Surprising Things About Israel

  • Tel Aviv FlowersThere are bright-colored flowers all over the country, even though much of it is in the desert. Hot pink ones seem particularly common, and they often appear along the roadside.
  • Many (non-Muslim) Israelis seem to have dogs – especially small ones.
  • There are also many stray cats. They are neither aggressive nor timid: they mainly scavenge the street trash for food to eat, stroll the streets, and lay in the shade.
  • Much of Tel Aviv – along with parts of Haifa and Jerusalem – all smell like urine. We saw several young guys relieving themselves on the street in broad daylight, which I presume is the primary cause – though cat urine may also contribute to the stench. We were particularly surprised, since Israel isn’t known for poor hygiene internationally, while other countries often are. We’ve never (yet) been anywhere that smelled more like pee.
  • Itzhak Rabin BustThere are a few small busts of famous Israelis like (former prime ministers) Ben Gurion and Rabin. Despite the admiration accorded to these men, we saw no large statues, because they would be too much like idols – which Judaism is against. Even Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, which is dedicated to the assassinated Itzhak Rabin, has just a small bust of the man off to the side.
  • It is incredibly hot in Israel in the summertime. In the US, this tends to make women wear short shorts and tank tops. In Israel, this doesn’t happen – except among tourists from the US. Instead, many women wear long sleeves and long skirts or pants. Sure, some of them are religious (Muslim or Jewish), but not nearly all. That’s because not only is it a respectful thing to do, but it is also correlated with a lower rate of cancers like melanomas. The sun in the Middle East is very direct!
  • Israel is smaller than the state of New Jersey!
  • Israel has a lot of environmental variety, especially for its small land area. There are beaches and seas, desert areas, mountains, hot springs, grassy plains, etc.
  • There seem to be a decent number of palm tree “farms,” on which many palms are grown in rows under netting, a bit off roads in the countryside.
  • Israeli Beach SignAlmost all signs around Israel are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. In addition to that, some places also have the signs translated into Russian and/or French. Though it’s not always an exact translation: I saw a store in Jerusalem with a sign that read, “We ship overseas!” in English, but “We have a wide selection of wines available!” in Russian, and something about cards in Hebrew.
  • There is a phrase written on signs or graffiti-ed onto buildings that reads, “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman m’Uman.” Nachman is the last name of a well-known rabbi from the Ukrainian town of Uman, who one sect of Orthodox Jews consider to have been the Messiah. Why they list out his name one syllable at a time is a mystery.
  • Israel has a national draft: all people are required to serve from 18 to 20 (or longer), before they go to university. So, you will often see soldiers in olive green or khaki uniforms walking around town, taking public transit, etc.
  • Some of them have what look like automatic weapons slung over their chest. The guns definitely have a safety on – but it can still be alarming to people unused to seeing soldiers walk around with these kinds of rifles.

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