15 Things Israel is Known and Famous For

A country so small it’s the size of a pinhead on your average world map, it’s unbelievable how much culture, stunning geography, and diversity is tucked away in Israel. Not to mention the history of the Holy Land stretching back thousands of years!

Israel is known for being the birthplace of Jesus Christ to the Dead Sea, the bustling high-tech metropolis of Tel Aviv, and the ancient beauty of cities like Jerusalem and Haifa. Its geopolitical position, history, and culture make it totally unique not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the things that Israel is most famous for.

1. A Nation of Immigrants

Tents used as temporary housing for Jewish immigrants in Israel. 

Israel is truly a melting pot, and it has been ever since 1948! When the country was founded, its population numbered only about a thousand (some estimates go even lower). Most of these people were the ancestors of today’s Palestinians, as well as Bedouins and some other minority groups.

Oh, and then there were a few dozen Jews. Some of them had been there since Biblical times, others had migrated to the Holy Land for religious reasons much later.

Then, independence came in 1948. And with it, a population that ballooned practically overnight. Suddenly, this tiny plot of land with no major cities was a country of millions of people!

Both then and now, this unique mix of hundreds of backgrounds has created a culture that can’t be described as anything but Israeli. Almost nowhere else on Earth is holding a second citizenship or “visiting relatives” by flying through five time zones to a different continent as normalized as it is here.

Today, Israel’s countless subcultures, ethnic groups, and its mix of backgrounds make it one of the most unique countries on the planet.

From music and entertainment to the many loanwords Hebrew has picked up over the years, the influence of this immigrant culture has been gigantic.

2. The Hebrew Language

Closeup sign of University in english and hebrew.

Israel was founded in 1948 as the independent national home of the Jewish people. So, it was only natural that Hebrew would be selected as its official language.

While the revival of Hebrew had already been underway since the late 1800s, Israel is known for being the only country in the world where everyday business is conducted almost entirely in this ancient language.

And that’s no small feat, considering that the vast majority of the Israeli population in the early days didn’t know any Hebrew before they moved to the country. Special fast-track language schools, called ulpanim, were set up specifically to solve this problem.

It’s almost a miracle that this approach worked well, considering Hebrew can be very difficult to learn! It doesn’t share a lot of similarities to other living languages apart from Arabic, and its grammar, spelling, and various pronunciation rules are notoriously hard to master.

3. Sun, Sand, And Plenty of Beaches

Mediterranean coast at Haifa, Israel

Apart from being the Holy Land and the only national refuge for Jews around the world, there might be another reason why people moved to Israel by the millions after the war.

Of course, I’m talking about the fact that it’s one of the most picturesque places in the world!

Despite being so tiny, Israel has tons of variety on offer. There’s a vast desert in the south, the Negev. The temperatures might get a bit crazy over there, but rest assured the view is worth it!

Along the coastline, there are some of the prettiest Mediterranean beaches you will ever see. Haifa, Tel Aviv, and even Ashkelon offer sights that make mouths water and bottles of sunscreen run out at record speeds.

And in the North, the Galilee rounds out the picture with thick forests and steep mountain ranges. Here, the climate is so mild that cities get plenty of snow in the winter.

That’s quite something considering that barely 200 miles to the south, temperatures routinely reach over 105 degrees during the summer!

4. High-Tech Success

sky line of Tel Aviv and aerial israel

Did you know that ICQ, one of the first instant messaging services, was born in Israel? It’s true! From its humble beginnings, Israel has transformed to become what some simply call “Startup Nation”. Almost nowhere else can you find as many young companies innovating in the fields of IT and Computing.

From the Intel processor chips that now power everybody’s PCs to the FaceID you use to sign into your devices, so many technologies we take for granted were developed in Israel! Oh, by the way – if you’ve ever seen or used a website created on Wix.com, that’s Made in Israel as well.

This is why the area surrounding Tel Aviv, where the highest number of tech startups are located in Israel, carries the nickname “Silicon Wadi”!

Not only are there hundreds of Israeli companies pushing boundaries here, but plenty of international powerhouses like IBM, Google, Microsoft, and others have set up shop here as well in recent years.

