In this premier episode of The Israel Travel Podcast, co-hosts John and Whitney introduce themselves and then take a deep dive into all of the common misconceptions about travel to Israel, and they discuss which are honest concerns and what’s just overblown hype.
For more information, insights, advice, reviews, and recommendations about travel to and around Israel, be sure to check out www.IsraelTravelblog.com.
John Navarre 0:11
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the new Israel travel podcast, your new source for information, insights, advice, reviews, recommendations, and a whole lot more about travel to and around the wonderful nation of Israel. My name is John, and I’m one of your co hosts for the Israel travel podcast. My other co host is the wonderful Whitney, who will introduce herself in a second. But first, let me tell you a little bit about myself, I actually run a tour operator in the Middle East, my company focuses on Egypt, Egypt elite, and we also have another company in Israel, that Whitney runs with me also called elevation journeys. And so my background is basically in travel media, and travel industry and being a tour operator leading a tour operator in several countries in the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. And the things that I like to do as part of the work I do in travel in the Middle East is share basically what’s in my brain share 20 years of experience living and working in the Middle East, with those who are planning travel to and around the Middle East. And so we wanted to start this new podcast, and a new blog, which we’ll tell you about in a few minutes. But we wanted to start this new media property about to travel to Israel, so that Whitney, and I can share everything we know everything we’ve learned everything we come across and see and the things that you don’t even think to think about before a trip to Israel, with you as you plan and think about, and hopefully soon carry out your dream trip of a lifetime to Israel. So I’m actually living in Spain, I live in Europe in the south of Spain. I’m American, as you can probably tell from my accent, my southern accent specifically. I grew up in the South, just like Whitney did. But now I live in Spain, and I work in the Middle East in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, mostly. So with that, let me bring you in. Whitney, can you tell everyone a little bit about your background, where you’re from? And your interest in Israel? In particular, where did that come from?
Whitney O’Halek 2:14
Yeah, so I’m Whitney Oh, Halleck. And my accent is deeper than yours, because I grew up in Tennessee, but my husband and I are now based in Washington, DC, we’ve both been here quite a while. And I have been a travel blogger since 2006. And kind of my niche, and my travel blog is helping people travel better. So the tips, things to know before you go, figuring out logistics, you know, there’s those things that you don’t really know until you get to a place and I tried to find those things and explain them to people in my blog. And when I went to Israel for the first time, there were just a lot of logistics, there were a lot of things that were you know, had to be done on a certain day, or you couldn’t do on a certain day and figuring out how to get from place to place. And so it was kind of a natural progression to start a tour company in Israel with John because he has the Middle Eastern tour operator background, and I have kind of the logistical outside the box solutions to travel issues and the things that people need to know before they go. So
John Navarre 3:21
here we are. And let’s just say too, that Whitney and I actually met, because she was a guest of ours in Egypt. And she was a client of our company in Egypt. And her and her husband, Steve come over for an incredible trip around the entire country. And I got to spend some time with both of them while they were there, get to know them. So that’s how Whitney and I got to know each other. And now we’re working together on the elevation journeys in Israel, and also on the travel media properties that we’re developing related to travel to Israel. Good times to come. Yeah, absolutely. And so you’ve probably heard me mentioned a couple times to now travel media properties, plural. In addition to the Israel travel podcast, we also have launched Israel travel blog.com. And we have that that also will be an enormous resource for anyone doing their due diligence, doing their homework, and trying to research travel to and around Israel. Israel is obviously a really well known country. I think pretty much everyone’s heard of it. It’s a bucket list country for most of the planet for many reasons that we’ll get into, of course, but you know, it’s just so hard to find good, reliable, well sourced current info on a country like this when you’re doing your travel planning and your travel research. And so we’re hoping that Israel travel blog.com and the Israel travel podcast will be useful resources for you and for everyone else, and planning travel to Israel and learning more about Israel because, like I said, many people have heard of it. But many people either don’t know much about it, or they think they know stuff about it. That’s completely wrong. And actually, that’s going to be the topic of our first episode here. We really wanted to launch the Israel travel podcast. With an episode about misconceptions about Israel, and so why don’t we just jump into that? I think Whitney has been doing some amazing writing for Israel travel blog.com. And in fact, one of her first articles for the site was sort of the inspiration for this first episode. And so why don’t I just let you Whitney jump into bringing up talking about what I think is what I call the elephant in the room with everybody when it comes to travel to the Middle East? Probably the biggest misconception people have about Israel, what would you say? That is?
