Israel is a mosaic of cultures. Wherever you turn, there are people who originated from different countries, with manifestations of cultures from all over of the world.
The misperception that people often have is that the culture is two or sometimes three-dimensional, since Israel is famous for its Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious sights. But Israel is home to far more ethnicities and cultures than just those three!
Visiting Israel allows you to learn, experience, and taste exciting and colorful cultures, every where you turn. If you’re interested in other cultures and would like to expand your horizons with a different kind of experience, make sure you don’t miss out on some of these activities and locations:
The Baha’i religion, originally from ancient Persia, was founded by followers who severed themselves from the existing Moslem Shi’ite faith. Its founder was exiled from his homeland at the end of the 19th century, and came to Acre and Haifa.
The Baha’i have several holy sites in Israel. The most famous of these sites includes the breathtaking Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, built in 1953 and surrounded by 19 spectacular terraces that rise from the foot of Mount Carmel to the shrine. These terraces also go by the moniker “Baha’i Gardens“, recently selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Whatever your faith, a visit to the Gardens offers a profoundly spiritual, and visually resplendent experience.
Other beautiful Bahai gardens surround the grave of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, north of Acre. These gardens, known as Al Bahaja, are the most holy site for members of the faith. The beautiful, well tended gardens are built in the form of a large circle divided into four segments with lawns, citrus groves, topiary and flowers. These two beautiful locations are a site of annual pilgrimage for the 5 million Baha’i faithful, as well as many tourists from around the world.
The Bedouin are a group of nomadic tribes that have lived in Israel’s desert for hundreds of years, tracing their heritage back to the traders on the ancient Spice Route. The majority of Bedouin in Israel, approximately 160,000, live in the Negev Desert, and another 70,000 live in the in Galilee.
In the past, the Bedouin livelihood depended entirely on wandering through the desert with their flocks of sheep, goats, and cows, looking for food and water. Today, most have settled down permanently. Nonetheless, their culture to this day emphasizes elements from past days, such as hospitality, family, tribe and confederation. The Bedouin are considered by many to be the most hospitable people in the world. In Bedouin tradition, a primary importance is placed on receiving guests and on warm, open-hearted hospitality.
To learn more about this culture with its roots in history, but forced to adapt to modern life, visit the Jo Alon Museum of Bedouin Culture in the heart of the Lahav Forest. If you’re more interested in hands-on cultural immersion, you can visit one of the many Bedouin Khans (camps) scattered across Israel’s desert regions. Ride through the desert on a camel, and then enjoy a traditional Bedouin feast. A visit in the evening will afford a weary traveler stories accompanied by Bedouin songs and music, and a moonlight walk in the starlit desert.
The Circassians is a name that translates to “mountain dwellers.” This group originated in the northern Caucasus Mountains on the border between Europe and Asia. The Circassians converted to Islam from Christianity in the mid-17th century, when they encountered the Tatars and the Turks along the silk route through their region. Following defeat in a long war against the Russian Empire, they were exiled to Ottoman Turkish areas, including the Mediterranean, where they practiced their famed martial skills in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Today the Circassians live in two Israeli villages in the Galilee – 3,000 in Kfar Kama, and 1,000 in Rekhaniya.
Interested in learning more about the Circassians first hand? Then consider visiting Kfar Kama, and especially the Circassian Museum, located in a traditional old basalt house. See the agricultural roots, language and customs of the community brought to life, while also learning about the challenges the Circassian face of preserving their traditions despite their small numbers, and the pride they take in contributing to the state of Israel. For a more interactive experience, join a guided tour of the village, where you will see ancient preserved homes, and hear colorful tales of the first settlers who arrived in the village in 1878.
The Druze are an ethnic minority known in Israel for their hospitality and warmth toward all visitors. The Druze in Israel speak Arabic and identify as Arabs, but they are a community distinct from other Arab Israelis, with their own religion and cultural norms. The Druze religion broke off from Islam in the 10th century in Egypt, and it is viewed as an interpretation of the three large monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Today the Druze live in a few villages in Israel, most of them in the Golan Heights (Majdal Shams, Buq’ata and Ein Qinya, among others) and in the Carmel region (Isfiya and Daliat El Carmel).
If the fascinating history of this community’s ancient traditions and hospitality customs pique your curiosity, then a visit a Druze village is the necessary remedy. Many villages have special hospitality tents where visitors can taste the traditions and experience the authentic Druze lifestyle. If cooking (or eating) good food is one of your passions, then taking a local Druze home-cooking lesson through Galileat will be most rewarding – especially to your taste buds!
Other activities available in Druze villages include lectures on the Druze religion and spiritual beliefs, discussions of the status of Druze women, and workshops that teach the colorful embroidery and handicrafts techniques. Other options include guided nature walks where you are taught what wild plants are edible and medicinal, visits to the local market, or walking tours of the village with insight into the local population, history, and landmarks. Whatever you choose, it will be an unforgettable experience!
