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Important information

Important information

Distances in Israel:

distance

Climate:
Israel enjoys long, warm, dry summers (April-October) and generally mild winters (November-March) with somewhat drier, cooler weather in hilly regions, such as Jerusalem and Safed. Rainfall is relatively heavy in the north and center of the country, with much less in the northern Negev and almost negligible

Regional conditions vary considerably, with humid summers and mild winters on the coast; dry summers and moderately cold winters in the hill regions; hot dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and year-round semi-desert conditions in the Negev.

Weather extremes range from occasional winter snowfall in the mountain regions to periodic oppressively hot dry winds that send temperatures soaring, particularly in spring and autumn.
  weather

Money & Currency:
The State of Israel’s currency is the New Israel Shekel (NIS) or shekel for short (pluralized as shkalim in Hebrew or shekels in English). There are 100 agorot (agora in singular) in each shekel. Bank notes are in denominations of NIS 20, 50, 100, and 200; coins are in denominations of NIS10, NIS5, NIS2 NIS1 and 50 and 10 agorot.

Changing Money: Unlimited sums of local and foreign money may be brought into Israel as cash, travelers’ checks, credit cards or State of Israel bonds. Foreign currency of all kinds may be exchanged at the airport, banks, post offices, most hotels or licensed exchange agencies in large cities. A passport is required when exchanging travelers’ checks. The rates vary from place to place, and banks charge a commission. It is recommended, though not obligatory, to carry a small amount of US dollars, since certain tourist sites, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, take payment in dollars. More Information is available here.

Cash Withdrawal: Holders of international credit cards can withdraw local or foreign currency at banks which accept their credit cards. There are Automated Teller Machines outside most banks.
tax    
VAT and taxes: All goods and services may be purchased with the following currencies, which can be freely exchanged: Euro; Australian Dollar; US Dollar; Hong Kong Dollar; New Zealand Dollar; Singapore Dollar; Canadian Dollar; Japanese Yen; Danish Krone; Norwegian Krone; Swedish Krona; Pound Sterling; Swiss Franc; South African Rand. Nevertheless, storeowners and service providers are not required to accept foreign currency and are permitted to give change in shekels even if payment was made in foreign currency.    
 
The following are all the conditions which must be fulfilled in order to receive the V.A.T. refund upon departing from Israel. Please make sure that all the following conditions are fulfilled:
•    Non-Israeli citizens are entitled to receive a V.A.T. refund if they do not hold an Israeli passport and if they are visiting Israel as a tourist as per the visa stamped in their foreign passport. If it is preferred not to have your passport stamped on your entry to Israel, please keep the form handed to you when entering Israel for inspection at the V.A.T. refund counter.
•    The goods must have been purchased in a store included in the V.A.T. refund program and the purchase amount in one tax invoice including V.A.T. must exceed ILS. 400.
•    The goods were purchased for personal use only and in a quantity which is not commercial.
•    The goods are for export from the State of Israel.
•    The goods are not food, drink or tobacco products.
In order to obtain the V.A.T. refund, the goods should be packed in a closed bag together with the special invoice for the purpose of V.A.T. refund and presented to the official at the 'MILGAM' counter.

Tips and Bargaining: In Israel it is customary to tip primarily in restaurants. When the bill does not include service, a 12% tip should be added to the payment. In hotels, one tips the bellhop or any other service provider. Taxi drivers are generally not tipped.
 
Bargaining is acceptable in Israel, but not everywhere. In the open-air markets, do not hesitate to bargain as it is part of the experience and doing so can lower the price. Storekeepers are legally required to display prices and for the most part are not open to bargaining. This is also true of restaurants and public transportation. Passengers are advised to ask cab drivers to turn on the meter, thus avoiding unnecessary haggling.

Banks: Various banks have branches in the large cities and in smaller communities. Most banks are open from 8:30 am until 12 noon Sunday to Thursday, and 4–6pm on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. On Fridays and Jewish holiday eves, banks are open from 8:30 am until 12 noon. All banks are closed on Shabbat. Most of the large hotels have banks which often offer additional, more convenient hours.

Communications:
NEWS: Almost every hotel room has cable TV with access to the international cable news channels. Israel TV has a daily news broadcast in English. The English-language Jerusalem Post and Haaretz newspapers are published daily except Saturday. The International Herald Tribune is printed six days a week in Tel Aviv and includes the English language version of Haaretz.

