Shabbat or the Sabbath (day of rest) is the holiest day of the week in Israel. It begins at sundown on Friday evening and ends at sun-down on Saturday evening. In most cities throughout the country – most notably Jerusalem – stores, most restaurants, city buses, many tourist sites, etc., begin shutting down early on Friday afternoon in preparation for Shabbat, and remain closed until after Shabbat ends on Saturday evening. It is a very peaceful and calm day which most Israelis spend at home with family or at a synagogue, yet it can also be difficult for tourists on their own who might want to get out and do things. Even in Jerusalem, there are still certain sites and places that are open, but mostly in the Old City.
For a list of Israel’s holidays and dates please see https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/israel/
Most sites and public places in Israel are modern and clean, including most restrooms. Restrooms are usually labeled WC, which stands for Water Closet, a European term. In Hebrew the word for restroom is sheroteem…in Arabic it’s hamam. Be prepared that most restrooms at churches or holy sites charge a fee of 1 or 2 shekels. You may want to carry a small pack of tissues or wipes with you.
The food is usually one of the top things that tourists enjoy about Israel. Hotels in Israel are well-known for their extensive Israeli buffet breakfasts and dinners – fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful in Israel. Most hotels in Israel are kosher and EHT includes information in our tour packets about kosher food, and the separation of meat and dairy dishes in kosher restaurants. You will also want to be sure to try Israel’s national sandwich, the falafel, as well as shwarma, pita bread and hummus, and the large Arab sesame bagel with the spice za’atar.
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel, however English is taught in Israeli schools and is widely spoken especially among younger Israelis or those in the tourism industry. Many stores and places of business throughout the country, including the airport and most roads, have signs in all 3 languages. It is very easy to communicate in English with most people you’ll meet, as the majority of Israelis speak it, even if not fluently.
Although many people are happy to speak to you in English, it can really bring a smile to their faces when they hear foreigners trying to speak their language. Provided below are some helpful phrases in both Hebrew and Arabic should you want to give it a try!