A look at Israeli culture from a traveler’s view

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Zachary Fouladian, Staff Writer

Beverly is special, and not just because of our lovely bell schedule or the construction happening on the lawn. Our school has many Jewish students; enough that Jewish holidays become school holidays. Schools just three or four miles away have comparatively few, numbering in the tens instead of the hundreds. So, to an unusually large piece of our student body, Israel is a special place. Ignoring the food and thousand-year-old history, the strip of land that measures only 263 miles North to South (about the size of New Jersey) holds incredible religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.

The food, though, cannot be ignored. Searching hard enough, anyone can find an Italian restaurant with English menus. But Israel has its own culinary staples. Shawarma, meat or chicken shavings, and falafel, balls of chickpeas and vegetables (no meat), are well known even in the United States, and can be found easily in Israel. Often, the shawarma or falafel comes in a pita sandwich, though some serve baguettes as well. Creamy tahina sauce, hummus, pickled vegetables, and other sides can be added to the sandwich or used in salad as well. To drink, Israel’s mint lemonade generally comes by the jug in sit-down restaurants. The lemon taste is strong, but the mint is refreshing and the tastes work well together.

An important difference between Israel and the United States is the meat and dairy separation. Depending on the area, restaurants will only serve one or the other, or keep meat and dairy sides cordoned off from each other. In religious areas such as Jerusalem especially, meat and dairy separation is prominent, though not every eating place keeps the two apart. Where they are separated, though, “meat” is considered beef, poultry, lamb, and sometimes even fish. Regardless of the restrictions, Israeli food is always its own delicious vacation.

 

Israel as a culture is radically different from the U.S. The most obvious example is the stratification of cultures by religion. Cities are classified by religion, and then subdivided by strength of the faith there. There are Jewish cities and Muslim ones strewn around the country, with the Old City of Jerusalem being one exception. There, the sections are separated by armed checkpoints, but are in fact directly connected. Another division is between Israeli citizens and Palestinians. The country has different sections: where Palestinians are not allowed, where they are allowed to work but not live, and where they are allowed to live and work.

Borders are guarded, as the bordering countries are all hostile. Many are obvious, with checkpoints stationed by armed guards, but some are protected through hidden methods that are protected by confidentiality. Young adults in Israel are conscripted into the military at age 18, where men serve for three years and women for two. The military is present everywhere in Israel, and 20-year-olds with large machine guns are numerous on the streets.

Even within the Jewish sections, there are divisions. The denominations in Israel are Reform, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox, with American “Conservatives” falling under Reform. The Orthodox members do not consider Reform to be actual Jews, and ultra-Orthodox doesn’t see either of the two as Jews. This creates a tension between the three, and often Jews of different faiths live in different parts of the same town.

Cats are as plentiful as buildings in Israel, and though they are used to control the pest population, many are scared of humans and all carry the risk of disease. Television isn’t censored like the United States, as I learned through painful demonstration with my 13-year-old brother. Travel too and from is very strongly protected, with frequent passport checks and questions about travel intentions before boarding. Finally, it’s important to remember that most of the world uses kilometers, not miles, and Israel is no different.

Israeli money is the NIS, or New Israeli Shekel, and the conversion rate is approx. 3.8 NIS-$1

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