Planning a trip to Israel? After living here for over 40 years, raising four amazing kids and a flock of grandchildren, I thought I’d share a few tips to make your visit more enjoyable and help you fit right in with the Israeli way of life.
1. Coming to Israel with children? Leave your parenting skills at home
You won’t need them. Every mother in Israel thinks she needs to be your child’s grandmother. Walk down the street with your baby and Israelis will tell you what you’re doing wrong. “It’s hot, put a hat on her. Make sure she gets enough to drink. Cover him up, it’s cold.” And so forth and so on and on and on…
You’ll also find that kids in Israel believe that the whole world was created for them, to be their own private playground.
So when you arrive, let yours ride on the airport baggage carrier wagons, supermarket shopping carriages, or just let them run around making as much noise wherever they want. That way they’ll fit right in with the Israeli kids and people will smile and tell you how cute your child is (even if he’s not).
Some places are easy to find. Others, less so, but you can always count on Israelis to help.
2. Don’t bring a map
You’ll find that it’s easy to get around Israel. Everybody asks anybody how to get anywhere.
While driving, if you stop at a red light, just honk your horn, roll down the window and wave your hand furiously. The driver in the car next to you will open his window and you can shout over the name of the street, or place, you’re looking for. And be prepared to open your window to help others find their way, as well, even if you have no idea.
Just shake your head, raise your eyebrows and turn your hands palm-side-up.
Things have changed a bit since Waze, the Israeli GPS guidance system, so people don’t ask for directions too often anymore. But that hasn’t stopped people from asking favors.
Recently, I was waiting for the traffic light and the guy next to me blew his horn, opened the window and waved frantically. “Hey, have you got a pen,” he shouted across, expecting without a doubt that I’d help. “I need to mark down something,” he explained. I smiled, shook my head as if to say, “only in Israel” and tossed a pen through the open windows as the light turned green.
Btw, asking and giving favors happens everywhere, so don’t worry about forgetting stuff at home. Just ask someone when you get here.
Shuk Mahane Yehuda
Mingle with locals at Jerusalem’s famous open-air market
3. Have no shame
From time to time you go through the same honking and waving on the roads only to find that the driver next to you wants to know how much your car cost. I own a 2014 Ford Mondeo and try to keep it in good condition, so I get “How much did you pay for her, is she for sale?” at red lights and traffic jams at least once a week.
Be prepared also to tell Israelis where you work and how much you make a month. They also want to know how much your house cost, how much rent you pay, what you paid per night at the hotel, and how much your dinner cost.
Don’t worry, be honest. We are not sizing you up. It’s our way of letting you know that you’re part of the tribe here, where we fight the rat race together. It’s our Israeli mentality that goes back to the communal social structure of the Jewish nation.
We all feel we’re part of one great collective building our homeland, where a bus driver can make as much as a doctor.
Need a new pocketbook or pair of shoes? Just find what you like on someone walking down the street and ask how much they paid. They’ll be happy to tell you, especially if they got a deal. And they’ll give you even directions (again) to where you can to get it at the best price.
Btw, be prepared to tell the security guard at the airport or when entering public buildings how much you paid for your new backpack or briefcase as he checks to see if you are carrying a weapon.
Like I said, don’t worry.