah-vlah-noot)

Excuse me/SorrySlicha (pronounced slee-khah)

+ Arabic is Israel’s other official language, spoken by Arabs, Druze, and a dwindling number of Jews with family roots in Arab lands.

+ Israelis use a lot of hand gestures when they talk. A common gesture is to turn the palm upwards and press the thumb and two fingers together to mean “wait a minute”; this has no negative connotations. Just as harmless is the Israeli who says “I don’t believe you” to express that something is unbelievably wonderful.


+ The Sabbath extends from sundown Friday until dark on Saturday. Most shops and restaurants in Jewish neighborhoods close, but Arab areas in Jerusalem’s Old City, and towns like Nazareth and Akko, will be bustling. Bus services are suspended in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Sunday is the first day of the regular work and school week. 


+ The tap water is safe throughout Israel.

+ You’ll find great coffee all over Israel. Latte is called hafuch; and if you want black coffee, ask for “filter” coffee or Americano.

+ Falafel sandwiches are a fast-food staple. It starts with a scoop of seasoned chick-peas ground and formed into small spheres that are quickly fried in oil and then placed in a pita or wrap. Toppings may include hummus, harif (hot sauce), finely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, pickles and even french fries. Feel free to drizzle it all with amba (spicy pickled mango) or tahini.

+ The Shawarma is similar to the Greek gyro but without the pork. Slices of grilled turkey meat, chicken, or lamb are sliced off a rotisserie spit and served with the same accompaniments as the falafel.


+ Bargaining can be fun, but check out these helpful tips:

+ Never answer the question “How much do you want to pay?”

+ When the seller names a price, come back with about half.

+ If the seller balks, be prepared to walk out. If you’re called back, they want to make a sale.

+ Don’t be in a hurry.

+ Not every vendor will be in the mood to bargain.

+ Don’t begin the process unless your intentions are serious.

References:  Fodor’s Travel, Israel, 2014