Whitney O’Halek 5:32
I would say people think it is not safe. People think that it’s super dangerous, you’re gonna die if you go there. And none of that is true. Actually, I did, can you believe it. So my first trip to Israel started off solo. And then I met up with John later, and I felt totally comfortable. I mean, I was in an Arabic part of Israel, I was in a Jewish part of Israel, I was in Jerusalem, but it just was safe. I just felt safe. And I’ve traveled to 64 countries now many of them solo. And I’ve felt at least as safe in Israel, as I do anywhere in the world. There are places in DC, that I would not go at night. But I’ve felt totally fine walking around Jerusalem by myself while I was in Israel. And you
John Navarre 6:19
really did a lot of that to in Israel, when we were there, you branched out a lot on your own, you went out, not only on your own, but also with guides on your own with drivers on your own people you’ve never met before you just talked to on the internet, which no matter what country you go to, even in your own city meeting someone you know, you’ve only talked to on the internet, or going off with a stranger in their car to another city.
Whitney O’Halek 6:42
When you put it like that, it sounds like my best experiences on trips are either with people I didn’t know before or by myself, or just meeting people on a public bus. Those are the people with the best tips, you know. So I felt totally safe, I felt totally safe going off in a car individually, with a tour guide that I had never met before. Everybody was really communicative, confirming details before we were supposed to meet up and making sure that we knew what time and we knew, you know, reconfirming, the address and everybody that I was dealing with was very flexible. Like if I said, Oh, I think I’d really liked to go over there. They were like, oh, okay, let’s just go do it. You know, everybody, it just felt safe. Because I was with locals, I was with people who knew what they were doing. And actually, one of the things that I appreciate about Israel that I had not really thought of before is that basically everyone’s been in the military. Everybody knows what to do, and then emergency, and you’re not going to find that anywhere else in the world where your tour guide is in the National Guard on the weekends, and knows what to do is really updated on you know, whatever new procedures. So it just, it felt safe from the standpoint of like, nobody’s going to come get me as a like a single woman traveling by myself. But I also felt safe knowing that I was around people who knew what to do in case of an emergency. Like I didn’t have to worry about it, because I didn’t have to know what to do. They knew what to do. So just from the people I encountered, and my personal solo experience being there. I can’t recommend Israel more as a safe destination.
John Navarre 8:23
Yeah, in a way to be honest. I know, Israel and other countries in the Middle East have this reputation of being dicey of being edgy of being up to an including unsafe sometimes. But the thing people need to really realize about Israel is that, first of all, they know how to do security. They’re the best security in the world. Yes, things happen in that region. Just like back home in the States, we have shootings, we have robberies, we have accidents. Yes, they have incidents that happen there. However, sometimes Israel proper is going to be some of the safest land and space you can be on on the planet, because they are so good at security. Now, of course, you could go out into a dark alley at night in any city, including Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and maybe you run into who knows a mentally unstable person, and then you get robbed, that can happen anywhere. I’m not talking about the things that can happen anywhere. But I’m talking about the things that are specific to the Middle East and people’s conceptions and misconceptions about this region. Israel is a lot safer than people think. Because like I said, number one, they’re very good at security. Number two, like Whitney said, Everybody’s trained, everybody, almost everybody has been in the military, they know how to respond to an incident. They know how to give first aid, they know these basics of essentially living in a combat zone for so many years. You know, the other thing too, is that a lot of people don’t realize this, but in Israel proper, there really is a lot of harmony. I mean, it’s a very multicultural, very diverse country. And we can talk a little bit about that more later because a lot of people don’t realize that Israel is very diverse. Not only do you have Arabs and Jews and Christians religious diversity, but you have Jews from Ethiopia from Morocco, you have Jews from Yemen, in Iran, you have Jews from Europe, America, Russia, everywhere, all these backgrounds, all these ethnicities, all these nationalities, and generally in Israel proper. And I’ll explain in a minute what I mean by that, but it’s very harmonious. For the most part, I know if somebody is gonna say, oh, but But you have to be there on the ground to realize that when you’re going around Israel, like Whitney was saying, when she’s going off with a tour guide, or with a driver, and then she decides to go somewhere else, or take a detour, it’s generally safe in Israel. But the thing to know is the areas that aren’t safe, the areas where you would have to worry, you will not be allowed to go anyway, as a foreigner, there are parts of that region that are not advisable to go to. And sometimes when there are flare ups, their parts that are normally safe will be closed off. So you don’t have to worry that you’re gonna accidentally wander into an area or into a situation where you know, it’s going to turn into a warzone. Suddenly, if there’s any risk of that at all, either because of the geography or the time, or what’s going on politically, you will not be you will be prevented from going anywhere near there to begin with. And so that’s another reason Israel is extremely safe, where you’re allowed to go, they do security, well, there, everyone’s trained around you. And it’s really peaceful, harmonious place, for the most part. Now, let’s get into another misconception that people have about Israel that sort of relates to that, because