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All About Israel: (FSF Cultural Exploration)

Israel Overview

The country of Israel is in the Middle East bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea), Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The country is defined by its intermingling of distinct Jewish communities from across the world as well as its revival of the ancient Hebrew language. These two factors led to a cultural synthesis that forms the foundation of cultural life in Israel.

A Brief History of Israel

According to the Torah, God promised the land of Israel to the nomadic Jewish people four thousand years ago. The first Kingdom of Israel was established in the 11th century BC. By 53 BC, the powerful Roman Empire invaded, annexing first Syria and then Judah by intervening in a long-running civil war. Resistance resulted in the appointment of King Herod the Great, who used a heavy hand in overseeing the Judean region as a Roman vassal state. Violent conflicts between Jews and Greco-Romans led to mass genocide, large-scale destruction, and the shrinking of the Jewish population to a minority centered on the Galilee. Over subsequent centuries, the fast-growing new religion of Christianity overtook the Roman pantheon and, by the time of the Byzantine era, was a major religion. The Christians placed Judah under the Church’s control. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Christain population was nearly wiped out by the Samaritan population revolting. In the late 6th-century Jewish communities were dispersed communities across the world. Over the centuries Israel faced unrest with no force effectively controlling it until it fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire in 1516 AD.

After WWI, British forces controlled Palestine and agreed to cede some of the lands to modern-day Israel. Subsequently, the British Government began supporting Palestine’s Arabs. After a year of desperate fighting in the Arab-Israeli War against a massive combined Arab army, the Zionists emerged victorious and the State of Israel. Since Israel’s creation in 1948, Israel has become a powerful, militarized nation.

Israel Culture and Traditions

Family plays a central role in Israeli life with many being patriarchal, though traditional gender roles have broken in recent years. Marriage is almost universally between fellow Jews with intermarriage being socially taboo and outright illegal in some circumstances. Nuclear families are the norm, though it is not uncommon for grandparents to live with their children in traditional households. In cases where the mother works outside the home, collective child-rearing is common, though boys and girls are raised separately in the Arab tradition.

Social interactions tend to be very informal to a degree that can be considered rude in some countries. A typical example of this is store clerks not acknowledging customers until approached. Despite this, eye contact and touching are common in social interactions.

Judaism is the official religion and is practiced by 80% of the population. Rabbis, the religious leaders of the Jewish faith, often engage in scholarly work when not performing religious duties. The religious laws they follow are made by the Chief Rabbinate, a body of Rabbis.

There are several places in Israel, Jerusalem in particular, which hold religious significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. For Jews, the Wailing Wall, the remains of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, is considered a sacred place. The Dome of the Rock is an ancient Muslim shrine. There is also the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to which Christians often make pilgrimages.


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