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Hora dance, 1948

The culture of Israel developed long before the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 and combines the heritage of secular and religious lives. Much of the diversity in Israel's culture comes from the diversity of its population. Originating from around the world, immigrants arrived with diverse cultural backgrounds and contributed to the development of Israeli culture, which follows cultural trends and changes across the globe. Israeli culture also reflects Jewish history in the diaspora, especially the ideology of the Zionist movement beginning in the late nineteenth century.

Zionism is partly based on religious tradition. It links the Jewish people to the Land of Israel where the concept of Jewish nationhood first evolved between 1200 BCE and 70 CE (end of the Second Temple era). However, modern Zionism evolved as mainly secular.[1] It mostly began as a response to the widespread antisemitism toward European Judaism. It constituted a branch of the broader phenomenon of modern nationalism. Though Zionist groups were first competing with other Jewish political movements, Zionism became an equivalent to political Judaism during and after the Holocaust.

Cultivation of Hebrew language

As new immigrants arrived, Hebrew language instruction was of utmost importance. 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.[2]

Pre-state culture in the Jewish Yishuv

Habimah theater

The development of Israeli culture was very much influenced by aliyah or immigration waves. The Jewish pioneers who came to Palestine hailed from many countries and brought with them the cultures of their lands. Russian culture had an undeniable impact on the arts in Israel. Habima Theatre brought its Russian and Yiddish roots to the country.[3] Local Arab culture had an influence on dance, language and mannerisms. British culture was introduced during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. German culture left its mark on the architecture of Israel, with many buildings in Tel Aviv and other cities inspired by the Bauhaus movement.

After the establishment of the State

Sallah Shabati by Ephraim Kishon
Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Especially celebrated are works from the 1950s and the 1960s when art in modern Hebrew was created, in contrast to the poetry written previously, like that of Nathan Alterman, Avraham Shlonsky, and Leah Goldberg, or the literary style of one of the greatest Hebrew authors, S. Y. Agnon. The central figures of the modern poetry of the first decades were Yehuda Amichai, Nathan Zach and David Avidan. In the field of literature, most notable were Moshe Shamir and Aharon Megged along with Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev, and many more.

After the founding of the state in 1948, immigrants rushed to Israel from many different countries, but their influence on the Israeli culture happened only gradually and relatively. In the 1950s, the prominent effects on Israel were the cultures of England, France, and the United States. Since the early 1960s and more prominently in the 1970s, additional dominant effects began to appear. In theater, the Russian dominancy began to weaken gradually and other effects began to permeate such as the European theater of Bertolt Brecht. In music, in spite of the continuance of the French effect they began to weaken. Instead, a wide variety of effects, such as British popular music (and in particular The Beatles), Greek music, and a more updated Russian culture influenced Israeli culture.

The effect of the culture of the immigrants from the Arab states on Israeli culture was considerable, but until the end of the 1970s, it was generally served by means of "middlemen". For example, prominent representatives of the Mizrahi culture on the stages was "HaGashash HaHiver" while the movies which dealt with the world of the Mizrahi Jews ("Bourekas films") were directed and acted almost always by non-Mizrahi Jews, including Ephraim Kishon, Boaz Davidson, and Menahem Golan and Gila Almagor, Yehuda Barkan, Chaim Topol, and Shaike Ophir.

In some cases, like that of Zohar Argov, the creations won recognition in retrospect. In other cases, the late recognition was followed with mockery, as in the movies Ze'ev Revach, which gained Israeli cult status but still are considered poor in the means of content and cinematography. Since the beginning of the mid 1980s, the Israeli cultural arena became more open and varied. In the field of music, particularly popular music, the main influences were from Britain, Europe, and South America; in addition to those, Turkish, Greek, and Arab music gradually became more important. Since the inauguration of Israeli commercial television, high-quality local drama developed, adding another dimension to Israel Television, which had previously relied on imported series from England and the United States.

Modern Israeli culture

Batsheva Dance Company of Tel Aviv, Israel, was co-founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild in 1964.

Israeli culture is heterogeneous and dynamic. With a diverse population of immigrants from five continents and more than 100 countries, and significant subcultures like the Palestinians, the Russians, and the Orthodox, each with its own newspapers and cultural networks, Israeli culture is extremely varied.

Tel Aviv is considered the hub of secular culture, although many leading cultural institutions are located in Jerusalem. The Israeli government offers less financial support to the arts than many Western countries.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra plays at venues throughout the country and abroad. The Israel Broadcasting Authority has a symphony orchestra that performs in Israel and around the world, and almost every city has its own orchestras, many of the musicians hailing from the former Soviet Union.