I know some people are hearing me say it’s a peaceful, harmonious place, and they’re like, Oh, you’re full of it? Well, I think that misconception comes from the fact that Israel has been involved in quite a few wars over the past 5060 years. It’s a young country, it was only founded in 1948. And since its founding, it’s had four wars, like in the first couple of decades of its founding, it did have a war in 48, a war and 56, a war and 67, a war in 73. And those were big wars in the region. And everyone’s heard about those, and many people who are older may remember those. But Israel is not at war anymore, and a little secret to share with everybody. I don’t think it’s going to happen again on that scale, because Israel has nuclear weapons. Now. They don’t admit it. But everybody knows they do. It’s an unspoken secret. So nobody is going to be attacking Israel. Again, you don’t have to fear an all out full scale conventional war in that region, again, involving Israel, because nobody’s gonna dare attack a country with nuclear weapons these days. So anyway, I think that’s one of the big misconceptions two people have about Israel is that it’s constantly at war. But it’s really not anymore. When you hear about stuff in the news. Actually, that’s a good question for you, Whitney, what stuff? Have you heard in the news about Israel that others might have heard that would contribute to a misconception of constantly being a warzone? Because honestly, I don’t watch I don’t watch the news. And I live in Europe. So I don’t get a lot of American news anymore. And so what has been in the news over the past year or so Do you remember anything,
Whitney O’Halek 12:44
though, the most recent stuff that I remember is, in April, there was some disturbance, it got, you know, some attention in the news over here in the States. And honestly, I don’t watch conventional news, I have an independent news source that I prefer. So I knew that the information that I was getting was accurate as far as like, these things are happening, but there’s no need to like they’re not targeting tourists. And that’s kind of the thing about Israel is that nobody wants to target the tourists. Because the Muslims need the tourism, the Jews need the tourism, and the Christians need the tourism because tourism is such a huge part of the economy. So you’re going to be safe, and the tourist places and like you said before, nobody’s going to let you go where you’re not supposed to go. Because I can tell that you’re not from there, you know, you dress differently, or you talk differently, or, you know, you can just tell when somebody’s not from a place and you are like, you can just kind of tell because they act a little bit different. So, you know, you don’t have to worry about the things that you see in the news, because they’re getting overexposed. They’re becoming a bigger deal here than they are necessarily in Israel. Because honestly, the news is all about entertainment these days. So they’re, you know, it bleeds it leads, if they just stories are the ones with the most emotion. And so they’re going to be pulling on your emotions of like, Oh, these terrible things are happening and like, yeah, it’s terrible. They don’t need to be doing that. But it’s not going to affect me as a tourist in Israel.
John Navarre 14:19
I mean, I really can’t. And don’t quote me on this, but I can’t remember the last time a tourist was involved in an incident that happened in Israel. I could be wrong. But I mean, certainly nothing major that jumps out. And like I said, In the beginning, I’m someone who lives in the region works in the region follows the region. I feel like if it was, you know, if it happened, I would know about it. I don’t recall any recent incidents. And by recent I mean, in the last decade or so, at least, you know, another misconception that people have about well, maybe this isn’t a misconception because maybe you don’t have any conception at all. But something that people don’t realize about Israel when they go there until they go there is this is a tiny country. It is very Law, especially if you come from a place like the US or Canada, even if you come from a European country, I mean, unless you’re from you know, Liechtenstein or Vatican City or something or Andorra, the size of Israel is probably going to surprise you. It is small. Whitney, when you arrive when you flew into Tel Aviv, and then you took a car to the north east of the country, I think you took a car to Nazareth of Galilee region, right? With the distances was it longer than you thought? Was it shorter than you thought, which think about the driving distances around Israel.
Whitney O’Halek 15:28
So the driving distances were tricky, because you can’t necessarily go the shortest route, you kind of have to go around things, because again, you can’t go where you’re not supposed to go. So it took maybe two, two and a half hours to get from Tel Aviv airport to Galilee. And that was about what I expected, because I had looked it up because I like to be prepared. But as far as a lot of things were walkable a lot of things. And like once you’re in Tel Aviv, like everything’s walkable, once you’re in Jerusalem, everything is walkable, because guess what, this place was set up when people were only walking like you could either walk or you could take a donkey in biblical times. So it’s kind of set up that way in the in the major living areas, but it’s, you know, from one end to the other, I think you can drive all the way down at looking at but I think it’s like four hours, you can go into the end,
John Navarre 16:21
the drive you just mentioned where you flew into and then where you drove to on your first day. So Israel’s only International Airport is Ben Gurion Airport. It’s called Tel Aviv airport has the, you know, the airport code of TLB Tel Aviv, but it’s actually about a third of the way to Jerusalem. It’s sort of Midway almost between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, even though it’s called Tel Aviv, you know, Ben Gurion Airport, but it’s in the middle of the country. So smack dab in the middle of the country. And you drove two hours in a roundabout way to the far north of the country. And you were already you covered basically half the distance of the country and just that two hour drive.
