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.
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.
The music of Israel is a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish music traditions that have come together over the course of a century to create a distinctive musical culture. For more than 100 years, musicians have sought original stylistic elements that would define the emerging national spirit. In addition to creating an Israeli style and sound, Israel’s musicians have made significant contributions to classical, jazz, pop rock and other international music genres. Since the 1970s, there has been a flowering of musical diversity, with Israeli rock, folk and jazz musicians creating and performing extensively, both locally and abroad. Many of the world’s top classical musicians are Israelis or Israeli expatriates. The works of Israeli classical composers have been performed by leading orchestras worldwide.
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.
Israeli cuisine comprises local dishes by people native to Israel and dishes brought to Israel by Jews from the Diaspora. Since before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli Jewish fusion cuisine has developed.
Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of Jewish cuisine and regional Arab cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ashkenazi styles of cooking. It incorporates many foods traditionally eaten in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, and foods such as falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous, and za’atar are now widely popular in Israel.
Other influences on cuisine are the availability of foods common to the Mediterranean region, especially certain kinds of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish; the distinctive traditional dishes prepared at holiday times; the tradition of keeping kosher; and food customs specific to Shabbat and different Jewish holidays, such as challah, jachnun, malawach, gefilte fish, cholent (hamin) and sufganiyot.
While Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel, over 83 languages are spoken in the country.
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.
Israel has a varied literary scene. Many of its writers have come to the country from abroad, including Zbigniew Herbert from Poland, Vasko Popa from Yugoslavia, and Robert Friend from the United States. The Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, a German who immigrated to Israel in 1913, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. The poet Arnon Levy, who was born in Jerusalem, has also gained international recognition, as has Yehuda Amichai, whose verses have been translated into a variety of languages. Amos Oz is perhaps the best-known Israeli writer internationally. Both his novels and his nonfiction have been translated into a number of languages.
Israel’s architecture is diverse, spanning many centuries and styles. There is a good deal of Islamic architecture, most of which dates from 1250 to 1517. Today most Israelis live in modern high-rise apartments, which are overseen by committees elected by the inhabitants of the building. Some Jewish settlers in Palestinian territory, and many Palestinians themselves, live in shacks, unfinished houses, or other modest dwellings.
Sports in Israel are an important part of the national culture. Sports in Israel are pursued both competitively and for leisure. Israelis engage in a wide range of athletic activities, with association football being the most popular sport. Israel has won seven medals in the Olympic Games, in judo, canoeing and windsurfing, and an Israeli grandmaster is the holder of the 2009 Chess World Cup. Israel also has a tradition of tennis. Another major achievement by an Israeli athlete was in pole vaulting.
Noted here are the more secular Israeli holidays, but virtually all celebrations and commemorative occasions have some religious significance. The dates of these holidays vary from year to year, because the Jewish calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian: Holocaust Memorial Day, April/May; Memorial Day, April/May; Independence Day, April/May; Jerusalem Day, May/June; National Day (Palestinian), November.