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13 Quirky Tips For First Timers Travelers to Israel

June 9, 2016 | by Stephanie D. Lewis

At the Dead Sea, just agree that you WILL float. Don’t argue with everyone around you that you’re an exception to the rule. Relax and SURRENDER.

I just returned from Israel (and neighboring countries) but because I don’t write a tourism column here at Jewlarious, I was just going to take all this great information straight to my grave. However the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced there’s one reader out there who might benefit from my strangely comforting travel tips. Are YOU that reader?? Let’s find out:

  1. When visiting airports that have heightened security, don’t loiter on benches darting your eyes furtively around. YOU know you’re contemplating which Duty Free shop to go drop major $$ in (because you forgot to souvenir shop for your kids) but the armed Israeli soldiers won’t get it. Neither should you have this dialogue. SOLDIER: State your business for being in this terminal, Miss. ME: (fluttering eyelashes) Wow, thanks for calling me “Miss!” SOLDIER: I asked what you are doing here? ME: Oh, I’m just killing time. SOLDIER: Killing?! Passport and ID, please. Now! ME: Wait, what? That’s just an American expression. You know like, “Did you hear about the huge bomb Ronit’s ex-husband just dropped on her?” SOLDIER: You’re coming with me … Ma’am.

  2. Try not to approach one of the stall vendors in the very loud, chaotic open-air Carmel Market in Tel Aviv while kvetching, “Excuse me, but which aisle would Tylenol be on?” A good, productive “kopveytik” (headache!) is the entire point of your visit here!

  3. When someone enthusiastically tells you, “Oh you absolutely must try….” And then they pause and loudly exclaim, “Shakshuka!” Don’t respond with, “Bless you!” Alternatively never say, “Thanks, but I’m not athletic enough for those Israeli martial arts,” because even though it sounds like something you’d yell before executing a fight kick, Shakshuka is actually a delicious egg dish with tomato sauce, garlic and onions. But upon hearing this list of ingredients, don’t smirk and say, “Ahhh, it’s just like an American breakfast entree -- the omelet!” unless you actually do know Krav Maga (so you can defend yourself) because Shakshuka is far from a boring omelet and it’s definitely for lunch and dinner!

  4. Don’t get so moved and overcome with emotion at the Western Wall that you feel you should do your part to “tidy up a bit,” dusting the sandstone while plucking out tattered scraps of paper from in-between the crevices.

  5. As you enter the country of Jordan, never tell the stiff, rigid-looking Border Crossing Guards that you almost named your son “Jordan” but thought it might sound “too girly” so you went with “Benjamin” instead.

  6. At the Dead Sea, just agree that you WILL float. Don’t argue with everyone around you that you’re an exception because you weigh too much for this natural phenomenon to work. Relax and SURRENDER.

  7. Three hours later, when you’re finally satisfied that you can float with the best of ’em and decide to try covering your body with the black sludge that sits on the shores (because it’s supposed to have healing and therapeutic properties for your skin) don’t go around exclaiming, “Guess I’m just a stick in the mud, eh?” and elbow people roughly trying to nudge a laugh outa them. Saying, “Well, here’s mud in your eye!” will get even less of a chuckle.

  8. Be careful because in Hebrew, the pronouns all sound like different English pronouns and thus:

    Who means "he"
    He means "she"
    Me means "who"

    You may think this begs for you to impersonate Abbott & Costello's routine with a fresh Israeli version of "Who's On First?" But you'd be wrong.

  9. Resist the urge to sing, “Who let the dogs out?” Yes canines are running loose on the streets everywhere and ironically those rare pets that are on leashes seem to all be called by the cute name of “Bo.” Note: Learn some common Hebrew commands so you won’t make this same assumption.

  10. Many Israeli shops will bargain for their wares but let’s face it, you’re not Monty Hall. Don’t say, “Let’s Make a Deal! How about I give you some Mickey Mouse soap from an official Disney hotel, a Hershey bar, and I’ll throw in a lock of hair from my firstborn son for that beautiful Star of David necklace in the window?”

  11. Don’t go to Masada and inquire if your entire Mahjong gang can have a group wedding vow renewal ceremony at the top? Or remark, “Gosh, it looked far more dramatic in the Peter O’Toole movie.” And when hiking around Petra, refrain from asking every tour guide, “Exactly which Indiana Jones movie was filmed here again?” This will not ingratiate you to the guides.

  12. Israelis invented the seedless cucumber and the seedless bell pepper. But perish the thought if you’re contemplating spitting out a watermelon seed. They actually harvest their watermelons explicitly FOR THE SEEDS then roast them, salt them, and sell them in little munchable packages.

  13. If you’re flying El Al Airlines (and you really should be) be prepared for an employee to conduct a very personal interview, even though you’re not applying for a job. They want to thoroughly get to know you if you’re stepping foot on their plane. And as you depart Israel, they will inquire why you’re leaving so soon? (And really there’s no good answer for that.) But when they ask “What have you learned about Israel?” have a better answer than, “Bo’ means ‘Come’ in Hebrew.” Instead, proudly tell them that Shakshuka is not just for breakfast.

Oh and to be invited back, you may want to break into your own version of the song, “I left my heart (and soul!) in Jerusalem.” Because trust me, you will have.

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