Whitney O’Halek 16:55
Exactly. And actually, I just looked it up, it says, five hours and six minutes from the very bottom to the very top of Israel. The longest point, the longest you would be in the car is about five hours. And that’s the fourth country
John Navarre 17:08
that’s north to south. Now, if you talk about east or west, the there’s a point at which Israel is eight miles wide, eight miles wide. And when I’m talking about Israel, maybe I should explain that now. I say things like Israel proper. Or when I talk about, you know, Israel being eight miles wide, I’m talking about what is, and this is a tribal podcast, I don’t want to get into politics. And I feel like every time we bring this up, we’re walking on eggshells. So I’m gonna try to explain this in the most neutral way possible. But you know, there’s, if you look at a map, there’s Israel, there’s the West Bank, and then there’s Gaza. And some people in Israel, consider all of that, Israel. Well, there’s the Golan Heights. Also, some people in Israel consider all that Israel, the government of Israel considers the Golan Heights part of Israel now, and then all of Jerusalem part of Israel, but the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, they don’t consider it part of what I call Israel proper, just to sort of help distinguish, for example, what I’m talking about, it’s only eight miles wide at one point. Well, if you include the West Bank, it’s wider than that. But what Israel itself considers its current borders, is only eight miles wide, sort of a little bit north of the center of the country. And so again, it’s it’s a very small country. And just to kind of distinguish, you have Israel proper, I think these are the terms we’re going to use just so people know, or at least I use. When I say Israel proper, I’m talking about if you look at the map, what the government of Israel considers the State of Israel. So you know, that includes now the Golan Heights, it includes all Jerusalem. And then in sort of the rest of the map, where you look at and it says Israel, the government of Israel does not consider the Gaza Strip to be part of Israel, even though it kind of gets lumped into Israel a lot of times when you look at a map, because it is sort of an Israel security zone. So in other words, they don’t administer the Gaza Strip, but the borders of Israel are generally considered to be the ocean, on the west side of the Gaza Strip, and then the southern border with Egypt on the south side of the Gaza Strip. Anyway, the Gaza Strip is a different story. We’re not gonna we’re not gonna talk a lot about that, because there’s no tourism there. They still have a lot of problems. They’re actually they haven’t elected government there. But they elected Hamas is their government. There’s no tourism there. And it’s pretty much closed off from Israel. The West Bank is a little bit of a different story, the West Bank, it’s, you know, another one of the Palestinian territories. The Government of Israel doesn’t consider it part of Israel proper the State of Israel, but it’s generally administered by Israel. And when I say administered, you have to even get more nuanced than that. Because there are areas that are administered by Israel, that are areas that are administered by the Palestinian Authority. There are areas that have joint responsibility, but then the border on the other side of the West Bank with Jordan is all administered by Israel. It’s a very complicated scenario. And I know I’m going on a little bit about it, but that’s because it is so nuanced, but it’s also important to understand this especially for travel around Israel because As there are areas in the West Bank you can go to and that you will want to go to, because there’s some really important sites there. So it’s important to know that, you know, it’s a different area, there’s some, there’s a lot of politics behind how its administered, how it’s labeled on maps and things like that. But for our purposes here, when I’m talking about Israel, I’m talking about Israel proper. And then if we’re talking about a site in the West Bank, we’ll refer to it separately as the West Bank, or as in the Palestinian territories, for example, Bethlehem, a huge site, everybody goes to Israel sees Bethlehem, that’s in the West Bank, so you technically have to cross sort of like a border checkpoint. And then there’s more security, you go into the West Bank, it’s totally safe. But it’s in the West Bank. So I wouldn’t say, you know, for the sake of talking about travel, if I’m talking about where Bethlehem is, I would refer to the West Bank so that people know, this is in a different area, a different set of security procedures, for example, I’ll talk about this more later. But you have a have to have a different guide when you go to Bethlehem because it’s in the West Bank, or Jericho or other sites in the West Bank. So anyway, I digress. But I just wanted to put that out there in the beginning to kind of start getting folks a little bit familiar with not only the nuances of tribal planning in Israel because of these distinctions, but also to let people kind of know what we mean when we say these terms.