TELEPHONE: Telephone service in Israel is world-class. The country-code for Israel is 972. Israeli area codes commence with a zero (e.g. 02-123-4567), so if you calling Israel from overseas, drop the zero (i.e. +972-2-123-4567).

CELL PHONES: Per capita, more Israelis have cell phones than any nationality on earth. Even children have them. If your U.S. cell-phone and/or handheld wireless device is programmed for international service, it will work automatically in Israel. Alternatively, cell-phones can be rented as soon as you arrive in Israel.

PUBLIC-PHONES: There are public phones throughout Israel. You’ll need to buy a “Telecart” magnetic card to use them: they’re readily available at newsstands, supermarkets, post offices or at your hotel front desk.

INTERNET AND E-MAIL: Just as with cell-phones, Israelis – per capita – own more PC’s than any other nationality in the world. Almost every hotel has internet access – in-room and/or wi-fi and/or at its Business Center. Internet cafes are to be found everywhere too. Laptops are always dual-voltage so all you’ll need is a European-style two-pin converter plug that will work in Israel.

Israel has about 800 sites that provide wireless Internet services to mobile computer owners. Every year the number of hotspots in Israel doubles, with new spots added every day, offering visitors Internet surfing services either for a fee or free of charge.

Fast food restaurants and coffee bar chains offer free WiFi services at their branches throughout the country. Hotels have made WiFi connections a standard feature for the benefit of their guests, and over 100 hotels and guest houses already provide this service.

Another 100 or so hotspots are located in convenient stores beside gas stations, and even more WiFi areas can be found at universities, colleges, museums, visitors' centers, convention halls, marinas, tourism sites and shopping malls. Visitors to Jerusalem can enjoy free Internet service in the German Colony neighborhood, the downtown pedestrian shopping center and at Safra Square, beside Jerusalem City Hall.

THE POST OFFICE: Post offices are everywhere, and are the ideal place to buy stamps, mail letters or packages. Most hotels’ front desks or concierges have stamps too.

electric

Electrical appliances:
The Israeli power supply is single phase 220 volts at 50 Hertz. Most power sockets in Israel have three pin holes, but many of them will work with double-pin European plugs. Visitors who want to use shavers, traveling irons and other small appliances may need both transformers and adaptor plugs.

Emergency services:     
Medical emergency:
Magen David Adom (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) provides 24-hour emergency medical service in most of the urban centers.  Magen David Adom also provides ambulance service to the nearest emergency room.  

•    Tel Aviv: 03-5460111
•    Jerusalem: 02-6523133
•    Haifa: 04 8512233

Tourist Police:
Tourists can also call the tourist police at 03-5165382 if an emergency arises.  The tourist police office is located on the corner of Geula and Herbert Samuel Streets, in Tel Aviv.

Immigration & Customs:
Passport Control: Upon arrival in Israel, visitors undergo a security check and are requested to present a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of their departure. Incoming travelers continue to the passenger luggage area after their passports have been inspected. Carts are at their disposal. From there, they continue to customs control and to the airport exit.

Important note for tourists continuing from Israel on to Arab countries: It is recommended that you request that an Israeli stamp does not appear on your passport. You must notify the clerk of your request before your documents are stamped.

As of July 3, 2008, an official decision has been made that will no longer require entry stamps on foreign passports. In such cases, you must fill out form 17L including your personal details, and that form shall be stamped by passport control upon entry/exit. The form 17L will not be collected upon exit of airport as it is necessary for the collection of tax refunds and proof of legal entry.

Customs: There is a two-lane customs transit system, one green and the other red, at Ben Gurion Airport and the various Crossing Points.

Visitors who do not have goods to be declared may go through the green lane at the exit from the passenger arrival hall. Articles that do not need to be declared:
•    Personal clothing, shoes and cosmetics – in quantities that can usually be carried in the traveler’s hand baggage.
•    Alcoholic beverages – up to one liter for hard liquor and up to two liters for wine, per person aged 17 and over.
•    Tobacco of all types – up to 250 grams per person aged 17 and over.
•    Presents and other commodities – items other than alcoholic beverages, alcoholic perfumes, tobacco,  and television sets, costing up to $200, as determined by the clerk at the entrance terminal, according  to lists in his possession.
•    Food: up to a total weight of three kilograms, on condition that the weight of each type of food does not exceed 1 kg.


