Culture of Israel
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The culture of Israel is heterogeneous and dynamic, combining a synthesis of Eastern ethnic and religious traditions, along with western cultural influence. The roots of Israeli culture developed long before the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, and reflect Jewish history in the diaspora, the ideology of the Zionist movement beginning in the late 19th century, as well as the history and traditions of the Arab Israeli population and other minorities, such as Druze, Circassians, Armenians and more.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are considered the main cultural hubs of Israel. The New York Times has described Tel Aviv as the "capital of Mediterranean cool," Lonely Planet ranked it as a top ten city for nightlife, and National Geographic named it one of the top ten beach cities.
With over 200 museums, Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world, with millions of visitors annually. Major art museums operate in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Herzliya, as well as in many towns and Kibbutzim. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra plays at venues throughout the country and abroad, and almost every city has its own orchestras, many of the musicians hailing from the former Soviet Union. Traditional folk dances of Israel include the Hora and Yemenite dance. Israeli modern dance companies, among them the Batsheva Dance Company, are highly acclaimed in the dance world. The national theater, Habima was established in 1917. Israeli filmmakers and actors have won awards at international film festivals in recent years. Since the 1980s, Israeli literature has been widely translated, and several Israeli writers have achieved international recognition.
With a diverse population of immigrants from five continents and more than 100 countries, and significant subcultures like the Arabs, Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews and the Ultra Orthodox, each with its own cultural networks, Israeli culture is extremely varied. It follows cultural trends and changes across the globe as well as expressing a unique spirit of its own. At the same time, Israel is a family-oriented society with a strong sense of community.
'Melting pot' approach
With the waves of Jewish aliyah in the 19th and 20th centuries, the existing culture was supplemented by the culture and traditions of the immigrant population. Zionism links the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the homeland of the Jews between around 1200 BCE and 70 CE (end of the Second Temple era). However, modern Zionism evolved both politically and religiously. Though Zionist groups were first competing with other Jewish political movements, Zionism became an equivalent to political Judaism during and after the Holocaust.
The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben Gurion, led a trend to blend the many immigrants who, in the first years of the state, had arrived from Europe, North Africa, and Asia, into one 'melting pot' that would not differentiate between the older residents of the country and the new immigrants. The original purpose was to unify the newerimmigrants with the veteran Israelis for the creation of a common Hebrew culture, and to build a new nation in the country.
Two central tools employed for this purpose were the Israel Defense Forces, and the education system. The Israel Defense Forces, by means of its transformation to a national army, would constitute a common ground between all civilians of the country, wherever they are. The education system, having been unified under Israeli law, enabled different students from different sectors to study together at the same schools. Gradually, Israeli society became more pluralistic, and the 'melting pot' declined over the years.
Some critics[who?] of the 'melting pot' consider it to have been a necessity in the first years of the state, in order to build a mutual society, but now claim that there is no longer a need for it. They instead see a need for Israeli society to enable people to express the differences and the exclusivity of every stream and sector. Others, mainly Mizrahi Jews and Holocaust survivors, have criticized the early 'melting pot' process. According to them, they were forced to give up or conceal their diaspora heritage and culture, which they brought from their diaspora countries, and to adopt a new "Sabra" culture.
As new immigrants arrived, Hebrew language instruction was important. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who founded the Hebrew Language Committee, coined thousands of new words and concepts based on Biblical, Talmudic and other sources, to cope with the needs and demands of life in the 20th century. Learning Hebrew became a national goal, employing the slogan "Yehudi, daber Ivrit" ("Jew - speak Hebrew"). Special schools for Hebrew language learning, ulpanim, were set up all over the country.
The first works of Hebrew literature in Israel were written by immigrant authors rooted in the world and traditions of European Jewry. Yosef Haim Brenner (1881–1921) and Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888–1970), are considered by many to be the fathers of modern Hebrew literature. Brenner, torn between hope and despair, struggled with the reality of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel. Agnon, Brenner's contemporary, fused his knowledge of Jewish heritage with the influence of 19th and early 20th century European literature. He produced fiction dealing with the disintegration of traditional ways of life, loss of faith, and the subsequent loss of identity. In 1966, Agnon was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Native-born writers who published their work in the 1940s and 1950s, often called the "War of Independence generation," brought a sabra mentality and culture to their writing. S. Yizhar, Moshe Shamir, Hanoch Bartov and Benjamin Tammuz vacillated between individualism and commitment to society and state. In the early 1960s, A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, and Yaakov Shabtai broke away from ideologies to focus on the world of the individual, experimenting with narrative forms and writing styles such as psychological realism, allegory, and symbolism.