Whitney O’Halek 21:17
And also, if somebody wants kind of a visual, if you’re looking at a map of Israel, you’ll see Israel, it’s kind of a pointed shape, and you’ll see kind of like half of a butterfly. And that butterfly with a dotted line is the West Bank. So it kind of makes a couple of loops. And so I’m a visual person, I need to look at something that for anyone else like me, look at a map, look at Israel, and the dotted lines are the West Bank, the kind of bigger loop at the top, and then Jerusalem is where it kind of comes in, and then it goes back out again, over Hebron. And that is the West Bank.
John Navarre 21:53
So let’s talk about another misconception about Israel. And, Whitney, I think you probably have the most knowledge of this, of these sites I’m about to say, and then I probably have the most knowledge of the other type of sites I’m about to say. But I think that I think
Whitney O’Halek 22:08
he covered on all sides here.
John Navarre 22:11
Exactly. But I think a lot of people think that Israel is only about religious stuff, and Biblical stuff. In other words, the only thing to go see there are religious sites. The only reason to go there is if you want to do some religious pilgrimage. And if you’re not religious, why why don’t we go to Israel, it’s all about biblical sites. It’s all about Quranic sites. It’s all about Jewish sites, its religious sites, but
Whitney O’Halek 22:32
that’s probably most people’s conception at the get go. But then once you once you start doing a little research, you started looking at any top 10 list for, let’s say, Tel Aviv, and you’re gonna see, there’s a lot more to it than just the biblical sites. So I wanted to go to Israel for years specifically for the biblical sites. I didn’t know that there was like nightlife and stuff in Israel. So that was a misconception that I had that is now debunked.
John Navarre 23:00
Yeah. And also, when you mentioned, there’s, there’s a huge secular scene in Israel as well. And that’s another thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that, yes, there are a lot of religious sites in Israel, there’s a lot of religious tourism to Israel. But even if you’re not a religious person, or you’re not one of those religions, for which Israel’s important sites like Jerusalem, Bethlehem are just world famous, because, you know, for example, even if you’re not Christian, you still know about Christmas. And you know, the story of Christmas, and you know, about Bethlehem. And so you don’t have to be a Christian are super religious, to appreciate a site like Bethlehem, because we all heard about it growing up, we all know about it. And to see it once in your life to go there to say you’ve been there is a really important thing for most people. So even the religious sites, I think, are important for people who are not religious. You know, like Whitney said, there’s so much more to Israel than just the religious sites. Tel Aviv is the perfect example. Because there’s a huge distinction. And we’ll do a whole episode on this later, because there’s a lot to unpack here. But there’s a huge distinction between the population society, the vibe, the feel of Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv. And Tel Aviv is is a very secular, normal city, vibrant city, whereas Jerusalem, you feel very much like you’re in a religious city with a lot of religious people, religious institutions, and the vibe is a little bit more. I mean, it’s amazing, but it’s a little bit more serious. But Israel is way more than just the religious sites. You have some of the best beaches. I mean, Israel is on the Mediterranean. So the entire coast. Well, except for a tiny little sliver on the Red Sea. But almost the entire coast of Israel is on the Mediterranean Sea, just like Greece, just like turkey. Israel has beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean as well. They have amazing nightlife. Israelis are known for being some of the best DJs or having some of the best club scenes there. You know, there is room has great nature. I mean, Whitney was actually opening my eyes to that a lot because she had a lot of great ideas for going on hikes and places to find that Out of the way. And, you know, I’m not normally a person who travels and is like, oh, let’s go on a hike. But Whitney is actually really out of my comfort zone. And I got to see some really beautiful nature for the first time. I mean, I’ve probably been to Israel countless times and a million times, and I’ve never gone to see nature when I’ve been in Israel. And Witney introduced me to that as well. So there’s really a lot to see in Israel besides just the religious sites. But with that said, the religious sites are still pretty amazing. I mean, you can’t beat if you’re Christian, the place where Jesus was born, where he lived, where he was crucified, these are just, I mean, it’s more than bucketlist. I mean, it’s on a deeper level than that. I think just seeing people’s Ria, I told Whitney, one of the things I love to do, I’ve been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, many, many times, I still love going there, because I love standing in the corner of the room. And watching people’s reactions when they touch the stone function, where you know, Christians believe that Jesus’s body was laid after he was taken down from cross, watching people’s reactions, watching that experience, watching them have that experience is so moving. And I think when when we were there, I just think the day before we met up, I just went there and watched for about 30 minutes, because it’s such an amazing moving thing.
Whitney O’Halek 26:15
When you go to Israel, I think it’s really important to experience both to experience the like very modern, not necessarily religious, Israel, and then also experience their religious places. Because it’s such a unique juxtaposition. I don’t know that there’s another place in the world like this that is so religious, and yet so modern and current and secular, and it’s just showcased very differently in Israel than I think probably anywhere else in the world. And so to go and experience both and see both, and how they coexist, I think was just a very interesting and maybe even eye opening experience for me, because like I said, I didn’t know that there was like clubs and nightlife in all of Israel, but oh, there is. So I think seeing even if you’re not really interested in one or the other, seeing and experiencing both kind of gives you a different perspective on both.