Religious customs and “Kosher”
“Kosher” is an adjective (“kashrut” is the noun) used to describe food that is “fit” or “clean” or, in other words, prepared and served according to Judaism’s 3,000-year-old dietary laws.

In general, kashrut prohibits the eating of pork (Muslims proscribe pork too) and shellfish, or the mixing of meat ingredients with dairy ingredients. (It’s more complicated than that, but these are the basic nuts and bolts.) Many Israelis observe kashrut – or some version of it – while many, perhaps most, do not. Almost every hotel in Israel is kosher (so that anyone can eat or stay there), but the majority of Israeli restaurants are not kosher. Restaurants that are kosher display a kashrut certificate; kosher restaurants usually close after lunch on Friday and don’t reopen until late Saturday night, or noon on Sunday.

Even though this is the seventh day of every week (counting from Sunday), and there are over 50 such days each year, Shabbat is a holy day - and even one of the most important holy days in Judaism. In fact, apart from the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur,) Shabbat is the holiest day for Jews, and is the only one mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

The observance of Shabbat has always been central to the Jewish people’s experience and existence, at least until recent generations. A well-known saying states that more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, it has kept the Jewish people.
According to ancient Jewish tradition, Shabbat has a clear connection to the creation of the world: on the seventh day God rested (“Shabbat,” in Hebrew) from the work of creation, so this is a holy day for men, and they, too, are to rest from productive work.

The idea of Shabbat - one day sanctified for rest after six days of toil - is one of the important contributions of Judaism to world culture. It is also the basis for the concept of the week as a cyclical unit of time. The Jewish Shabbat served as a model for the setting of the holy day for Christians (Sunday) and for Muslims (Friday).

In the Jewish calendar, the days are counted from the sunset of one day until sunset the following day. Shabbat therefore begins on Friday evening, called Erev Shabbat, and ends on Saturday evening, called Motsa’ei Shabbat. The exact times of the beginning and end of Shabbat are determined in advance and change from week to week and from place to place.

The customs associated with Shabbat are many and varied. First and foremost, it is a day of rest, on which all productive work is forbidden. According to Jewish law, any activity connected with fire is forbidden, and religious Jews do not turn electricity on or off on Shabbat and do not travel. Many other Jews, who define themselves as traditional (and who are moderately religious), also partially avoid traveling, using electricity or performing other types of productive work. Many of them do not answer the telephone on Shabbat.

For religious Jews, Shabbat is a day filled with prayer, and they spend many hours in the synagogue. Part of the Shabbat prayer service in the synagogue is the reading of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Throughout the year, a portion of the Torah is read each week. Incidentally, the division of the Torah into weekly portions is the original ancient division; the division into chapters came later. Over the course of an entire year, Shabbat after Shabbat, the entire Torah is read. The completion of the reading of the Torah is on a day that may not necessarily be Shabbat: the eighth day of the Festival of Sukot (called Shmini Atseret), is also the Festival of Rejoicing in the Torah (Simkhat Torah). That day also marks the start of the reading of the Torah from the beginning again.   

Important information
All public offices in Israel are closed on Shabbat, as are most private businesses. Public transportation (trains and buses in most cities) do not operate, and in many places it is not easy to find an open restaurant. On the other hand, radio and TV broadcasts operate as usual.

In areas where most of the population is secular, such as Tel Aviv and most of its surrounding towns, Shabbat is expressed mainly in minimal business activity and transportation. Many secular families leave the cities on Shabbat, for relaxation and recreation in natural surroundings. In religious neighborhoods, on the other hand (including large sections of Jerusalem), the religious character of Shabbat as a holy day is observed to the fullest. Many streets are closed to traffic and alternative bypass routes must be found to travel from one place to another.

More on “Kosher”:
Kosher food means anything that is allowed by the Jewish religious dietary laws. In short, pork and shellfish are forbidden and meat and dairy products must not be cooked together or eaten at the same meal. Most of the hotels in Israel are Kosher (including those advertised), so breakfast is dairy and dinner is meat (it is not possible to have milk in tea or coffee).

