Image Credits: Debbie Hill/UPI
Before we get started here, you need to throw out all of your current judgement and misconceptions about Israel. Israel is a wonderful place for Americans to visit, no matter your religion and background.
This is the most important thing to know. Israel is absolutely safe as long – as you are smart about the way you conduct yourself, and stay away from tense areas. Public safety is huge in Israel. Your university or tour group will go above and beyond to educate you on how to be safe and what areas you should not visit. The Israeli government takes steps to ensure safety as well. When entering major public spaces such as train stations and malls, you will always go through security. In addition, in tense areas such as the Old City of Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers patrol every corner to make sure things stay under control. Don’t let this scare you: Israel has a lower crime rate that the United States. Just remember to follow the same rules you would in America: only go out with friends, and don’t go to bad neighborhoods without someone who knows the area.
Get ready to eat Mediterranean cuisine that is not only healthy, but also delicious! From hummus and tabbouleh, to shwarma and falafel, you will have the opportunity to try some new foods that you will crave when you return home. Hummus in the U.S. is not on the same level as Hummus in Israel, believe me! Additionally, you will have the opportunity to shop in small grocery stores, or in open air markets and will encounter a large and affordable selection of fresh produce. You may even be able to try out your haggling skills. You will also encounter sweets such as baklava and knafe, a specialty Arab sweet, two things that are essential to try. One more thing, try the orange juice. Nothing beats fresh squeezed Jaffa oranges. It will become a daily drink for you.
The views & hiking
Israel is a small country that is roughly the same size as New Jersey. Despite this, you can encounter all types of climate and flora there. From the waterfalls and mountains in the Golan, where it can snow, to the beautiful beaches of Haifa and Tel Aviv, to the Negev Desert, you can try out hiking and camping in whichever climate you desire. Hiking is part of the culture in Israel. During Shabbat on Fridays and Saturdays, Israelis love exploring the outdoors and spending time with their friends and family.
The beaches in Israel are some of the best in the world. From the smooth sand in Tel Aviv and the lively boardwalk in Haifa, to the snorkeling in Eilat and the ancient Roman aqueduct ruins in Caesarea, you’ll find beautiful sunsets and a good time. Each beach in Israel has a different vibe, and is free and open to the public. Additionally, Israelis love working out on the beach. Most beaches have outdoor gyms where you will find Israelis practicing acrobatics or getting a good workout in.
Obviously Israel has a long and fascinating history that you can learn about online, but until you are tracing the path of Jesus, walking on Roman mosaic floors, exploring Muslim castle ruins, or exploring crusader tunnels, you haven’t experienced anything. The Israelis specialize in educating tourists about their history and have wonderful museums and national parts where you can explore ancient ruins. Additionally, some of the recent historical sites such as the ruins from the Arab-Israeli towns and abandoned tanks can still be seen in the Golan Heights, which really gives you a new perspective on war and conflict.
Anyone who subscribes to the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, or just appreciates the history of the religions that billions of people practice, will have a life-changing experience while touring the holy sites. For most Christians that visit, you will have the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and walk down the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus was said to have placed his steps on the way to his crucifixion. Additionally, visiting the beautiful and insanely symmetrical Baha’i Gardens is a wonderful experience. Whether you are Jewish or otherwise religious, visiting the Western Wall – packed with people crying, singing, praying, and socializing – is impactful. Overall, you truly get a sense for the diversity of religions in the world and how a different part of the world practices.
For many, the politics of the region is a selling point to study abroad since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a subject that interests many. There is a lot of media commentary about the topic since any alteration in the country automatically hits the front pages, but until you talk to the locals, you will not get a good understanding of the issues the society faces. One of the best places to study the politics is the University of Haifa, due to Haifa’s reputation for co-existence and large Arab-Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Druze populations. Not only are you able to learn in the classroom, but heading out into the city and mingling with the locals will also teach you a lot about the political situation. Additionally, it is easy to keep up with the news in Israel since the main media sources, such as the Times of Israel and JPost, are all published in English, which enables you to bring local news into your classroom discussions.
In Israel, the most frequently spoken language is Hebrew. Most Israelis speak English as well. Most street signs and other public postings are translated into Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Even if you do not speak Hebrew and do not plan on studying it, Israel is still a good place for you to study. Israelis enjoy practicing their English with foreigners, and are more than happy to help you with the language you are trying to learn. Additionally, if you are trying to learn Arabic, Israel is still the place for you, because Israel has a sizable Arabic speaking population. They are equally happy to help you practice and even familiarize you with their local dialect. This works best in Arab majority towns such as Nazareth and Acre, and even the Arab neighborhoods of Haifa!