John Navarre 27:10
Yeah, that’s a really, really good point. I think another thing related to that, that a lot of people misperceive about Israel is, we think of Israel, it’s sort of self identifies as a Jewish state. A lot of people think Israelis are all Jews. The reality is when you go there when you see it when you meet people, yes, the majority of Israelis are Jewish, but there is a huge Arab population. There’s a huge Arabic speaking population, many Jewish people in Israel, because there is such a large Arabic speaking population that are Israeli citizens and part of society there are many Jewish Israelis also speak Arabic, and Arab Israelis also speak Hebrew. Did that surprise you? Actually, wouldn’t. I’m just curious, because I’ve spent a lot of time in Arab countries always knew that there were Arabs in Israel. But Did it surprise you how many Arabic speaking people were in Israel proper and Israeli citizens?
Whitney O’Halek 28:05
I don’t think it surprised me too much just because Israel is in the Middle East. So it made sense to me that they would know multiple languages, and one of them would be Arabic. But as far as I didn’t know that, let’s say Where was I in Tiberius? Or maybe it was Nazareth? I’d have to check. But one of my tour guides said that, you know, this is the most Arabic part of Israel. So the people who lived Nazareth, yeah, is Arabic. And I it just had never occurred to me that at any place in Israel was not primarily Jewish.
John Navarre 28:39
Yeah, Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. And we’re not talking about the Westbank we’re talking about in Israel proper. Nazareth is a city within the borders of Israel proper, and its majority Arab. There are even many members of the Israeli parliament, which they call the Knesset as the name of their parliament. There are many members of the Israeli Knesset or parliament who are Arab, and they belong to Arab political parties. Yeah, it’s a very diverse society. And the other thing, I’ll tell you something that surprised me, to be honest, first time I ever went there. I didn’t realize that the Jewish Diaspora was so ethnically diverse, until I went to Israel, which is a place where Jews from all over the world have converged, especially after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Jews from all over the world came to Israel moved to Israel emigrated there, and it’s one place where you really see I mean, like I said a little bit earlier, I mentioned that I sort of spoiled it earlier. But there are black Jews, there are Arab Jews. There are light skinned Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, there are Jews from Yemen, Jews from from all over the world. There are Jews whose native language is Spanish. I’ve met like one of my friends and when I lived in Washington for 10 years, he worked at the Israeli embassy and he was from Mexico. But he was Jewish, but his native language was was Spanish She didn’t look like it. But people who are people who live in Israel, people who are Jewish, are extremely ethnically diverse. They come from all over the world because the Jewish population dispersed 1000s of years ago. Yeah, Israel is a very diverse country, did that actually surprise you to see, you know, sort of darker skinned Israelis and Jews, black Jews, white Jews, purple Jews,
Whitney O’Halek 30:18
I was actually going to mention that while I was there, that the Jewish people who live there are from everywhere. And when I would talk to them, like talking to my guides, I, you know, I was showing my ignorance just a little bit because I’m like, what is an Ashkenazi Jew? You know, what are the different types of Jews? Like I’m not trying to be offensive, I’m just trying to learn because I really want to know, and so the guy that I was talking to was like, Well, you know, these Jews are from Europe, and these Jews are from South America, and these Jews are from Persia, you know, Iran, Yemen. And it was fascinating to me, because I like that I like different cultures. And I like learning about different cultures. And I knew that there were Jewish people in America, and I knew that there were Jewish people all over the world, but you kind of have this ideal picture in your mind of what a Gu is supposed to look like. And it’s not like everybody is from everywhere. And it was fascinating, because it had never really clicked in my brain because I’m not Jewish, like, I just had never really connected the dots. So that to me was absolutely endlessly fascinating. I probably asked some unintentionally offensive questions, but the Jewish people that I was talking to were interested that I was interested. So it’s always okay to ask, just try to ask as inoffensively as possible. But I really appreciated that I appreciated learning more about that, because Jews who live in Israel now came from Europe came from America came from South America, it came from Africa, they brought their culture with them. And so like, okay, they’re all Jewish, but culturally, they’re all different Jews.