5. Scientific Breakthroughs

Israel High Resolution Science Concept

It’s not just in the growing high-tech industry that Israel has become a surprising leader. It’s also been a rising star in scientific research for many years!

Already in the postwar years plagued by austerity, this was evident. The country’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was a renowned biochemist who advanced processes in industrial fermentation.

In the 1960s, it was an Israeli researcher who discovered THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The first epilator was also designed and built in Israel!

Of course, Israel’s long history of conflict means plenty of innovations also came from the military. For example, an Israeli field medic invented what we now call “The Israeli Bandage”, a unique bandaging design that has saved many lives and is now taught to medical personnel the world over.

Oh, and if you too have that one friend who can’t stop showing off his drone-flying skills, let him know one thing. Yep, Israel’s Air Force was one of the first to make use of these “light pilotless planes”, as they were called all the way back in the early 80s.

6. Olive Drabs Everywhere

Soldier and orthodox jewish man pray at the western wall, Jerusalem
Editorial credit: StockStudio Aerials / Shutterstock.com

For better or for worse, Israel is known for having a national history filled with conflict and wars. Depending on how you keep count, Israel has taken part in up to ten different military conflicts. That’s quite a lot for a country that’s barely 70 years old!

The first of these wars was fought in 1948, when the country was invaded by a whole coalition of Arab countries. This happened just the morning after the declaration of Independence was signed!

Amazingly, since that war of independence, Israel has not once lost a single large-scale engagement. Their military is now considered one of the strongest in the world.

Israel has achieved this by drafting not just all adult men, but also women! Since basically everyone gets to serve, the military is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood.

Hence, it’s absolutely normal in Israel to see people of both sexes walking around in uniform in public. And military helicopters flying overhead are also no cause for concern, promise!

7. Does James Bond Like Falafel?

Spy equipment

Because of their military experience and knack for technology, it was only a matter of time till Israel developed a competent secret service. So they went and created two of them.

The Shin Bet is the internal intelligence agency. It acts mostly as a security force aiding the police in keeping civilians safe from harm in public spaces. For their excellent track records and reputation, Shin Bet agents are also employed by countries around the world, for example in airport security.

The Mossad is the Shin Bet’s more glamorous brother, and for good reason. Internationally, it’s made itself notorious for its high-stakes missions of espionage.

Real Mossad operations have often served as the backdrops for spy novels, and it’s considered second only to the CIA in terms of power and influence.

8. Floating in the Dead Sea

floating in the dead sea sunset, Israel

Do you know how to swim? In the Dead Sea, there is only one answer: yes!

The Dead Sea is actually a giant lake, and it has some of the highest salt content in the world! This gives the Dead Sea a level of natural buoyancy that allows you to simply float on the surface. Every summer and spring, countless people from the Middle East and from around the world visit the Dead Sea to try it out for themselves.

Rather than trying to swim in the Dead Sea, the much bigger challenge is sinking! In fact, due to the salt content, diving here is practically impossible.

9. A Clash of Faiths

Western Wall at the Dome Of The Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel

More so than any other place on Earth, Israel is famous for being the home to a dazzling number of world religions, all of which call this speck of land their holiest site.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in Jerusalem.

At the Western Wall, Orthodox Jews pray barely five minutes from one of the holiest places of Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque. Christians, too, flock to Jerusalem to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposedly containing the place where Jesus was crucified and later resurrected.

And this is not to mention the countless minority religions that call Jerusalem, and the rest of Israel, their home! From the Baha’i temple in Haifa to the ancient Samaritan religion still thriving in the northeast of the country, Israel is a place of faith like no other.

10. Delicacies From All Over

Healthy Vegetarian Falafel Pita with Rice and Salad

Like its people, Israel has imported its cuisine from every corner of the Earth. Of course, a lot of the food you’ll find here is from the Middle East.

From falafel to shawarma, many popular dishes nowadays associated with Israel came from traditional recipes native to Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and other countries. Shakshouka, a delicious dish of poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce, was brought into the country by immigrants from North Africa.

However, there is also a lot of recipes imported from places such as Russia, Poland, and Latin America. Case in point: the pita, Israel’s most famous universal street food that is combined with literally anything you could imagine, comes from Greece!

