Top 10 Ways Living in Israel is Not at all What You Think

By: Liz

Israel: the land of milk and honey and... an abundance of preconceived notions, stereotypes, expectations. Some good, others bad, many beautiful and plenty ugly.

But... living in Israel is not what you think! For instance, I haven't eaten a falafel in years.

Here are ten ways living in Israel turned out to not be what I had presumed...

1. Nature. Consider Israeli natural wonders, you probably think Dead Sea! It's the Dead Sea, right?! Yes, it sure is - but there is so much more! Beautiful hills, caves, valleys and hikes pepper the entire country, with local flora, fauna that still get me.  Every corner of Israel offers a different climate - from beaches to deserts to forest to - wait for it - a snow-covered mountaintop with a ski resort!

2. Snow. On that note - we get snow! Sometimes. In some parts. As of the moment of this writing, we are bracing for the possibility of two days of significant school-closing, office-shutting, flimsy-snowman-building weather. But it does happen, and when it does, we American, Canadian and Russian immigrants share a good laugh.

3. Tech. If you're really savvy with your Israel stereotypes, you might think the the biggest technological advancement Israel has made is an advanced irrigation method which 'made the desert bloom.' But welcome to 2013. Coined 'the startup nation,' Israel is Silicon Valley's home away from home - in fact, it's often called Silicon Wadi and produces top grade tech from bio to med, software to hardware.

4. Wine. Speaking of California - and France, Italy, Australia among others - did you realize that Israel is a big producer of wine? I didn’t until I moved here and realized not only is it cheaper than other alcoholic beverages - it’s done really, really well. From local wine festivals to growing exports ($26.7 million in 2011!), our grapes have a good thing going.

5. Career. Like me, were you an aimless English & Political Science major with a lost soul and no viable career path? While it may seem like a foolish move in that case to expatriate yourself from an English-speaking country, the truth is, you can go pretty far in Israel with a foreign mother tongue, skills for quick learning, and an open mind. Start with an internship or go full-throttle - but head over to hi tech and you may just discover a whole career awaits you.

6. Parties. When I came as a tourist before my move in 2005, I never really considered the party culture in Israel. What could top the glitz and glamour of New York City? But like so many other aspects of Israeli life, the locals get down - even if it's not the same as in, say, an American college campus or British pub. When it's time to celebrate in Israel, there's only one way to go - all the way. Full-on food, lots of hospitality, and an abundance of energy, whether it's a Madonna concert, a wedding, a Halloween party (yup), or a bar mitzvah.

7. Prices. Coming as a tourist with, say, US dollars or British pounds, material life might seem pretty sweet here. But actually making a living here is a challenge, and keeping up with the bills - never mind the Joneses - is a challenge for pretty much all of us. We have our 1%, to be sure. We also have, on the whole, less population, lower demand, and jacked up prices on domestic goods and especially imported goods - like Ikea, American clothing retailers, and Tabasco sauce.

8. Diversity. While I very much miss the demographic diversity of my birthplace, it is shocking - and pleasing - after spending some time here to realize the breadth and depth of people here (mostly Jewish) who originate from all corners of the world: Russians to Moroccans, Finnish to Ethiopian, Brazilian to Filipino, and beyond.

9. Gay life. Until I attended my first Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2007, I assumed this just wouldn't be a relevant topic to Israeli life. But as Tel Aviv has become recognized as one of the gay-friendliest cities in the world (and certainly gay partiest cities in the world), and I've befriended gay couples making it work here with families (and at least one marriage I'm aware of recognized by the Internal Affairs office!) I can say - the gay rights cause has fighting potential here.

10. Family values. Even before settling down and building a family of my own, it was quickly apparent that Israel is a family-friendly country. Even if it’s hard juggling the kids’ school vacation schedule with the dual-working parent structure, the fact is people here just get family. In the States, I had never seen so many involved dads! Whether it’s spending the weekly Friday night meal altogether, having more than just a couple kids and not being grilled about it, or coming back from your third date and being asked, nu, when’s the wedding? - family, relationships and kids stack up as a pretty high priority.

It’s nine years later, and I’m still here. A lot has changed from starting as a careerless, dreamy adventurist and moving on to American-Israeli immigrant writer, wife and parent. But there’s one thing for sure: Israel hasn’t really lived up to its many confusing, misleading and hilarious stereotypes...

It’s gone way, way beyond.