Israeli dance companies, among them the Batsheva and Bat Dor, are highly acclaimed in the dance world.

Theater is also an important facet of the culture of Israel. The national theater, Habima was established in 1917. Other theater companies include the Cameri Theater, Beit Lessin Theater, Gesher Theater (which performs in Hebrew and Russian), Haifa Theater and Beersheba Theater.

Safed, Jaffa and Ein Hod are home to artist colonies. Major art museums operate in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Jerusalem, as well as in many towns and kibbutzim. 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 heterogeneous nature of culture in Israel is also manifested in Israeli cuisine, a diverse combination of local ingredients and dishes and immigrant dishes from around the world. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, 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[4] and many foods traditionally eaten in the Middle East.[5][6]

President Shimon Peres discusses Israeli culture

Melting pot approach

The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben Gurion, led a trend to blend the many immigrants who arrived at the first years of the state from Europe, North Africa, and Asia into one melting pot that will not differentiate between the older residents of the country and the new immigrants. The original purpose was to unite the immigrants with the veteran Israelis for the creation of a common Israeli culture in order to build a new nation in the new country.

The two central tools that were destined for this effect were the Israel Defense Forces and the education system.

In a gradual process the Israeli society became more pluralistic and the melting pot derided with the years.

Some critics 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 the people to express the differences and the exclusiveness of every stream and sector.

Others, mainly Mizrahi Jews and Holocaust survivors from Europe, criticized the early melting pot process. According to them, they were forced to give up or conceal their original heritage and culture, which they brought from their homelands, and to adopt a new "Sabra" culture. This has been articulated by the Anglo-Jewish writer Emanuel Litvinoff who lamented the denigration of the Yiddish language and objected to a Zionist 'chauvinism.'

Poetry and literature

Painting and sculpture

The Doron Cinema Center in Tel Aviv.

The earliest Israeli art movement was the Bezalel school of the Ottoman and early Mandate period in which artists portrayed both Biblical and Zionist subjects in a style influenced by the European jugendstil (or art nouveau) movement, symbolism, and traditional Persian and Syrian artistry.

Horse of the Homeland, Menashe Kadishman

Israel has a lively gallery scene with galleries ranging form Tel Aviv's contemporary Raw Art Gallery to Jerusalem's more representational Mayanot Gallery.


Main article: List of museums in Israel

With over 200 museums, Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world, with millions of visitors annually.[7] Museums in Israel include:


Main article: Music of Israel

Yisrael Gurion, Israeli TV actor and singer

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 and more modern cultural importation: Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop (especially by Yemenite singers), and Israeli hip hop or heavy metal.

Israel is also home to several world-class classical music ensembles such as the Israel Philharmonic and the New Israeli Opera.

Also popular are various forms of electronic music, including trance, hard-trance, and goa-trance. Notable artists from Israel popular in this field are limited but include the psychedelic trance duo Infected Mushroom.


Traditional folk dances of Israel is the Hora, originally an Eastern European circle dance, Temani (dance) a line dance evolved that are based on stationary hopping and posturing. Israeli folk dancing today is choreographed for recreational and performance dance groups.

Modern dance in Israel is a flourishing field, and several Israeli choreographers (such as Ohad Naharin, Rami Beer, Barak Marshall, and so on) are considered to be among the most versatile and original international creators working today. Famous Israeli companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.[8]

People come from all over Israel and many other nations for the annual dance festival in Karmiel, usually 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 the Galilee.[9][10] 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.[11] 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.[12][13]

Known companies and choreographers from all over the world come to Israel to perform and give artist classes. In July 2010, Mikhail Baryshnikov came to perform in Israel[14]



Main article: Cinema of Israel

Hiking and vacation culture

Kibbutz Almog guesthouse

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.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky. The Past, the Present and the Future of the Jewish nation
  2. ^ Culture in Israel
  3. ^ On Israeli culture
  4. ^ A region's tastes commingle
  5. ^ Roden, The Book of Jewish Food, pp 202-207
  6. ^ Gur,The Book of New Israeli Food
  7. ^ "Science & Technology". Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2007-04-16. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  8. ^ Israeli Dance
  9. ^ "Galilee - Culture". Galilee Development Authority. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
  10. ^ "Karmiel Dance Festival". ACTCOM-Active Communication Ltd. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
  11. ^ "Karmiel Dance Festival". Karmiel Dance Festival. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
  12. ^ "In Israel, Still Dancing After All These Years". Forward Association, inc. 2004-04-16. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  13. ^ "Gurit Kadman". Retrieved 2007-08-06.
  14. ^ Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna to Perform in Israel
  15. ^ Letter from Israel: Culture and Leisure