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What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

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Michigan
posts: 47
What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Are there any blatantly tourist traps to avoid ? Also, what should we know as far as courtesy- what not to do as a traveler . I'm asking more of a cultural question as opposed to the normal traveler visiting a foreign country manners.

37 replies to this topic
Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jerusalem, Galilee, Tel Aviv
posts: 5,039
reviews: 104
1. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Jerusalem is a fantastic city with so much to see and do. As far as blatent 'tourist traps', this is not something that is an issue. Sites and history are amazing even if tons of tourists go to visit them.

In the Old City you have to bargain in the markets- that is an expectation. When shopping in the markets, don't ask prices unless you have an intention to buy. Asking a price is opening a bargaining session which the vendor approaches in good faith. Although you might not agree on a price in the end, you should have the intention to purchase if the price is right.

As far as cultural questions.

Dress is a bit more modest in Jerusalem than other parts of Israel. When visiting religious sites men should wear long pants and short sleeved shirts. In churches you have your head bare, in synagogues you cover your head (with any kind of hat or they will provide a kippah). Women should have skirts down to their knees, capri pants or long pants and have tops that cover the shoulders. In churches and synagogues it may be necessary to cover the elbows and a pashmina scarf in the purse is an easy fix for this without having to wear long sleeves.

Areas such as Mea Sherim are not tourist destinations and the people there don't appreciate people coming to 'check them out'. Dress here is extremely conservative including long sleeves and women must be wearing a long skirt. There really isn't anything to see in the area anyway and you will see plenty of orthodox neighbourhoods through the city anyway.

Many Orthodox Jews and Arab women do not want their pictures taken. In general, it is just rude to take people's pictures without asking them. Group or streetscapes are fine but if you want pictures of individuals, including army personnel, ask first. Most of the army boys will be happy to pose with you and have someone else take the picture.

Friday sundown to Saturday sundown is Shabbat in Israel. In areas like the Western Wall, you are not allowed to take pictures or use cellphones. You should also observe this in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. In the Arab sections of the city, it is life as usual.

When visiting the United States, I am always struck at how friendly Americans are. Israelis don't come off the same way. They are more direct in their manner and will say exactly what they think whether it is tactful of not. The upside is that you never have to guess what people mean. Israelis do have a soft side especially when it comes to children. If you are ever in trouble in Israel, Israelis are the most helpful people you could imagine. They go far out of their way to help.

Jerusalem is a fantastic place to visit. You will have a wonderful experience.

Melbourne, Australia
Destination Expert
for Jerusalem
posts: 4,397
reviews: 76
2. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

If you use a taxi make sure you use the meter. If they try to tell you it will be cheaper to pay a particular price then don't believe them. The 2 exceptions to this are if you are travelling a very short distance when they might not want to take you at all if it would not be worth their while, and if you want to hire a taxi for a few hours to take you to several sites and have the taxi driver wait for you. Try and find out an appropriate fare from a local person before you get into the taxi if possible (maybe someone on the desk at the hotel if they are not too busy).

Michigan
posts: 47
3. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

thank you for the excellent reply

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jerusalem, Galilee, Tel Aviv
posts: 5,039
reviews: 104
4. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Thought of something else:

Restaurants in Jerusalem are either kosher or not-kosher. Kosher restaurants prepare food according to Jewish Law and it is very strict. A Kosher restaurant will not be open on Shabbat, the day of rest but will likely open after sundown on Saturday night. There is a Jewish Law which requires the strict separation of meat and milk. Kosher restaurants, therefore, are either dairy OR serve meat. There are some cafeterias (and a few restaurants) which serve both in different sections: a milk section and a meat section. It is important to respect this separation. Do not have members of your party purchase meat items and then come and sit with you in the dairy section. You will be told to move, and likely in a stern manner as this actually threatens the status of the restaurant. I have seen this happen quite often at the Yad Vashem cafeteria. People don't mean to do the wrong thing and it isn't really clear if you don't know the rules ahead of time. Don't bring in your own foods to restaurants either. You will barely notice it for the most part but you will notice for example that you can order a hamburger in a kosher restaurant, but not a cheeseburger. You would also not be able to buy pork products or shellfish. In the Arab section the Halal rules are much laxer and you barely notice them. There are quite a few non-kosher restaurants in Jerusalem but you should have a plan on where you want to eat and make a reservation if you stay in West Jerusalem on a Friday night.