What this means for you today is that on a single visit to the streets of Tel Aviv, you can experience delicious treats from all over the world!

11. Cottagecore, Before it Was Cool

Vew from a hill to the Beit Shean Valley near the Nir David kibbutz, Israel, 

During the Cold War, Israel was the only Western-allied country to allow Communist lifestyles to thrive locally. A product of this are the hundreds of little kibbutzim and moshavim found throughout the country today.

These living communities are unique in that they adhere to communist and socialist principles. For example, in most kibbutzim, all ownership is traditionally shared between members of the kibbutz. Everyone works together, and the fruits of their labor are shared “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”

Though truly communist kibbutzim and moshavim are rare these days for political and economic reasons, the model has left a strong impact on the national culture.

Since most of these communes, especially back in the day, were based on farming and craftsmanship, Israel is home to a surprising number of people who are equally as good with a sickle as they are with a smartphone!

12. Dangerous Skies

Iron Dome Rocket Interceptions of Hamas Rockets- Southern Israel- Night Attack On Ashdod City

If you’ve ever seen a news broadcast about Israel on the TV, it probably showed scenes like this one. For decades, the areas of Israel close to Gaza in the Southhwest have come under fire from missile barrages. For the most part, these are launched by the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas.

For people living in cities in this region including Ashkelon, Beersheba, and Ashdod, the sounds of sirens going off are all too familiar.

Because the terrorist threat has proven very difficult to neutralize and evacuating such a large part of the country is not an option, Israel has developed the Iron Dome, a unique missile defense system.

Thanks to it, and the inclusion of underground shelters in most homes and apartments buildings, hardly anyone gets hurt by these regular bombardments today.

13. Hebrew Names

Shlomo,common Hebrew male given name composed with multi colored stone letters over green sand

If you know what to look for, you can generally recognize an Israeli person by how their name sounds. But how can this be in a country that has only existed since 1948?

As I mentioned earlier, Israel was in its infancy and remains today a nation of immigrants, more so than any other country. In order to ease the transition for people, and to make this diverse population seem more homogeneous, Israel’s government enacted many unique policies.

In one of these, almost all Jews that made aliyah (immigrated) until the 90s were forced, or at least urged, to adopt a native Hebrew name instead of their original one.

Ever heard of David Grün? Nope, not a German lawyer – it’s the birth name of Ben-Gurion, one of the country’s founding fathers.

14. A Little Mother Russia

Flags Russia and Israel

This point is a bit of a controversial topic with many Israelis, but it’s true: Israel is known for harboring one of the biggest Russian communities outside of their homeland.

The backdrop of this development would make for an exciting political thriller. In the 90s, hundreds of thousands of citizens of Russia and former Soviet countries emigrated to Israel. Most of them were Soviet Jews that had been denied permits for passports before the Communist regime fell.

However, some were non-Jewish Russian or former Soviet citizens that simply claimed to be Jewish for the sake of easy immigration! Non-Jews moving to Israel en masse like this was unprecedented. Some called it an attack on the country’s whole identity. Every Israeli citizen of Russian descent quickly became a potential suspect of crime or immigration fraud.

As a result of this, there has been a longstanding atmosphere of tension between the Israeli-Russian community and the rest of the population.

It doesn’t help that Russian-Israelis have tended to emphasize both sides of their identity more than the previous generations of Israeli immigrants.

They don’t tend to Hebraicize their names, for one. And in many neighborhoods in cities such as Haifa, Russian is widely spoken on the street, Russian books are sold in bookstores, and storefronts display text in Russian instead of the official Hebrew-Arabic-English signage.

15. A Pandemic Leader

A medical worker inoculates a recipient with a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, 
Editorial credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Shutterstock.com

Finally, the last thing Israel is known for, particularly in recent times, is its strength in fighting emergencies. Of course, I am talking about the way the country handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel was faster to vaccinate most of its citizens than almost any other country in the world, and even now in 2022, it leads worldwide in terms of the share of the population that has received booster shots.

With an immense military and security infrastructure that operates around the clock, and a national culture that has been shaped and toughened by wars and catastrophes, it’s no wonder that Israel has been doing such an exceptional job in fighting the pandemic!

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