Our next country is the country of Israel. Israel is on a narrow stretch of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is unique because, although it is surrounded by Arab countries like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, it is a Jewish homeland.
The land of Israel is important to the history of Jews, Arabs, and Christians, and the religions of Judaism, Muslim, and Christianity. Israel’s history is one of success in many areas of life — from its culture to its economy. Israeli leaders seek to find ways to end the ongoing fighting between Israel and the Arab countries in the region. Although a permanent peace agreement has not been reached, the Israelis want to continue to work toward one. They know that peace is important to the nation’s future.
To understand Israel today, it is important to know its history. Jews first lived in the region during Biblical times. But through the years, as various foreign conquerors invaded the area, large numbers of Jews were forced to leave. By the late 1800s, most of the people living in the area, which was called Palestine, were Arab.
Meanwhile, in Europe a Zionist movement toward establishing the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland had begun to grow. The goal behind this movement was to create a place where Jews would always be welcomed and protected, especially after World War II and the terrible things that happened to Jews in Nazi concentration camps in Europe. But as large numbers of Jews arrived in Palestine, Arabs began to resent them. Tensions ran high. In November 1947, the United Nations tried to ease the tensions. It called for a division of the land into separate Jewish and Arab nations. In May 1948, the independent country of Israel was officially born.
However, the Arabs refused to accept the Jewish homeland. Within 24 hours the united armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq attacked the new nation. But Israel survived. By 1949, it had defeated the Arab forces and added some of the land that had been set aside for a new Arab state to its own boundaries. About 150,000 Arabs were already living in the newly acquired territory. They were angry that a separate place for Palestinian Arabs had not been created. Now they had to adjust to being a minority in a Jewish homeland. However, the Israelis insisted that they had to hold on to the seized area to defend against future Arab attacks.
A 1948-49 struggle known as the War for Independence began a series of conflicts that continued through the years. Although many thought Israel would never survive an ongoing Arab attack, it did. And in the Six-Day War of June 1967, Israel seized additional Arab territories. They included the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. Israel now controlled an area where more than one million Arab Palestinians already lived. As a result, the bitter feelings increased.
Later, peace agreements required Israeli troops eventually to begin leaving the controlled regions. Still, not everyone was pleased with this requirement. Some Israelis insisted that they should not have to return territory that was important for Israel’s defense. Peace efforts were also made more difficult by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO consists of a number of united Palestinian Arab groups who want to create a separate Palestine. The PLO and other similar groups launched terrorist attacks mostly against Israeli civilian, or non-military, targets. In return, Israel struck PLO-held areas in surrounding Arab nations. As a result, the peace process has been put on hold many times. And Israel must constantly be ready for more military action.
Israel is a small country – not quite 11,000 square miles, about the size of Hawaii. Its landscape is quite varied. Within its borders are mountains, deserts, seacoasts, and valleys. Its western border is on the Mediterranean Sea, but it also has the Negev Desert, which is its driest region and has nothing but sand! Israel is also varied in its culture. As a country, it has an unusual blend of ancient places and beliefs, as well as modern things and people. Historical and archaeological sites exist near hip, scenic beaches and busy, noisy cities. The Western Wall, once part of the Jewish temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites, is one of the many ancient religious places in Israel.
Israel is not rich in natural resources, such as coal, water, and natural gas. But many people there live comfortably. This is partly because a large number of its early inhabitants had valuable job skills that helped get the country started. The Israelis also wisely used whatever was available to them. They irrigated dry and desert lands for farming. They drained swamps when the land was needed for crops. Israel has also been fortunate to receive money and supplies from the United States and other countries.
Today, Israeli factories manufacture paper, plastics, scientific instruments, chemical products, packaged foods, clothing, and other items. Its farms produce fruits, vegetables, poultry, eggs, and grains. Underwater mining operations in the Dead Sea have yielded potash, salt, bromine, and magnesium. Copper, clay, and gypsum are also mined in the desert.
Israel’s economy depends heavily on tourism. Visitors enjoy the country’s warm dry summers, which last from April to October. Winters in Israel are cool, but mild. Since the area is rich in Biblical history, religious journeys to the region are popular, especially around major religious holidays such as Christmas, Passover, and Easter.
In recent years, many fine restaurants have opened in Israel, to the delight of both residents and tourists. Like its people, Israel’s food is quite varied. Menus often reflect the different backgrounds of those living there. Traditional Middle Eastern foods such as falafel (fried chickpea patties), shawarma (roasted lamb slices), and borekas (cheese- or potato-filled dough) are common.
But European Jewish dishes including chicken soup and gefilte fish are also readily available. (Gefilte fish is ground fish that is formed into balls or patties and cooked in fish broth or baked in tomato sauce.)
Israel has a population of about six million people. Although they come from various parts of the world, most of its residents are Jewish. Recently, thousands of Jews from both the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have settled in Israel. With people from so many different places, it’s easy to see racial, ethnic, and cultural differences among Israeli Jews. Yet as Jews, they have a common religious bond. Other people living in Israel include Muslims, Druze, and Christians.
There are many Palestinians who remained after their territory became part of Israel. Arabs in Israel do not always get along well with the Jewish majority. The Palestinians often have complained of inferior schools, housing, and job choices. Tensions between the two groups have been worsened at times when Palestinians have openly sided with anti-Israeli groups.
Most people in Israel live in the northern or central part of the nation. Most of them live in apartment buildings in cities. Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is its largest city. It is a holy place for Jews, as well as for Christians and Muslims. Tel Aviv, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, is the country’s second-largest city.