Cincinnati, Ohio
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 12,492
reviews: 141
5. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Another suggestion: Be careful in political discussions with Israelis and Palestinians alike, particularly when it comes to offering "helpful" suggestions from an American perspective on how to resolve the conflict. For us Americans, we can theorize and pontificate on the issues from a safe distance -- here, it is an existential issue with deep emotions, conflicting historical narratives, and a lifetime of experiences. I have strong views on those issues but (uncharacteristically) tend to keep them to myself when in Israel, unless I am talking with trusted friends, and even then I use respectful restraint. For example, if you mention how much money the US gives Israel, you may have a parent reply, "I gave my son." I doubt you want to be there.

This was an interesting and respectful question -- thanks for posing it!

Douglas Duckett

Michigan
posts: 47
6. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

We've traveled quite a bit and one thing we don't do is discuss politics .

NYC/Israel
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 26,950
reviews: 18
7. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Adding two things ( or more accurately extensions) to what has already been said.

a. Don't bargain in the Old City for a game. If you want something bargain, if you don't want it--don't bargain, There have been reports of shopkeepers really lowing their price and then the "customer" reply " I changed my mind" The shopkeeper has rightfully been infuriated.

b. Following along with kosher restaurants. Do NOT bring food from outside into a restaurant. Even if you are in a dairy restaurant and someone wants an ice-cream from across the way, these establishments can only allow what they sell. They WILL get upset--your actions may endanger their certificate of Kashrut ( state of being Kosher) and by extension, their livelihood.

Oh a new one

a. When you enter the Old city, especially at the Jaffa Gate, if you stop and look at a map you may be approached by someone offering to "guide you" These are NOT guides, these are hustlers. You will never find a licensed Israeli guide hanging out looking to pick up clients. They (guides) are professionals. Guides in Israel, by law, must be licensed and all licensed guides prominently display their credentials while working.

Israel
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 7,675
8. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

Haggling in the markets has been mentioned. Note that haggling is appropriate ONLY in the tourist bazaars. In shops elsewhere prices are fixed. You might ask if they will give you a discount if you buy more than one item, but you shouldn't insist on it.

In religious areas, no overt displays of affection (opposite or same sex). This of course doesn't apply to parents hugging their children.

Don't worry too much about what you can or can't order in a kosher restaurant. If you've eaten a meat meal and ask for coffee with milk, you'll be told that they have only non-dairy creamer. You won't be the first tourist to make this mistake, and you won't have caused any offence. In a hotel, they will probably serve coffee with milk (and cream cakes etc.) in a separate lounge, so you can move to the lounge after you've eaten your dinner. Or you can go to a café for your coffee with milk.

But absolutely, do not take any food into a restaurant that has come from outside.

Israel
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 10,998
reviews: 112
9. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

As mentioned modest clothes that cover elbows, knees, shoulders and clevage are necessary at most religious site and long skirts for women on the Temple Mount and Orthodox churches.

Visiting Jerusalem is very politcal and while you tend to refrain in participating in discussion you will not be able to totally bypass the fine line when visiting Israel's capital. To avoid such dicussions I would visit Bethlehem on your own, which is no problem.

Chana

Israel

Jerusalem, Israel
Destination Expert
for Jerusalem
posts: 3,096
reviews: 39
10. Re: What shouldn't we do while in Jerusalem ?

a. notwithstanding all the advice above, don't forget to have fun!

b. don't forget to post a trip report on the forum when you come back :)

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