John Navarre 31:57
One thing you mentioned, I think, is a good segue to the next topic, which is, you see so many people there that are Jewish, that are Israeli who don’t look like you may have thought a Jewish person would look or maybe in your experience, from what you’ve seen, has looked in places where you’ve lived or traveled. For example, if you walk around New York, especially around Brooklyn, you might see a person walking around with you know, the black rimmed hat, the long curly locks on the side of their head, wearing a long black coat, even in the heat of summer. This might be your image of what a Jewish person is. But then you go to Israel, and you see people like that. But you also see people with purple hair, and piercings and tattoos that I’ve heard Israelis tell me before, that they like about living in Israel is who emigrated there. They’ve said, when I lived outside of Israel, I felt like I had to practice more Judaism and dress a little bit more typically, you know, stereotypically Jewish, Orthodox Jewish, in order to feel a connection to my identity living in Israel, I don’t feel like I need to do any of those things. I am Israeli, I am Jewish, I live in a Jewish state. And so I don’t need to do those things or dress a certain way, or practice certain practices to be Jewish. I just am Jewish, because I’m in Israel. So that’s another misconception I think a lot of people have about Jews in Israel is that they’re all wearing the black hats with the curly locks. They’re all essentially ultra orthodox. That is that is a characteristic sign of someone who is of the ultra orthodox sect of Judaism. And that you do see that a lot. If you go to certain places like Jerusalem, for example, you see a lot of people who are part of that second who dress like that. I’d say like, at least half of people in Israel are not Ultra religious. I mean, they may, you know, they identify as Jewish, they probably celebrate the holidays, but kind of like us back in America, you know, people who aren’t religious, they’ll celebrate Christmas and go to church on Easter. But, you know, a huge percentage, if not the majority, maybe half I don’t know of Jews in Israel are not Ultra religious, like we might be thinking.
Whitney O’Halek 34:07
I think it might be less than half. You think it’s because there’s so many people in Israel, so many Jewish people living in Israel in from so many different backgrounds and ways of practicing and even I met some secular Jews who like living in Israel, because they’re Jewish, but they don’t really practice. So it’s, it was such an interesting mix, even within just the one religion where you know, Israel is also important to Christians and also important to Muslims, but the Jewish state, so some I mean, like your friend said, he just is Israeli because he lives in Israel. He is Jewish, and he lives in Israel. So I thought that was the interesting.
John Navarre 34:50
Yeah, Israel’s full of contrast.
Whitney O’Halek 34:52
Yeah, very full of contrast.
John Navarre 34:55
You know, another misconception I think a lot of people have about Israel and I touched on this earlier as well. And I think probably when I said it earlier, people were thinking, That can’t be right. It sounds like the opposite of everything I’ve ever thought about this place. But everybody thinks that everyone hates everyone. They’re everyone else and they don’t get along. I don’t mean to gloss over the political problems they have, because there certainly are problems, there are tensions. But in Israel proper places that you’ll see as a tourist that you’re allowed to go around. I’ve been there many times, and I’ve personally never seen any problems. I’ve never seen animosity, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, they all live in proximate areas, they shop at each other shops that go to each other’s restaurants, their kids go to school together, you just don’t see the tension and the hatred and the animosity towards each other that you would expect, based on what we learn and hear and see and read back home. You don’t really get this until you go there. And I remember the kind of even written when we were there recently, we drove through an area, and we were well into like the middle of Israel, and it was a mosque in a village. And I was kind of like, Oh, is that is that an Arab neighborhood? And I didn’t just didn’t expect to see it in that part of Israel and person we were with was like, oh, yeah, that’s an Arab neighborhood even I think he was didn’t take us, though. He was going to take us to a lunch place there. We were actually going to go to lunch in this Arab village. Turned out it was it was not open that day. Yeah, he’d even think twice, you know, he was like, oh, yeah, let’s go to this great lunch place in this Arab village run by, you know, the Muslims that live there. And, and he was Jewish, and, you know, they just kind of live normal lives. And
Whitney O’Halek 36:31
that’s striking at Yeah, definitely, in Israel proper. They just seem to really get along, you know, they live side by side. But Arabs have Israeli rights. Actually, when I was in Nazareth, the guy that I was with was taking me to Mary’s house and Joseph’s workshop. And then we were going to get lunch. And he took me to this Arabic restaurant, because Nazareth has mostly Arabic. And he’s like, chatting up the owner in Arabic. And he’d been talking English to me, but the, you know, he was talking Arabic to the owner. And they were very obviously friends. And he told me that, you know, yeah, oh, yeah, I always bring people here. Especially when it’s a small group, it was just me, he said, You know, when it’s a smaller group, or just one person, I always bring him here, because it’s the best, it’s the best hummus in Israel is at this place. He said, He always gets a big thing I miss when he goes there and takes it home to his wife. And if he doesn’t, she gets really upset. So that I mean, they really just live as friends. And that’s not the stereotype. And it’s not the thing that you hear about on the news, because the news is not going to talk about people being friends with each other. So it was fun to experience that. And, you know, in the same way, the same people who were having these friendships with Arabs and Christians also had stories about driving through somewhere, and they had a scuffle. And you know, there are those bad experiences that we’re not trying to say that those don’t exist, but they’re far fewer than we have been led to believe. I think,
