5 Things Uniquely Israeli

I’ve always found much to love about the country of Israel: its most exciting city on earth, Jerusalem, its incredibly gorgeous nature of the north, and the open and friendly ways of its people. You can find excitement, beauty and friendliness all over the world, though. Israel has sights and qualities you can’t easily find elsewhere, particularly all wrapped together in the package of one small country. Here’s five things in Israel you don’t see just anywhere.

1. Soldiers, Soldiers Everywhere

Military duty is mandatory for Israelis. Men must serve for three years and women for two, then both must continue to serve in the reserves for most of the rest of their lives. It is not possible to spend time in Israel without seeing hundreds of these soldiers, just out of high school. They’re on the streets, they’re on the beach, they’re everywhere. Any bus you board will almost certainly hold dozens of Israeli soldiers, who rely on this form of transport to get around. Always controlled, always quiet, calm and serious, I really feel for these young people who carry the enormous burden of defending their tiny country from the many huge enemies which surround it.

Israeli Soldiers crossing a street in Jerusalem

2. Kosher Fast Food

The worldwide popularity of McDonald’s, KFC and other American fast food chains is tragic yet a reality we cannot dodge when we travel. In Israel at least these pits of plastic familiarity veer off the track on which the rest of the world rides. Many are kosher so that Jews in Israel who adhere to a kosher diet can partake. Have you ever eaten a Big Mac without cheese? I have. Israeli food is typically wonderful, but a Big Mac minus cheese is not edible. I won’t be eating at a kosher McDonald’s again.

The exterior of a kosher McDonald's in Tiberias, Israel

3. Bullet Holes

Israel’s long war history has given it more than a normal dose of battle wounds. One piece of evidence of its long struggles is found in the form of bullet holes that mar structures all across the country. Many of them are easy to miss, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but some are quite obvious.

Tzfat, Israel - bullet holes in building

4. Bomb Shelters

Discreetly everywhere, both public and private bomb shelters provide protection for people exactly like me and you not if, but when their many enemies attack. Israel’s status as the most hated country in the world means its adults and children, Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians have to protect themselves throughout their lives from bombs, bullets and everything else those from outside their borders lob at them.

Bomb shelter in Tiberias, Israel

5. Actually Waiting for the Light to Turn Green Before Crossing the Street

This is one phenomenon I’ve never noticed anywhere else. Israel apparently has a very rigid law about pedestrians crossing against the light, and its people actually obey this law. Literally, I have stood at crosswalks where one or even several people are standing for over a minute with a street completely devoid of traffic in front of them. More often, I have simply left the people standing there as I went ahead and crossed. I didn’t realize why they were immobile on the sidewalk until I asked one of them. Now that I know this particular law exists, of course I obey it at all times ;)

Two people waiting to cross an empty street in Tel Aviv, Israel

17 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Andrea says:

    These are really interesting observations! A Big Mac without cheese? Ick.
    Andrea recently posted..Awash in Salt- Photos From Salar de Uyuni in BoliviaMy Profile

  2. Claire says:

    I remember also being impressed, with the soldiers, soldiers everywhere! I also remember a friend asking for butter, and the server declaring “I’m sorry, we are kosher.” My friend’s response, directed at both me and the server? “I don’t care if you’re kosher!” I wanted to crawl under the table and die. Thank goodness we can count this as a youthful sin-we were both 14 years old at the time. The second visit produced no such rudeness!
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  3. Sabina says:

    Ha – yes, I would not recommend it at all, unless you simply want the experience.

  4. Sabina says:

    Hi, Claire – yes, I just love seeing the soldiers. They’re such a powerful presence. And your friend’s remark reminds me of my Passover experience, which I wrote a post about, when at a supermarket I told the cashier that she could sell me leavened crackers because I’m Christian and she replied by saying the store couldn’t sell them because the country is Jewish :)

  5. Sabrina says:

    Wow, those bomb shelters are quite something. I once saw an episode of House Hunters International (before I found out how many episodes are staged) and it was about a young woman buying an apartment in Israel. A big concern was to have a safe room… I can’t imagine living with that fear…
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  6. Steve says:

    I knew that soldiers are everywhere there. I heard that some take their rifles to clubs and you can see them carrying them on the dance floor. That would be an interesting sight to see. But a big mac without cheese? That just seems wrong.

    Interesting observations though. I’ll have to look out for bullet marked buildings when I go there.
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  7. Sabina says:

    Hi Sabrina – I just stumbled into that bomb shelter while walking down the street. I try to imagine living with the fear that your country could be attacked at any moment, and I cannot.

  8. Sabina says:

    I’m interested to read your observations when you do make it here, Steve. Some of the soldiers carry M16s or whatever they are and some don’t. I went to Tel Aviv last week and saw soldiers at the beach with their weapons. Now, that was cool. I’ll be writing a post about it soon.

  9. Joy Sonne says:

    You are a great writer! Keep up the great work! Israel is truely an unique place. Travelers will be blessed to experience this country. If you are traveling in the North visit me at my Bed and Breakfast in Tiberias. You will see the only water in the world that has been walked on by men.

  10. Sabina says:

    Hey, Joy! Thanks a lot. I will definitely visit you at your B&B ;)

  11. Adam says:

    I don’t really like Israel is the most hated country on earth – that would likely fall in the hands of Syria who not even the other Arab nations get along with, and certainly not the Western ones.

    There’s no doubt seeing the bullet holes and soldiers with guns in this amazing country can be a shock for any tourist, but it’s a reminder of what has happened and continues to happen in the region. Which any tourist to Israel definitely should be aware of if they want the full experience!
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  12. Sabina says:

    Their status as most hated country also bothers me a lot. People around the world blindly criticize them when they don’t have a clue what they have to deal with. For example, there’s terrorism constantly in the form of frequent rocket attacks from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. These attacks aren’t reported in the US media, so it’s nearly impossible for Americans to learn about them. It’s only when Israel responds to the attacks that the media alerts the pubic, thus making Israel always look like the bad guy rather than accurately reporting that Israel was responding to terrorist attacks.

  13. Gray says:

    I’ve often wondered what we would do in the US if suddenly, we had to live the way the Israelis do–with everyone having to serve a stint in the military, getting used to the idea that a suicide bomber could walk into your local coffee shop with you in it at any moment. It’s surreal for us to think about, but it’s everyday life for them.
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  14. Sabina says:

    I know. I’ts impossible to understand how it must feel to be one of them. Even after spending three months in Israel trying to imagine it, I can’t.

  15. mik says:

    Israel is a terrorist entity
    We are Christians in Palestine and DNA from thousands of years and we lived in peace with our neighbors
    And now even prevent us from praying in our churches
    Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets into Israel only after Israel is committing against shear
    Israel’s fear of reciprocating with a few small rockets Aharo Israeli terrorists that they are able to defend themselves

    430 000 children and a woman and a Palestinian man was killed inside their homes
    Compared to less than 6000 Qthelo all Israeli soldiers Kano
    Do you think of is the culprit
    Is the criminal who kills children because of their religion
    Or the criminal who tries to defend himself

    I am a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem killed my baby small with 3 bullets
    When he went to court to raise the issue of the Israeli soldier who fired it at the age of 14 years
    The court’s response was to condemn the Israeli soldier, and sentenced to 3 years
    He was released after several months because of good

    Christians of Palestine and the Palestinians and Muslim neighbors
    And not to those who came from the U.S., Europe and Russia
    These guests loved ones, but we do not have the right to confiscate our homes and kill our children

  16. Sabina says:

    I don’t believe Israel is a terrorist entity. I have many Christian Palestinian friends. Let us pray for peace.

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