Breakfast:
Enjoying an Israeli breakfast is one of the pleasures of a visit to Israel. The origins of this popular breakfast are rooted in Israel’s early 20th century history. Kibbutz workers started their first shift at dawn, so after a few hours they were usually ravenous and would gather in the communal dining hall for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of whatever was available on the kibbutz: vegetables, fresh juice, eggs, bread and milk and other dairy products.

As Israel’s hotel industry developed, it turned to the kibbutz for inspiration for breakfast. Because hotels had to observe the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher), they couldn’t offer non-kosher items familiar to many tourists (sausages, bacon) and couldn’t offer dairy foods with meat foods. As a delicious solution, the hotel industry borrowed from and expanded on the kibbutz breakfast, leading to the extravagant buffet that is offered today in hotels throughout Israel. In addition to the eggs, vegetable salad, cheeses, juice and breads, they also offer cereals, fish (herring, smoked salmon, mackerel), a variety of salads, yogurts (including labane), fruits, granolas, blintzes, waffles, and other baked goods.

Dinner:
At most hotels dinner is usually served buffet style and it’s meat. It usually includes a wide variety of salads (Israelis love fresh vegetables), five main course (usually a meat dish, a chicken dish, a fish dish and two side dishes, rice and potatoes are the most typical), and a selection of deserts.

In some hotels that don’t serve dinner every night (usually the higher class like Leonardo Plaza or smaller boutique hotels like Artplus), dinner booked in advanced can be served at one of the hotel’s restaurants. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem most of these hotels have a dairy restaurant (serving salads, pasta and sometimes fish) and a higher class meat restaurant. But both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem there’re many restaurants’ nearby the hotels with varied possibilities.

In Tiberias the restaurants’’ selection is more limited and all hotels serve dinner regularly in the main dining rooms.

“Shabbat”
The Origin:
The origins of the Shabbat are in the Bible and are associated with the Seven Days of Creation which conclude with Divine Rest on the Seventh Day. Observing the Shabbat as a religious commandment is mentioned in both sets of the Ten Commandments.

When does the Shabbat happen?
The Shabbat happens every week and as the name implies it is basically “Saturday.” However, Jewish calendar goes from sunset to nightfall of the following day, meaning Shabbat starts on Friday evening.

What are the Laws of Shabbat observance?
This is one of the most complex areas of Jewish religious law, but in practical terms there are several main concepts with practical application to tourists:
•    It is forbidden to switch electricity on and off
•    It is forbidden to travel in vehicles
•    It is forbidden to cook food (although we do eat hot food)
•    It is one day a week dedicated to religious contemplation, taking stock of our daily grind and for meaningful interaction with family and friends
 
Does everybody keep the Shabbat? Do tourists have to keep the Shabbat?
Israel has a very strong tradition of freedom of religion and of expression. Many Israelis keep the Shabbat very strictly, and many don’t keep it at all, with the entire rainbow in between.

Tourists are free to do what they please. Except in certain religious areas, you will notice Israelis love spending time outdoors. It’s very common finding entire families in the parks preparing BBQ or hiking the numerous national parks. Although there is no public transportation, there are some shuttle companies linking the main cities (e.g. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem).

Shabbat in a Hotel
•    The hotels try and cater to the widest possible audience and so the Shabbat is observed. Here are some of the things that happen on the Shabbat in most hotels.
•    This is the weekend so the hotels fill up on Friday; with people having a weekend away either privately or in the context of work or social groups. Often there are large groups of extended family celebrating a family occasion.
•    Shabbat Elevator/Lift – As mentioned it is forbidden to press electrical switches and so calling and selecting a floor in a regular elevator is impossible. The solution is an elevator that travels automatically, from floor to floor stopping for a minute or so on each one. Each hotel will typically have one or two Shabbat elevators and the rest will operate normally.
•    Candle lighting – The beginning of the Shabbat is marked with candle lighting so there is normally a central place in the hotel where all those who want to light candles do light.
•    Food – Friday night and Shabbat lunch are traditionally the most important meals of the week in honor of the Shabbat. At many hotels you can expect a real banquet. As mentioned there is a prohibition of cooking fresh food on the Shabbat this impacts the menu with some traditional foods and at breakfast you will notice there are no fresh cooked eggs, toast etc. The lobby menu will also serve only cold items. However, there are many ways to ensure that the food is hot and tasty.
•    Other Aspects – In keeping with the religious freedom the rest of the hotel will operate normally, from the reception to the pool to the parking there will be normal service.