From the beginning of the 20th century, visual arts in Israel have shown a creative orientation, influenced both by the West and East, as well as by the land itself, its development, the character of the cities, and stylistic trends emanating from art centers abroad. In painting, sculpture, photography, and other art forms, the country's varied landscape is the protagonist: the hill terraces and ridges produce special dynamics of line and shape; the foothills of the Negev, the prevailing grayish-green vegetation, and the clear luminous light result in distinctive color effects; and the sea and sand affect surfaces. On the whole, local landscapes, concerns, and politics lie at the center of Israeli art, and ensure its uniqueness.
The earliest Israeli art movement was the Bezalel school of the Ottoman and early Mandate period, when artists portrayed both Biblical and Zionist subjects in a style influenced by the European Art Nouveau movement, symbolism, and traditional Persian, Jewish, and Syrian artistry.
Classical music in Israel has been vibrant since the 1930s, when hundreds of music teachers and students, composers, instrumentalists and singers, as well as thousands of music lovers, streamed into the country, driven by the threat of Nazism in Europe. Israel is also home to several world-class classical music ensembles, such as the Israel Philharmonic and the New Israeli Opera. The founding of The Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra (today the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1936 marked the beginning of Israel's classical music scene. In the early 1980s, the New Israeli Opera began staging productions, reviving public enthusiasm for operatic works. Russian immigration in the 1990s boosted the classical music arena with new talents and music lovers.
The contemporary music scene in Israel is hugely varied, dynamic and eclectic. It spans the spectrum of musical genres, and often fuses many musical influences, ranging from Ethiopian, Middle-Eastern soul, rock, jazz, hip-hop, electronic, Arabic, pop and mainstream. Israeli music is versatile, and combines elements of both western and eastern music. It tends to be very eclectic, and contains a wide variety of influences from the Diaspora, as well as more modern cultural importations: Hassidic songs, Asian pop, Arab folk (especially by Yemenite singers), and Israeli hip hop or heavy metal. Also popular are various forms of electronic music, including trance, Hard trance, and Goa trance. Notable artists from Israel in this field are few, but include the psychedelic trance duo Infected Mushroom.
Modern dance in Israel has won international acclaim. Israeli choreographers, among them Ohad Naharin and Barak Marshall, are considered among the most versatile and original international creators working today. Notable Israeli dance companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. People come from all over Israel and many other nations for the annual dance festival in Karmiel, held in July. First held in 1988, the Karmiel Dance Festival is the largest celebration of dance in Israel, featuring three or four days and nights of dancing, with 5,000 or more dancers and a quarter of a million spectators in the capital of Galilee. Begun as an Israeli folk dance event, the festivities now include performances, workshops, and open dance sessions for a variety of dance forms and nationalities. Choreographer Yonatan Karmon created the Karmiel Dance Festival to continue the tradition of Gurit Kadman's Dalia Festival of Israeli dance, which ended in the 1960s.
With over 200 museums, Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world, with millions of visitors annually.
Jerusalem's Israel Museum has a special pavilion showcasing the Dead Sea scrolls and a large collection of Jewish religious art, Israeli art, sculptures and Old Masters paintings. Newspapers appear in dozens of languages, and every city and town publishes a local newsletter.
The emergence of Hebrew theatre predated the state by nearly 50 years. The first amateur Hebrew theatre group was active in Palestine from 1904 to 1914. The first professional Hebrew theatre, Habimah, was founded in Moscow in 1917, and moved to Palestine in 1931, where it became the country's national theater. The Ohel Theatre was founded in 1925 as a workers' theatre that explored socialist and biblical themes. The first Hebrew plays revolved around pioneering.
After 1948, two major motifs were the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moshe Shamir's He Walked in the Fields in 1949 was the first produced by a sabra writing about sabras in idiomatic and contemporary Hebrew. In the 1950s, dramatists portrayed the gap between pre-state dreams and disillusionment. Other plays pitted native Israelis against Holocaust survivors. Beginning in the 1960s, Hanoch Levin wrote 56 plays and political satires. During the 1970s, Israeli theatre became more critical, contrasting extreme images of Israeli identity, such as the muscleman and the spiritual Jew. In the 1980s, Yehoshua Sobol explored Israeli-Jewish identity issues. Today, Israeli theatre is extremely diverse in content and style, and half of all plays are local productions.
Founded in 1980, The Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre is a four-day performing arts festival held annually in early autumn at the city of Acre. the festival became a symbol of coexistence between the city's Jewish and Arab inhabitants.
Filmmaking in Israel has undergone major developments since its inception in the 1950s. The first features produced and directed by Israelis, such as "Hill 24 Doesn't Answer" and "They Were Ten", tended, like Israeli literature of the period, to be cast in the heroic mold. Some recent films remain deeply rooted in the Israeli experience, dealing with such subjects as Holocaust survivors and their children (Gila Almagor's "The Summer of Aviya" and its sequel, "Under the Domim Tree") and the travails of new immigrants ("Sh'hur", directed by Hannah Azoulai and Shmuel Hasfari, "Late Marriage" directed by Dover Koshashvili).
