Many dream of one day visiting the Holy Land. But one family made that dream a reality with an extended stay abroad.
Get to know what living in Jerusalem is really like, between war zones and weekend shopping.
With this insider’s scoop on Israeli life, you’ll be able to plan your next international getaway with ease and peace of mind.
The hardest part of traveling to a new country is not knowing the language, culture, or the country’s general feeling toward Americans.
But taking out all the guesswork will allow you to submerge yourself in all this country has to offer and navigate the terrain like a pro.
The reality of a foreign land versus the way it’s portrayed in the media or by those who had expected it to mirror the comforts of home can be very different.
Fortunately, Proud American Traveler had the privilege of speaking with Hope Seltzer who moved from Virginia to live in Jerusalem for three years with her husband and children.
This decision was spearheaded by the country’s premium educational opportunities, which it doesn’t receive enough recognition for.
Of course, adjusting attitudes and expectations was par for the course during her journey, but Hope couldn’t have been more happy with her experience.
Hope shared with us how her cultural enrichment began:
“We decided to move to Israel for my husband to study for his master’s degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were particularly excited to live in a country with a rich history and over-flowing spirituality.”
Getting adjusted to the blunt manner in which Israelis speak – which is void of all the “fluff,” as one would say – was the first trial Hope had to face.
But Hope explains how encountering this new environment gave her unexpected pleasure:
“Despite the 19 hours of traveling with a toddler, I was excited as the warm October air greeted me outside. Israelis have a unique energy. At times they came off as rude, but when I asked for help they would go above and beyond to help; and even with a smile.”
Living in Jerusalem, a bustling city of renowned religious and historical significance, people have to make the most of the space they are blessed with.
And it was evident that the locals have learned to do just that in the ways they relate to one another Hope explained:
“In Israel, everyone is one big family. So it wasn’t unusual for an older woman to stop me on the street and ask why my child doesn’t have a hat on if it was summer and then dote on the child and offer them a piece of candy. There was also no personal space. In a city of almost 900,000 people, you give up the comfort of having a foot of space around you while riding the bus, waiting in line, or even shopping for groceries.”
Israel has countless tourist attractions, including Masada, the Temple Mount, and the Dead Sea.
But there is one place that stands out to many travel enthusiasts, and the same stood true for Hope:
“The Western wall, also known as the wailing wall. It’s a two thousand year old retaining wall and all that remains of the platform from the last Jewish temple. While mostly Jews go there to pray, everyone is welcome to pray at the wall and encouraged to write their prayers down on a small piece of paper to place in the crevice of the wall. It’s truly a spiritually moving place for both religious and non religious alike.”
Jerusalem houses many religious Jews, so being privy to their practices can enhance your vacation experience by making sure you know when to travel those sandstone streets.
The Sabbath is a Biblical day of rest and the whole city seems to take a nap on this set-apart day. If you plan it right, you too can take full advantage and bask in the palpable quiet.
Hope shared more about Jerusalem during the Sabbath:
“Sabbath in Jerusalem is magical. In a sense everything shuts down, but a whole other world opens up. There are only a handful of businesses open and no public transportation. Everyone is out walking. Maybe to a religious service, or to a friend’s for dinner with a casserole and bottle of wine in hand, or just enjoying the quiet and peacefulness that’s only found on Shabbat.”
Although Jerusalem has many religious traditions and events, tourists are welcome to almost all of them, regardless of their background or beliefs. This is a great way to connect with the locals and experience the country’s contagious excitement for the land in which they live.
Hope tells Proud American Traveler:
“Jerusalem is a spiritual hub flooded with Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Most events are open to the public and tourists. On many occasions I was delightfully surprised by a spontaneous invitation. Once to a Hanukkah jam with freshly fried doughnuts on a small side street. Many times to a Friday night/Sabbath meal. There are so many events throughout the city, I always found somewhere to go for the holidays.”
And while the tense political times in America has caused differing opinions of Americans overseas, Hope found that Israel is mostly positive towards Americans – although they don’t like the superficial politeness in our manners:
“[They find] that we’re polite, but don’t really care. They don’t think asking “How are you?” is a rhetorical question.”
Of course, the most discussed topic when considering traveling to Israel is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, most of Israel is not a warzone! On the contrary, much of the country is safer than many popular American cities.
Hope offers more on the topic, including what places to avoid to bypass the conflict altogether:
“Jerusalem and most of Israel is very safe. I’ve felt safer walking the streets of Jerusalem than I had where I grew up in northern Virginia. There are high risk areas, such as the Jewish town of Sderot, that experience heavy bombings from Gaza that can number in the hundreds over a weekend.”
When asked if there were any Hebrew words one should learn before heading off to this country where you won’t know if they’re saying “hello” or “get out of my way,” Hope disclosed some words to practice:
“Quick crash course in Hebrew, ‘shalom’ is ‘hello’; ‘todah’ is ‘thank you’; ‘Ken’ is ‘yes’; ‘lo’ is ‘no’; ‘sherooteem’ is ‘bathroom’; and most importantly ‘slicha’ is ‘excuse me/sorry’, because after bumping into the locals for the umpteenth time, this should roll off your tongue.”
Just as when you travel anywhere outside of your hometown, there will be traditions and unknown customs you should become acquainted with to make the most of your visit.
Israel is a country like no other and offers an unforgettable stay that will have you planning your next return on the flight back home!
So don’t be bashful. Get up close and personal with the land and locals for a fresh perspective of Israel.
We would like to give a special thanks to Hope Seltzer for this sneak-peek into Israeli life from an American’s perspective.
(h/t Proud American Traveler)