Israeli Culture

Israeli culture is extremely diverse as a direct reflection of the diversity of the population. Immigrants from different cultural backgrounds all contribute their part to Israeli culture. In addition, the secular and religious lives lived by the citizens of Israel are combined and expressed through the culture. While Israeli culture is very varied it is safe to say that the family-oriented aspect of society with a strong sense of community is something that is common to all sectors in Israel.

Regarding the official language of Israel, Modern Hebrew is the main language. The language is an almost miraculous revival of the Biblical Hebrew language and special schools for learning the language have been around since the beginning of the state and still exist and run today.

Each group of immigrants influenced Israeli culture directly. It is possible to see this in the following examples; the Habima Theatre brought Russian and Yiddish roots to the country; dance, language and mannerisms are affected by local Arab culture; British culture made its mark during the British Mandate period and German culture influenced the architecture in Israel as seen in the Bauhaus buildings in Tel aviv.

The first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion proposed that the huge numbers of new immigrants become part of one huge “melting pot,” uniting the immigrants and eliminating differentiation with older and newer immigrants.  The Israel Defense Forces and the education system were the two central tools employed for this purpose. With time the “melting pot” ideal has declined and Israeli society has become more pluralistic, embracing different cultures, traditions and backgrounds.

Hebrew literature in Israel has its roots in the writings of immigrants from Europe, such as those of Yosef Haim Brenner and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. In the forties and fifties, writers who were native-born brought an Israeli mentality and culture into their writings. Since the eighties Hebrew literature has been widely translated with several Israeli writers achieving international recognition.

Visual arts in Israel have shown a creative orientation since the beginning of the twentieth century, influenced by the meeting between east and west and by the land itself. Local landscapes, concerns and politics lie at the center of Israeli art and make it truly unique.

Classical music in Israel has been popular since the 1930s when hundreds of musicians, teachers and students fled to Israel from Nazism in Europe. Israel is home to several world-class classical music ensembles such as the Israel Philharmonic and the New Israel Opera. Contemporary music in Israel is varied, dynamic and eclectic, spanning the spectrum of musical genres and fusing many different influences.

Traditional folk dances of Israel include the Hora and the Yemenite dance and Israeli folk dancing today is choreographed for recreational and performance dance groups. Modern dance in Israel has garnered international interest with Israeli choreographers considered among the most versatile and original creators on the international scene. Notable dance companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.

Hebrew theater existed around fifty years before the state was established with the first amateur Hebrew theater group active in Palestine between 1904 and 1914. Habimah is the first professional Hebrew theatre and was founded in 1917 in Moscow and moved in 1931 to Palestine where it became Israel’s national theater. Israeli theatre is extremely diverse in content and style and half of all plays are local productions.

Filmmaking in Israel started out in the 1950s and much like the Israeli literature of the time was cast in the heroic mold. Recent films are still rooted in the Israeli experience, dealing with subjects such as the Holocaust, new immigrants, Israel-Arab and Jew-Arab confrontations and military aspects in Israeli life. The Israeli film industry continues to gain worldwide recognition through international awards nominations.

Israeli cuisine reflects the heterogeneous nature of culture in Israel, diversely combining local ingredients and dishes with dishes from around the world. Israeli fusion cuisine has developed since the late 1970s, adopting and adapting elements of various Jewish styles of cuisine.

Tel Aviv has been called the “next hot destination” for fashion and Israel has become an international center of fashion and design. Israeli designers display their collections in leading fashion shows.

Physical fitness is important in Jewish and Israeli culture. In the 1930s the Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish and Israeli athletes was inaugurated and has been held every 4 years ever since then. Football and basketball are the most popular sports in Israel. As of now, Israel has one seven Olympic medals including a gold medal in Windsurfing at the 2004 Summer Olympics and over one hundred gold medals in the Paralympic Games.

Camping and hiking are a huge part of Israeli culture with over 6.5 million visits recorded on a yearly basis in the national parks and reserves throughout the country. Annual hiking trips in schools results in Israeli children being raised with an affinity for hiking and outdoor activities.

Israel is home to over 200 museums; the largest number of museums per capita in the world.