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Santa in Jerusalem's Old City | © Dafna Tal for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism / Flickr
Santa in Jerusalem's Old City | © Dafna Tal for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism / Flickr
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11 Unusual Facts You May Not Know About Israelis

Picture of Ben Jakob
Updated: 22 April 2017
Camels do not overrun Israel, and the country is not a war zone. Now that we’ve cleared that out of the way, here’s a list of the most unusual national pet peeves and idiosyncrasies.

1. Israelis clap at the end of flights, especially those landing in Israel

As anyone who’s ever flown on Israel’s national flag carrier El Al will testify, after the front wheel hits the tarmac and the plane heaves after touchdown, Israelis will break out in applause (assumably, for the pilot).

El Al plane takes off for Israel | InSapphoWeTrust, Flicker
El Al plane takes off for Israel | InSapphoWeTrust, Flicker

2. Unkosher ways: A lot of Israelis love shrimp, but refuse pork

Keeping kosher can mean a lot of things for different Israelis, and while many love shellfish – especially shrimp and mussels – most will refuse to eat pork, which is considered an impure animal and cannot be legally raised in Israel.

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3. As a result, Israelis raise pigs on elevated stages

Though not huge on pork, Israel is a farming powerhouse. But due to its non-kosher legal status, raising pigs posed a problem, as the law does not allow the animal to be bred on Israeli soil. So the famous Israeli ingenuity moved into action, coming up with a solution: pigs would be raised on elevated stages, thus, avoiding the soiling of Israel’s soil.

4. What you call breakfast, we call dinner

A typical Israeli dinner is a scrambled egg and a small salad – or what the rest of the Western world calls breakfast – except on Friday evening when people go all out for the weekend dinner.

5. At weddings, you write your friends a big fat cheque

Israeli weddings are unique for a lot of reasons, but the strangest is perhaps the almost nonexistent gift culture. When going to a wedding, you are expected to bring a cheque, and the closer you are to the happy couple, the fatter the cheque.

6. Most curse words in Hebrew are not in Hebrew, but in Arabic, Yiddish and English

S’emek, scheisse or just the F-word, Israelis love them all, but for some linguistic reason, very few curse words used in spoken Hebrew are actually in Hebrew.

7. Israelis read a lot, or at least love buying (and writing) books

Israelis famously buy the most books per capita, and Israel’s publishing industry also produces the most translations a year, relative to the size of the population, and hundreds of original works are published in Hebrew every year. How many people actually read all these books is anyone’s guess.

"Hebrew Week" book fair at Jerusalem's Israel Museum | Beny Shlevich, Flickr
‘Hebrew Week’ book fair at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum | Beny Shlevich, Flickr

8. Israelis will kiss a complete stranger on the cheek

Like the French, but without the suaveness, Israelis also kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting – one kiss, usually reserved only for men and women, but men will also occasionally go cheek to cheek to say goodbye. So be prepared, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.

9. You can ask any Israeli their opinion about any event – no matter how controversial or awkward – and you will receive a full answer

Talking politics is Israel’s national pastime, and everyone will willingly engage with you on any topic. Generally, Israelis think less of people who either have no knowledge of the local conflict or show little interest in current affairs, and voicing your opinion and arguing are almost a rite of passage. Similarly, you can also ask any Israeli you see in the street for recommendations or directions, and they will patiently instruct you and maybe even join you for lunch.

10. There are plenty of non-Jewish Israelis

Though a ‘Jewish state’, there are many non-Jewish Israelis. For example, there are Christians Arabs who identify as Palestinians; Muslim Bedouins who might not; immigrants from the former USSR with Jewish heritage but with an Orthodox upbringing; and groups like the Black Israelites – a community comprised of African Americans émigrés who identify as ‘Hebrews’, like Amar’e Stoudemire.

11. Israeli Jews also come in all colours

In the same vein, Jewish Israelis come in all colours, from darker-skinned Jews from Ethiopia and Yemen to half-Polish, half-Iraqi South Americans to the Bnei Menashe, a group of indigenous people originating in northeastern India, who identify as Jews and call the country their home.

The Bnei Menashe (or Manmaseh) identity as descendants of the Biblical Tribe of Menashe | Rachel-Esther, Flickr
The Bnei Menashe (or Manmaseh) identity as descendants of the Biblical Tribe of Menashe | Rachel-Esther, Flickr