While Jewish Americans and Israelis are kindred spirits, you were likely in for a culture shock the first time you visited the holy land.
Americans, for instance, tend to sugarcoat things. Israelis tell it like it is. As one Birthright Israel trip provider puts it, “If you want the hard truth (or even if you don’t), Israelis are more than happy to give it to you.”
Despite any differences, the gift of a Birthright Israel trip allows participants to feel at home in their homeland as they claim their birthright and experience the local culture of Israel first hand. They begin to appreciate Jewish art, fashion, music, poetry, and cuisine in Israel, ultimately strengthening Jewish culture worldwide.
As it turns out, when it comes to our culture, the feeling in Israel is mutual. The US is among the influences on Israel’s distinctive Middle Eastern culture, especially in the big cities like Tel Aviv. In another sign of Western influence, many Israelis speak English with ease.
Israel’s artist scene has exploded over the past seven decades, as demonstrated by the many talented painters, sculptors, craftspeople, writers, and poets who are making a colorful splash worldwide. Sadly, one of Israel’s most influential poets, Natan Zach, passed away in early November. The writer earned the Bialik Prize for literature in 1982 and the Israel Prize for Hebrew poetry in 1995.
Israelis, meanwhile, widely support the arts, whether perusing street art in Haifa, attending exhibits, enjoying opera, or purchasing local art. Since Jews immigrated to Israel from many places, the art blends the traditions of Jewish cultures from around the world and sometimes includes Jewish and Zionist themes.
One of the stops on the itinerary of many Birthright Israel trips is Tzfat, the birthplace of Kabbalah, a mystical Jewish tradition. Here, the group encounters Israeli artists, at work, and at home, in the Artist’s Quarter.
Home to more than 200 museums, big and small, Israel’s Jewish art scene is prolific and relevant and has remained so.
Movies and TV
Perhaps the most widely known Israeli performers are those seen on the silver screen, such as Hollywood A-lister Gal Gadot, whose recent casting as Egyptian queen Cleopatra was met with both support and outrage on social media. Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman, a citizen of both Israel and the US, has been dazzling audiences since she was 12 years old.
If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Unorthodox, you may be familiar with Israeli actresses Niv Sultan and Shira Haas, who were named on The Jerusalem Post’s list of Israel’s Most Influential People. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, the TV show is an Emmy-winning series that’s received worldwide critical acclaim.
Israelis are just as addicted to reality TV as we are, and one of the country’s reality TV stars is Alexei Brovarnik, a Birthright Israel alumna (who coincidentally met his wife, Loren on their Birthright Israel trip).
As Israel’s fashion capital, Tel Aviv has its own brand of stylish residents, but generally, Israelis tend to prefer comfort over style, a factor that’s usually attributed to the country’s high import taxes as well as the weather (it is a desert, after all).
That’s not to say that there isn’t a jaw-dropping fashion scene in Israel. Many Israeli fashion designers have even garnered worldwide exposure and fame. Fashion designer Elie Taharihas’s designs have been worn by Angelina Jolie and Hilary Clinton. Nili Lotan’s designs have graced Kendall Jenner, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Our own Birthright Israel alumna Talia Zoref is an international fashion and lifestyle illustrator. She has sketched icons and celebrities including Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Mariah Carrey, Pharrell Williams, Anna Wintour, and Naomi Campbell for iconic brands like Chanel, Fendi, Dior, and MAC.
In 2019, a group of American celebrity chefs, restaurateurs, and food personalities experienced a Birthright Israel-inspired niche foodie trip. Speaking on the Israel food scene afterward, chef and restaurant owner Jenn Louis told The Times of Israel, “It’s always something new, even though the country is so small. Every nook and cranny has so much depth.”
When it comes to food, one big difference between US and Israeli Jews is that most Israelis keep kosher. According to research by Pew Forum, 63 percent of the Jews in Israel keep kosher at home while only 22 percent of American Jews do.
Sure, you can find a cheeseburger in Israel, but that’s not the norm. More likely you’ll encounter falafel, shakshuka, hummus, sabich, and shawarma—and that’s just the street food.
From kiosks to gourmet restaurants, the culinary scene in Israel is thriving. So much so, that many Israeli food trends have even popped up in America. The perfect example: hummus has gone mainstream. As for popular culture, a New Jersey kosher-keeping chef and owner of a kosher restaurant, Shalom Yehudiel, was recently the first kosher competitor on the Food Network’s Chopped.
Birthright Israel Foundation
Birthright Israel Foundation aims to send 50,000 Jewish young adults to Israel every year. One in five of those participants will choose one of our niche trips. As it turns out, the Art and Culture trip is one of the most popular of all the niche categories. The trip brings participants to Israel’s thriving centers to explore music, theatre, and award-winning film. Activities on this nice trip include:
- A visit to the artist colony of Ein Hod
- Meeting Tzfat’s Kabbalistic artists
- A tour of Tel Aviv’s bohemian Florentin neighborhood
- A cultural discussion with Mifgashim in the Judean desert
To learn more about the Art and Culture niche trip, how Birthright Israel is shaping the Jewish future today, and how Birthright Israel Foundation raises funds in the US to provide Jewish young adults with a life-changing trip to Israel, check out our infographic, “Birthright Israel Foundation versus Birthright Israel.”