The Western Wall (the Kotel in Hebrew) is the holiest site in Judaism. Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, it is a place that evokes deep reflection and emotion for Jews from all over the world. Religious Jews are regularly seen swaying back and forth with fervour, and even crying, as they recite prayers by the wall. A visit here can leave a permanent mark on someone, whether they are from a secular, traditional or religious Jewish background, and awaken or deepen their spirituality and connection with God.
Not all life-changing experiences you can have in Israel are good. Jerusalem syndrome is a real phenomenon whereby foreign visitors (around 100 every year, mainly Christians) become overwhelmed by the history and religious significance of the Old City and, in turn, suffer psychotic delusions that they are figures from the Bible or harbingers of the End of Days. This bizarre mental condition can be severe enough to hospitalize people.
This is one of the funnest experiences that hundreds of students enjoy every year, predominantly at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, two of the most prestigious in the country. Whether it’s for a semester or a full year, studying on an exchange program in Israel will likely lead you to fall in love with the country and make lifelong friends. While particularly popular among American Jews, these programs attract people of all faiths and backgrounds, from Indian and Chinese students to Europeans, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Tasting Israeli hummus will undoubtedly open up a world of chickpea flavoured wonder in your life. If you were a casual eater before your first taste of it in the Holy Land, you are sure to evolve into a hummus connoisseur afterwards. From hummus gargirim (hummus with chickpeas on top) to hummus tehina (hummus mixed with tehini, a creamy delight), no variety will be foreign to you. Hummus back in your home country (unless you live in the Middle East) will never be the same.
Israel is a country obsessed with yoga, which makes it no surprise that it is also a hotbed of wellness retreats. Whether you’re looking for a luxury spa hotel in the lush greenery of the north or a hippy commune with spectacular desert surroundings, there is something for everyone. Experiencing one of these retreats will connect you with nature, channel your spirituality and rejuvenate your body and soul.
This has been a popular ‘Israel experience’ for decades. The kibbutz culture was a huge part of the fabric of Israeli society, which operated heavily under socialist ideals for the first 30 years of its existence. While less prevalent in today’s Israel, there are still numerous kibbutzim dotted all over the country, from the northern border with Lebanon (Kfar Blum kibbutz) to the southern desert (such as Ein Gedi kibbutz, near the Dead Sea). Volunteering for a few weeks or more can teach you some important values, connect you with nature and set you up with long-term friendships.