Only a small portion of the people live in the countryside. Some people live in a collective community known as a kibbutz. Kibbutz members work, but they don’t receive pay. Instead, they are given food, housing, child care, medical services, and other necessities. In a kibbutz, everyone shares in the work, property, and profits. Originally most kibbutzim were farming communities. But today many develop and run high-tech factories that produce a variety of products for sale to other countries.
Hebrew is Israel’s official language. English is also spoken and is taught in schools. All Israeli street and road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
No matter where they live, Israelis value education. There is free public education for everyone through grade twelve. There are also a number of colleges and universities for students who wish to continue their education. These include Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University (the largest Jewish university in the world), and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Like the United States, Israel is a democracy. Democracy is a way of governing in which the people choose their leaders in elections. Israel’s lawmaking body is a parliament known as the Knesset. The country does not have a written constitution. It follows a set of basic laws established by the Knesset. Although Israel has a president, that person does not have a great deal of power. Instead, the Israeli prime minister acts very much as the U.S. president does. Elections for the prime minister and Knesset are usually held at the same time.
Just as in the United States, Israelis can vote when they turn eighteen years old. Israeli men and almost all Israeli women who are not married must enter the military when they turn eighteen. Men must serve for three years. Women are required to serve for two years.
Israel is rich in art and culture. It has many museums and theaters. Israeli writers, painter, and sculptors have become well-known throughout the world. Award-winning Israeli authors include Chaim Bialik, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua. At times, Jewish themes are evident in the work of Israeli artists. Some of the most interesting works capture Israel’s struggle for survival. Music is another important part of Israel’s heritage. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is respected throughout the world. There are many less well-known orchestras in Israel as well.
Vocabulary Words (Hebrew):
- Hello — Shalom
- Thank you — Toda raba
- Good-bye — Shalom
- Peace — Shalom
- Please — Be’vakasha
- Music — Mussica (moozeeca)
About the Music:
Since Biblical times, music and dance have held an important role in many Jews’ lives. Jewish music (and dances) have both been influenced by surrounding Gentile traditions and Jewish sources preserved over time.
The history of religious Jewish music spans history from Biblical to Modern times. The earliest religious music was based on the music used in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Mishnah, the regular Temple orchestra consisted of twelve instruments, and a choir of twelve male singers. A number of additional instruments were known to the ancient Israelites, though they were not included in the regular orchestra of the Temple, such as the uggav. Though scholars do not completely agree what the uggav looked like, some think it was the panflute or panpipes.
Much of Orthodox Jewish music is performed by men due to religious restrictions on men hearing women sing. In the 1980s, Tofa’ah was the first female Orthodox band and has paved the road for Orthodox Jewish female performers.
Modern Israeli music is heavily influenced by Jewish immigrants from more than 120 countries around the world, who have brought their own musical traditions, making Israel a global melting pot. The Israeli music is very versatile and combines elements of both western and eastern music. It has a wide variety of influences from the European Jews and more modern Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop, especially Yemenite singers, and hip hop or heavy metal.
From the earliest days of Zionist settlement, Jewish immigrants wrote popular folk music. At first, songs were based on borrowed melodies from German, Russian, or traditional Jewish folk music with new lyrics written in Hebrew. Starting in the early 1920s, however, Jewish settlers made a conscious effort to create a new Hebrew style of music, a style that would tie them to their earliest Hebrew origins and that would differentiate them from the style of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe, whom they viewed as weak. This new style borrowed elements from Arabic styles. “The huge change in our lives demands new modes of expression”, wrote composer and music critic Menashe Ravina in 1943. “… and, just as in our language we returned to our historical past, so has our ear turned to the music of the east … as an expression of our innermost feelings.”
Young people played a major role in musical development as Israel became a country in the late 1940s, and in making new popular Jewish songs. The government saw music as a way of establishing a new national identity and teaching Hebrew to new immigrants. The national labor organization set up a music publishing house that printed songbooks and encouraged public sing-alongs. This tradition of public sing-alongs continues to the present day, and is a characteristic of modern Israeli culture.
About the Artists:
The Burning Bush takes its inspiration from a wide variety of music from the old Jewish world, embracing both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultures. Folk songs in Yiddish from Poland, Russia and Ukraine, instrumental dances of the East European Klezmer bands, and mystical dances of the ultra-orthodox Hasidim, mix with the great tradition of Sephardi song from the exiled Spanish communities of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Morocco. They also feature songs from the Jewish communities of the Yemen and Iraq, sung in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Much of this music is preserved in the oral tradition, reflecting the musical language of the countries where Jewish communities settled over the centuries. Ballads, folk songs and romances, some dating back to Medieval Spain, co- exist with melodies of Greek or Turkish origin from the late Ottoman Empire. Yiddish songs and Klezmer melodies show the influence of early jazz with the immigration to the New World at the turn of this century. Many songs were sung in the home from mother to child; others were written for the ghetto theatres; some reach right out to us like the lullaby ‘S’dremlyn feygl’ from the Vilna ghetto; all portray the universal themes of love, sorrow, devotion and the vicissitudes of everyday life. The Burning Bush’s interpretations reflect the local character of the music through the use of traditional instruments and styles of performance. For the music of the Ashkenazi world clarinet, accordion, violins, cymbalom and bass predominate; for the Middle Eastern aspect of the Sephardi repertoire the group use less familiar traditional instruments like the oud, rebec, riq and the goblet-shaped drum, the darabukka. Listen to the song and look at the lyrics. Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — have you heard something like it before? What instruments did you hear? What did the music make you think of? Would you listen to it again? Remember, the comment is worth 5 of your 25 points!!!
Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Israel, and the pictures in the post — one paragraph for the reading and one for the music. Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Israel as a place and a culture. As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Tuesday, June 5. This is the last day of school, so make sure you get your homework in!