Others deal with issues of modern day Israeli life, such as the Israeli-Arab conflict (Eran Riklis's "The Lemon Tree", Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's "Ajami") and military service (Joseph Cedar's "Beaufort", Samuel Maoz's "Lebanon", Eytan Fox's "Yossi and Jagger"). Some are set in the context of a universalist, alienated, and hedonistic society (Eytan Fox's "A Siren's Song" and "The Bubble", Ayelet Menahemi and Nirit Yaron's "Tel Aviv Stories").
The Israeli film industry continues to gain worldwide recognition through International awards nominations. For three years consecutively, Israeli films ("Beaufort" (2008), "Waltz with Bashir" (2009) and "Ajami" (2010)) were nominated for Academy Awards. The Spielberg Film Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the world's largest repository of film material on Jewish themes as well as on Jewish and Israeli life.
The heterogeneous nature of culture in Israel is also manifested in Israeli cuisine, a diverse combination of local ingredients and dishes, with diasporic dishes from around the world. An Israeli fusion cuisine has developed, with the adoption and continued adaption of elements of various Jewish styles of cuisine including Mizrahi, Sephardic, Yemeni Jewish and Ashkenazi, and many foods traditionally eaten in the Middle East. Israeli cuisine is also influenced by geography, giving prominence to foods common in the Mediterranean region such as olives, chickpeas, dairy products, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The main meal is usually lunch rather than dinner. Jewish holidays influence the cuisine, with many traditional foods served at holiday times. Shabbat dinner, eaten on Friday night, is a significant meal in a large proportion of Israeli homes. While not all Jews in Israel keep kosher, the observance of kashrut influences the menu in homes, public institutions and many restaurants.
In 2013, an Israeli cookbook, "Seafoodpedia," won "Best in World" in its category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Award in Paris, and "Jerusalem, A Cookbook," published by the Israeli-Palestinian team of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, won "Best in the World" for Mediterranean Cuisine.
Israel has become an international center of fashion and design. Tel Aviv has been called the “next hot destination” for fashion. Israeli designers, such as swimwear company Gottex, show their collections at leading fashion shows, including New York’s Bryant Park fashion show. In 2011, Tel Aviv hosted its first Fashion Week since the 1980s, with Italian designer Roberto Cavalli as a guest of honor.
Physical fitness is important in Jewish culture and this approach received a boost in the 19th century from the physical culture campaign of Max Nordau. The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes, was inaugurated in the 1930s, and has been held in Israel every four years since then.
In 1964, Israel hosted and won the AFC Asian Cup; in 1970, the Israel national football team managed to qualify to the FIFA World Cup, which is still considered the biggest achievement in Israeli football. Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games due to Arab pressure, and since 1994 all Israeli sporting organizations now compete in Europe.
Football (soccer) and basketball are the most popular sports in Israel. The Israeli Premier League is the country's Premier Soccer League, and Ligat ha'Al is the premier basketball league. Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem are the largest sports clubs. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, and Hapoel Tel Aviv have competed in the UEFA Champions League, and Hapoel Tel Aviv reached the Quarterfinal in the UEFA Cup. Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. has won the European Championship in basketball five times. Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er peaked at 11th on the WTA rank list, a national record. Beersheba has become a national chess center; as a result of Soviet immigration, it is home to the largest number of chess grandmasters of any city in the world. The city hosted the World Team Chess Championship in 2005. Israeli chess teams won the silver medal at the 2008 Chess Olympiad and the bronze medal at the 2010 Chess Olympiad. Israeli Grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the Chess World Cup 2009, and played for the World Champion title in the World Chess Championship 2012.
To date, Israel has won seven Olympic medals since its first win in 1992, including a gold medal in windsurfing at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Israel has won over 100 gold medals in the Paralympic Games, and is ranked about 15th in the All-time Paralympic Games medal table. The 1968 Summer Paralympics were hosted by Israel.
Outdoor and vacation culture
Camping and hiking are an integral part of Israeli culture. National parks and nature reserves across Israel register some 6.5 million visits a year. Schools and youth groups are taken on annual hiking trips throughout the country, raising children with an affinity for hiking and other outdoor activities. Consequently, many young Israelis take several months to a year off to travel the world, primarily to hike and experience the outdoors in remote, mountainous areas, such as Nepal, India, New Zealand, Chile, and Peru.
Along the 190 kilometres (120 mi) of the Israeli Mediterranean coast, two thirds are accessible to bathing activities. Israel has 100 surf bathing beaches, guarded by professional lifeguards. Matkot is a popular paddle ball game similar to beach tennis, often referred to as the country's national sport.
All marriages between Jews in Israel are registered with the Chief Rabbinate, and the ceremony follows traditional Jewish practice. Civil ceremonies are not performed in Israel, although a growing number of secular couples circumvent this by traveling to nearby locations such as Cyprus. While some Jews in Israel have adopted Western styles of dress, traditional clothing and jewelry are sometimes brought out for pre-wedding rituals, including the Night of the Henna.
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