State of Israel – the country of juxtapositions. It’s overflowing with historical sites of important religious significance, yet it plays host to one of the most well-known gay pride celebrations in the world. The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea all touch its land, but deserts blanket well over half its surface. It’s home to the lowest point on Earth, The Dead Sea, that can be viewed from atop a mountainside fortress. Contemporary and ancient exist cohesively, each respecting the other. It’s small, roughly the size of the United States’ 5th smallest state, New Jersey, but within its borders, you can sunbathe, take a salty float, ski, hike, immerse yourself in history and well, just read on for more. We’ll tell you why this destination that may never have been on your family travel radar should actually top the list.

Other facts, tips and tricks: Cultural tidbits

It can be discombobulating to hop the pond to visit another country, here are some FYIs that'll hopefully keep the surprises to a minimum.

  • This is important for you coffee addicts. There's no Starbucks. Not one. They tried to enter that market in the early 2000s and it didn't work out well for them, so get your fill before you board the plane.
  • Jewish law prohibits Jews from operating electronic devices on Sabbath, so you'll notice most buildings will have a clearly marked Shabbat elevator, which is automatically set to stop either on every floor or every other floor. Unless you're Jewish, you should refrain from using those elevators on Saturdays.
  • That same Jewish law which prohibits operating electronic devices on the Sabbath means you'll notice a reduced number of cars on the roads beginning Friday evenings and all day Saturday.
  • Via the Law of Return, Israel automatically gives citizenship to any Jews who step onto their land, no questions asked. That would be anyone born from a Jewish mother, having Jewish ancestry from a father or grandfather or converts to Judaism, provided they have no other religious affiliation.
  • You'll see members of the military out and about in public spaces, especially in the parks, quite frequently. Don't be alarmed as they keep to themselves and are rather friendly. An interesting fact is that every citizen, outside of Orthodox Jews, must serve in the military, no questions asked, when they turn 18. Men serve for 3 years and women serve for 18 months.
  • With some exceptions, Israel as a whole is not as customer-service driven as the US. This is important to remember as you won't necessarily be received with the big smile and over-the-top friendliness you sometimes encounter in the US. Don't take it personally. They approach social situations from a standpoint that those smiles need to be earned, both on your end and on theirs. Don't let it stop you from chatting, because once you break through and build a rapport, they are an extremely welcoming and open people.

photo: view of Jerusalem's Old City via Maria Chambers

Have you had the opportunity to visit Israel? We’d love to hear about your experience in the Comments below.

— Maria Chambers

This trip, including hotel stays, food and activities, was paid for by Israel’s Ministry of Travel.