About the author

Expat Blog ListingLiz is an American expat living in Israel. Blog description: Been babbling about expat life since 2004. Ever since, I moved to Israel, found work, finished an MA, married, settled the 'burbs, had 2 babies. This is where I take notes on life as a US expat in Israel. Isn't that what it's all about?
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Contest Comments » There are 51 comments

Shara wrote 10 years ago:

I love this list! Another one to add to the don't really run into any camels unless you drive down to the Dead Sea or Eilat. Haha!

Miriam wrote 10 years ago:

Great list. I could add folk dancing, which is a very popular activity all over the country.

Shira wrote 10 years ago:

Great list! I also didn't realize about the parties until I moved to Tel Aviv.

Ephraim wrote 10 years ago:

This is a great list Liz! Don't forget that a lot of people think of Israel as a warzone. It's not really- just normal people leading normal lives enjoying life.

Tova wrote 10 years ago:

i'm impressed you didn't write anything about religion or food! but great list... totally agree about family life one.

Susan wrote 10 years ago:

Excellent list!Family values are so strong here! I would like to add a few more things that are not what I thought they would be ( when I moved her 25 years ago): Army Service - Soldiers have so may possible jobs - there are teacher soldiers and rabbi soldiers and computer programmer soldiers and even combat soldiers. Being a Parent to a College Student- They come home for Shabbat! It's so great! They bring laundry and take food back.

Sara wrote 10 years ago:

All of these are so true! Once, when in America visiting, I met someone who actually thought that we sleep in hammocks and had no electricity in Israel. That was 2005. I was like "Lady, the average Israeli has two cell phones!" Not just a biblical setting anymore!

Marna Becker wrote 10 years ago:

"You mean it's not a big desert like the Sahara?" Liz- great job dispelling rumors and telling it like it is.

Nahum wrote 10 years ago:

It's all about the parties! Just at the end of the road I live on (one building before the last), if you make the climb up to the top floor you will find the life of the party, with a little note on the door saying "we've gone to sleep, left-overs in the fridge".

Laura Ben-David wrote 10 years ago:

This is great Liz! Such a diverse and utterly relevant list! Love the snow bit...was one of the reasons I chose to live where I am. (And look how much ended up getting.)

Jesse wrote 10 years ago:

Love it Liz! Keep it up! Been here 5 years now and every day is still an adventure! Snow, sometimes, this year more than ever before, Yay!

Gil Reich wrote 10 years ago:

Great list! We laughed about the snow too on Thursday. Stopped laughing on Friday when it hit 60 cm and took out our electricity. Love the part about family.

Tali Tarlow wrote 10 years ago:

Great Liz, I think there is something about Israel that lends to self re-invention.

Aaron wrote 10 years ago:

Very thorough, all-encompassing list! There are definitely some start-up ideas in combining some of these - think snow-covered wine tastings, hi-tech nature parties - the opportunities are endless!

Sharon A wrote 10 years ago:

Good list, but who knew when you posted this we would still be without power in Jerusalem, that it really would be a huge snow storm this time.

Leah wrote 10 years ago:

Nice list liz! Here's another big one - EDUCATION! israel has some of the top educational programs in the world in just about every field and certainly in everything that is technology, science and business intensive. Many programs are available in English and the price tag is a joke compared to what it costs in the US. I know of several lawyers and doctors who got a complete degree in Israel in 3 years and then took the Bar/Board exams in NY.

Michael wrote 10 years ago:

Great stuff man! I like how you went from Gay life to Family values, in 9-10. Was that deliberate? Anyways great blog and kudos for all the accomplishments.

Aviva wrote 10 years ago:

great list!! now all you need to do is add this to all aliya promotions!

Nirel wrote 10 years ago:

Love the list! What you say about Diversity is true, Ive met more Dutch people here than in Holland!

Dan wrote 10 years ago:

Way to hit the nail on the head! You've done a great job of capturing the high points of ex-pat life in Israel!

Shmuel Yonah wrote 10 years ago:

Liz and I go back to the old LiveJournal days when she narrowly missed the group flight that we were supposed to be on. We've been following each other's aliya trajectories since. Also, she rocks. Not only do I endorse her awesomeness, everyone should.

Shira R wrote 10 years ago:

Love this list. I always love Lizrael's updates, but this list nails it. Nice one.

Ariel wrote 10 years ago:

Nice! Another (little) point: I knew before I moved here that everyone feels like family, but I didn't realize how far that extended until I passed the PM on a walk last year and we exchanged greetings as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Yaffa wrote 10 years ago:

This list, and Liz's blog in general, are amazing resources for anyone who wants to know what life is REALLY like for those of us who have adopted this crazy country as our own. Too many people only know of Israel through the (biased) media. What to get a glimpse as to what life is actually like for those us who wake up, go to work, play with our kids, pay our bills, and in general live normal, regular lives here in Israel? Read Liz's blog. Oh, and vote for her! :)

Lisa wrote 10 years ago:

Love the "Family Values" one. I think that should be number one - definitely a unique thing to Israel.