John Navarre 38:00
yeah, that’s a really good point. Because one point I always like to make about countries in the Middle East, and I say this a lot about Egypt, too, because Egypt has the same problem in the news in the West, nobody ever is going to write a headline or do a news story, that today was a normal day, nothing happened and everyone’s happy. That’s not a new story. That’s not headline
Whitney O’Halek 38:18
is not news that leads, it does not lead,
John Navarre 38:21
and it’s not gonna get any clicks. And it’s not, you know, I mean, but that is the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of the time in these places. You know that that’s another misconception that people have about not only Israel, but all Middle Eastern countries. And they think that because Israel is in the Middle East, that it is just like all the other Middle Eastern countries around it. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now, I have to say it is like other Middle Eastern countries in a number of ways, because as you mentioned, Whitney, there’s been a lot of emigration from other Middle Eastern countries have their Jewish populations into Israel. And so they brought their culture, their traditions, their food, and then there’s also Arabs and Muslims who live in Israel and are Israeli citizens, you still feel like you’re in a different country, when you’re in Israel, as opposed to when you’re in one of its neighbors like Egypt, or Jordan, the Arab countries in the Middle East are very different and feel very different than Israel feels, even though they share many common characteristics, the climate, even things like the way the buildings are built. I’ve always found that like, sometimes when I’m in a neighborhood in Israel, I feel like I’m in a neighborhood in Cairo or in Amman, because you know, buildings are built a certain way because of the heat, the climate, things like that. But Israel is a very distinct country from its neighbors, especially from its Arab neighbors like Egypt and Jordan, and Lebanon to the north. Very, very different. But you know, a lot of people think that and again, this spills over not only to the characteristics and things like food and religion and all that, but people think, you know, they just carry over the safety issue. That’s I think the biggest thing that people carry over they think, oh, there’s problems in Syria. So Israel must be unsafe and Yeah, not really, you know, there’s a civil war going on in Lebanon. So Israel is unsafe. And not really, you have to realize too these are some of the most heavily guarded, separated defended borders on the planet, nobody’s getting across the border between Israel and Syria, that border might as well be kryptonite. Because nobody’s getting across that border. The same thing with Lebanon in the north, you know, your same thing with you know, the Gaza Strip, you’re not getting across, you’re not going to walk it you’re not going to sneak across the border with the Gaza Strip, consider that basically a Kryptonite wall. Like Whitney said, In the beginning, Israel knows how to do security well, and problems that are happening in neighboring countries generally don’t spill over into Israel. problems happen in Israel, but they take care of them within Israel, you don’t have you don’t have to worry, because, for example, a couple of years ago, when ISIS was a big thing, and it was all over Syria and Oliver rock, there’s no chance of it spilling into Israel, you have to go there to see this. It’s just a little sort of microcosm there. And another thing too, people don’t realize Israel is a developed personal country. One of the things that surprised me that this reminds me of remember, was assignment or Gordon, a few months ago, told us that Intel is the number one employer in Israel, you know, the chipmaker, Intel, huge tech sector, Israel, lots of startups come out of Israel. It’s a developed first world country and but it looks like another Middle Eastern country, which is is so bizarre, if you know other Middle Eastern countries, and you go there, and you’re, you’re kind of like, this looks like Jordan. But there are these huge glass skyscrapers on the beach. The only thing I have on my list that I wanted to mention, speaking of glass skyscrapers on the beach, and speaking of how Israel is not like other Middle Eastern countries, when he was talking earlier about how it was sort of striking that there was a huge secular scene there that there was their nightclubs, their bars there. A lot of people think that I even had somebody recently tell me that they were surprised that Israel allowed alcohol. And I was just like, why wouldn’t it? That’s like saying, I’m surprised Florida has alcohol. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s a normal developed Western country, even though it’s located in the East developmentally, it’s Western. And you know, it’s funny, even sometimes Israel and associations and stuff like sports leagues and stuff like that Israel participates as part of Europe. It’s a very progressive country that also has a very deep historical and religious and spiritual element to it because of its history because of its geography. But you don’t have to worry that you’re gonna go there and not have any fun. Israel is a place that anyone can have an amazing time in.
Whitney O’Halek 42:32
Alright, so that’s it for the first episode. Thank you so much for listening. We really appreciate it. And check out the Israel travel blog for more about common misconceptions and safety and all things Israel. We’ll have new episodes of the Israel travel Podcast coming soon, so be sure to subscribe, and stay tuned.