Whole bunch of questions about travel to Israel

In order to preserve the notion (at least in my family’s eyes) that I am completely insane (really, it’s just something I want to do), I’m planning a year off after I graduate high school this June (pre-emptive response to the nearly certain reaction: Yes, I am going to go to college, just not right away.)

One of the things I want to do is go to Israel. I was supposed to go two years ago, but didn’t (due to the violence). First question: Am I completely insane? How safe/unsafe would it be for me (american female) to be there? Anyone who’s gone recently is begged to contribute.

I’ve found some websites (such as <url=http://www.geocities.com/chosit/faq.html>this</url>) about how you can volunteer on a kibbutz for a period of time (it seems to be upwards of 2 months, which is fine with me.) Again, anyone who’s done this, please talk to me. Again, how safe is it? Comfortable but spartan living conditions, or worse? Would people think I’m crazy for being an AMerican or something?

Also - how much Hebrew would it be recommended that I know? I discovered just yesterday that I can, in fact, drudge up a few memories of letters and vowels and such (last time I read Hebrew was my bat mitzvah 4 years ago). Can anyone recommend a way to go about learning the language on my own? If I were to head to a kibbutz this summer, would I be expected to be fluent? Basic conversation? Is English pretty well-spread throughout Israel?

Thanks to anyone who can answer any of these!

My advice would be to take some conservative dresses. Some of the sites you might want to see are unofficially patrolled by old people who enjoy muttering at “slutty” Americans who would dare to wear shorts or tank tops! Just pack something that most busybody older relative you have would approve of.

  1. Well, as an Israeli I’m hardly objective, but it’s a lot safer here than the U.S. media portrays it. Just don’t carry anything embarassing in your handbag, because there are security guards everywhere.

  2. I’ve lived on a kibbutz, and all the volunteers I’ve met seemed to have the time of their lives. Living quarters tend to be little one-bedroom bungaloes, sometimes with private bathrooms (otherwise, one per 3-4 rooms), with 2 volunteers a room - a lot like college. Don’t go if you don’t like physical labor, casual sex and lots of booze.

  3. Don’t try to learn Hebrew - unlike the French, we really don’t expect anyone else to speak our language. English as a second language education in Israel is second only to Holland, so most Israelis under, say, 40 are perfectly fluent, and are eager to show off. It’s very easy to get by with spoken English and a bit of patience.

  4. As for clothing, Israel is the bare-midriff tank-top capital of the world (for women - don’t panic). Do what you’d do in Rome - dress lightly and carry a shawl in your backpack. Note, though, that it can get slightly cold in winter, so bring a jacket if you’re coming after October.

My experiences from being on a Kibbutz about ten years ago…

  1. Almost all the volunteers were American (if they weren’t Russian). You’re not crazy.

  2. What Alessan said.

  3. If you want to work on a Kibbutz, plan to go for a decent length of time. I found that I didn’t get much of a chance to form relationships with the actual kibbutzniks till I’d been there around 3 months or so … their philosophy was that volunteers were coming in and leaving all the time, so why bother to get to know them unless they’re going to stick around? (Ironically, I left soon after that…)

Good luck.

“The idyllic Zionist dream is in tatters. No one wants to go to Israel. On the contrary, people want to leave.”