Shoshanna wrote 10 years ago:

I would add that living here is a lesson in living in a modern democracy in an ancient world. It allows us to appreciate what we have while still striving for that ever elusive peace, equality, and happiness. To live in Israel is to live on hope.

Shira W wrote 10 years ago:

True what you say about falafel, but I think food could've made the list. Either way, loved it. And love those award winning wines and all night parties!

Jay wrote 10 years ago:

What's really amazing is that Israel manages to maintain and develop the kind if normalcy you describe, while spending massive amounts on a defense budget, being geographically distant from so many supply routes, and dealing with a very intense and often too-fluid internal political structure. When it comes down to it, it's about the people you meet every day...

Dena wrote 10 years ago:

Absolutely right on. So much more going on here than the stereotypes. Thanks for helping to spread the word!

Deborah wrote 10 years ago:

You are so right about this country! Nice work putting it in writing! I hope this helps more people visit and even stay !

Neil Gillman wrote 10 years ago:

Excellent piece Liz - we have a tremendous amount to be proud of. Felafel is wonderful too btw...

Sara wrote 10 years ago:

excellent eye-opener Liz! who needs felafel when there's shwarma? I'd take shwarma over felafel any day. food is great here. and the drinks too:) the local breweries, you forgot to mention the local breweries!

Hannah Katsman wrote 10 years ago:

The list rings true. Aside from the nature, every national park seems to have some awesome, ancient underground aqueduct or castle. Oh, fellow English major here.

Mimi B wrote 10 years ago:

Great job on this list! I Hope you win! Go Israel! :)

Daniel wrote 10 years ago:

Great post Liz! But I think that you're missing out by not having Felafel more often!

Marni Urman wrote 10 years ago:

Once again, I read a "lizrael" update with a huge smile on my face. Every word rings true. It's nice knowing I'm not the only one over here....

Ambrosine Shitrit wrote 10 years ago:

This is so interesting as nice just done pilot trip part 1 - and this time all that you say is right . Apart from the shek now only 6 to a £ , shopping is expensive . Favourite shops for kids the usual fox, Castro , mish mish . The cat neutering programme is working a little . Dogs still barking , Hebrew subtitles still on the TV not English -why do they do that?

Toby wrote 10 years ago:

This is so true! I so true about wine, I love the selection. Keep going beyond!

Benny wrote 10 years ago:

Really interesting! Especially #5 - nice to know an English major may be useful there (because its not doing much for me in the US)

Marina Shemesh wrote 10 years ago:

Hummus! How can you not mention all of the wonderful hummus restaurants? I did not know that hummus is that tasty, healthy and popular. Also, for me, the great beaches and beach life here in Israel is also one of the highlights of this country.

Erika Rowe wrote 10 years ago:

Way to go Liz, you hit the nail on the head (especially about the snow!)

Uri Goldflam wrote 10 years ago:

You hit the 10 nails on the head Liz! next time we have you over - we're having falafel :-)

Susie Lubell wrote 10 years ago:

Liz's blog was a lifeline for me when we were thinking of moving to israel. and now we're in book club together! which reminds me, come get Loving Frank!!

Ann Grafstein wrote 10 years ago:

Wow! You really tell it like it is and as it should be!

Janet wrote 10 years ago:

Eliz's tale of her life and times in Israel is New York Times worthy. Travel Section for sure. She can work her way up to above the fold ! Janet

Ben wrote 10 years ago:

Great list! In truth it all comes down to the shawarma.

Rachel Pudel wrote 10 years ago:

Didn't know any if this stuff about how it is to really live in the holy land! Informative and well written!

Tamar wrote 10 years ago:

Perfection! Your so blessed to be able to live there, enjoy it for all of us!

Avi wrote 10 years ago:

Great List! You should be on a committee that speaks to people who are thinking about moving to Israel!

Anali wrote 10 years ago:

Enjoyed reading this, and cant forget television! impressive, unique television shows that US tries and fails to copy

Mike & Anna O'Donoghue wrote 10 years ago:

Shalom Liz. You are such a blessing posting this information for people like us who want to know more about Israel. My wife & I are envious (in a nice way) because we would love to live and experience Israel first hand like you. We first visited Israel while on a cruise and only had a day at the two ports that we stopped at. We plan a visit again for a much longer stay and have many questions. Any help would be appreciated. God Bless.

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