The Ethiopian Jews are descendants of the immigrants of the Beta Israel communities in Ethiopia, who started to arrive in Israel in small airlifts since 1977. The final and most dramatic large-scale Aliyah was Operation Solomon in 1991, which brought to Israel over 14,000 Ethiopians overnight amid political turmoil.
Visitors to Israel can experience the distinct Ethiopian Jewish culture at Mavrhatey center in Kibbutz Evron. Learn about this unique culture which values dignity, simplicity, and a profound connection to nature, spirit, and Mother Earth. Mavrhatey is a truly unforgettable authentic experience for locals and travelers alike, offering various workshops about culture and traditional ceremonies, the story of immigration and longing for a connection to Israel, spirituality, and more. All workshops engage with the rich ethnic folklore, and express themes of human dignity, and Ethiopian heritage and culture.
The Maronites are a part of the Maronite Catholic Church, historically associated with Lebanon. They derive their name from the Syriac saint Mar Maron, whose followers moved to Mount Lebanon from northern Syria. The Maronite population in Israel is about 6,700 and is concentrated in the Galilee region, near the Lebanese border, mostly in the village of Jish or Gush Halav in Hebrew. Some of this population is comprised of the families of former South Lebanon Army militia members, who fled South Lebanon in April-May 2000.
If you’re looking for the sights, sounds, and tastes of Lebanon within the borders of Israel, consider visiting Jish, a village established in the 18th century and known today for its authentic Lebanese restaurants. On your visit, you will be surrounded by friendly locals who love to share stories of their home and its history. If you ask for permission, you can enter private courtyards and refresh yourself with the village’s famous figs and grapes! If you are a lover of music, you can visit the home of George Sam’an, who plays the fiddle and the oud. You can enjoy authentic music, accompanied by colorful stories, delicious coffee, and a relaxing stay in guest rooms.
Hasidic Jews is a specific movement of Judaism. The name is derived from the Hebrew word for loving kindness (chesed). The Hasidic movement is unique in its focus on the joyful observance of God’s commandments (mitzvot), heartfelt prayer and boundless love for God and the world He created. What sets this group apart is that their beliefs and practices are based in mysticism as opposed to more formal or rigid manifestations of Judaism.
Over time, Hasidism broke up into different groups. Some of the more well-known Hasidic sects include Breslov, Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Ger, Belz, Bobov, Skver, Vizhnitz, Sanz (Klausenberg), Puppa, Munkacz, Boston, and Spinka Hasidim. Like other orthodox Jews, the Hasidic wear distinctive attire, similar to that worn by their ancestors in 18th and 19th century Europe. The different sects of Hasidim often wear different clothing – such as different hats, robes or socks – that identify their particular sect.
An interest in Jewish history warrants a visit to Safed (Tzfat), but so does a love of scenic villages and quality artisan crafts! Safed is a must-see, as it is the birthplace of the Kabbalah, and also the home of the Artists Colony, featuring highly skilled painters, sculptors, textile artists, potters, calligraphers, glassblowers, micrographers and scribes. Did I also mention it’s stunning? Because it is!
Another place worth visiting if you’re looking for a religious or cultural experience is the Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Meah She’arim (Thousand Gates) in Jerusalem. A stroll along these ancient cobblestoned streets is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in a fascinating religious atmosphere that is so vastly different from the surrounding modernity.
A Kibbutz is a community, unique to Israel, which represents a rural way of life whose historic hallmark is sharing. The kibbutz movement began around the turn of the 20th century when groups of young pioneers from Eastern Europe decided to combine their commitment to egalitarianism and their love of nature and working the land with their Zionist creed. These first “kibbutzniks” founded Degania on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is still blooming today.
Israel’s Kibbutzim – about 270 of them – are scattered throughout the country. The majority of the kibbutzim have significantly changed with the times. More than a generation ago, for example, they gave up the idea of children sleeping in group quarters watched over by kibbutz caregivers, which in the old days was considered essential to maximize working hands. Today, some kibbutzim have decided to foster greater individual enterprise, while continuing to share elements of their cultural and social lives.
Many of the kibbutzim operate hotels, B&B facilities, craft shops, galleries, and other great attractions, such as cooking workshops. With immediate access to the great outdoors, and lots of room to run around, kibbutzim are great accommodation options for traveling with your kids.
If you’re interested in voluntourism, then a longer stay at a kibbutz is a great option to live somewhere beautiful, and contribute to the local community!
Written by: Shirrah Friedman, Simply, Israel
Simply, Israel designs unique tour packages and personalized holiday arrangements for travelers who appreciate quality, worry-free travel.