How To: Travel Around Israel

Travelling around Israel can be a little tricky. Luckily, many of the street signs are in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, and English) so you can easily find your way around.

Car: You can easily rent a car with your driver’s license from your home country. If you have made Aliyah, you’ll eventually need to get an Israeli driver’s license. If you have been licensed for at least five years, you will not even need to take the driving exam. Pros for driving: Freedom and flexibility to go anywhere in Israel, it is faster than taking a bus, and probably cheaper than using a taxi. Cons: Finding parking in the big cities, steep gasoline prices, driving in Israel (To say driving on the roads in Israel is dangerous would be an understatement), and if you’re not familiar with the area you may accidentally wander into an Arab village.

Bus: Israel has a very well-developed public bus system in most parts of the country.. In the main cities, most of the waiting times are between 5-20 minutes until the next bus. Moovit is on the app store, and it is essential to have in order to plan your route and find your stop when using the buses. The only con to using this app is you may have to type your destination in Hebrew on occasion. If you are unable to do this, Google Maps is a great alternative. Pro tip: if you switch buses in Jerusalem within 90 minutes of first using your Rav Kav (bus pass), each following bus is free. Just be sure to swipe your Rav Kav each time you get on the bus for validation. I’m not sure if the 90 minute rule applies to anywhere else in Israel, but I know it does exist in Jerusalem.

Taxi: You can take a taxi in Israel, though it is very expensive. It’s also a bit of a gamble unless you know the driver is trustworthy. If you use a taxi, try to make sure there are other passengers in the car with you. If they realize you’re a tourist, very often they will try to overcharge you. Insist on having the meter running, even if they claim it’s broken. Have an agreed upon price before you start your journey. Pros: Almost the same flexibility and freedom as renting a car, you don’t need to worry about parking, and you’ll have someone to talk to during a long journey. Cons: They will try to swindle you, and it can be a bit of a safety risk.

Tremp: Otherwise known as hitchhiking is something a lot of Israelis engage in. There are Facebook groups dedicated to tremping from city to city. This is a very dangerous method of travelling in Israel, and not recommended for people new to the land and the culture. Unfortunately some areas of Israel are not very developed, and this means there isn’t public transportation available. So those who don’t have a car have to either carpool or tremp to get where they need to go.

Light Rail: The method of using the light rail system in Israel is very similar to using Israeli buses. The 90 minute Rav Kav rule also applies here. Pros: Travel a lot faster, can also use Moovit. Cons: Sometimes crowded, especially Thursday evenings.

Train: You’ll need to buy a ticket from the train station. This can either be loaded onto your Rav Kav, or printed as a paper ticket. Pros: Don’t have to drive, faster during traffic time. Cons: Not as many different places you can travel to using this method of transportation.

Airplane: There are three airports in Israel that are available for use: Ben Gurion near Tel Aviv, Ramon near Eilat, and the Haifa airport. Ben Gurion is the main international airport, and any flights that need to be redirected are sent to the Ramon airport. Getting to Eilat can be a four hour drive each way from Jerusalem, so while expensive it may be worthwhile to get a ticket from Tel Aviv and fly into Ramon if you’re planning a day trip.

Your Story: Jason Marx

I grew up on the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. After finishing school I was hungry for adventure, I wanted to learn more about Judaism as well as live on my own. I packed a bag at 19 and went on a gap year program in Israel, fully expecting to come back to Cape Town to start uni at the end of my gap year. 

I had a really life-changing first year in Israel. I focused on inner growth as well as learning in yeshiva because this was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to do so. While in yeshiva I begin to travel the country visiting as many places as I could, especially for Shabbas. I began to meet the most amazing people living here, with fascinating and inspiring stories. The more I explored the land, the more I grew to love it and then it was all over- in a flash my amazing year in Israel was coming to an end.   

I felt that I’d gain so much in that year yet I had so much more I wanted to experience. The thought of college lingered over me like a black cloud, I wasn’t really even sure what I wanted to study. I realized that Israel could be my home, but I couldn’t even read Hebrew from a Siddur let alone speak it. One of the requirements for making Aliyah at my age was serving in the army- how was I supposed to do the army with no basic Hebrew?

After a lot of research, I found out that you have a year before the army calls you up. So I decided to make officially make aliyah while still living in Israel, a process that took about 3 months. I started looking at ulpans (places that teach you Hebrew) and I realized that the most effective way to learn a new language is to be immersed in it. Ulpan is great for learning grammar, but if you don’t practice it then you’ll never be able to speak it. So I decided to make a radical change and moved to an all Hebrew speaking Yeshiva. It was the first time I was living with Israelis, and in the beginning it was very tough and lonely. After about 8 months, my constant exposure to Hebrew had paid off. I’d learned to speak Hebrew fluently enough that I could understand my classes in Yeshiva as well as participate. 

All of that happened 7 years ago. I have just finished a 3-year degree. There are many things that happened in the middle that are beyond the scope of this article, but to make a long story short I can say that my aliyah was at times very difficult and lonely. But every year I integrate more into society, I make fewer mistakes both with the language and the bureaucracy, I connect more with myself, and most importantly I make deeper connections with our land and the people around me. With each new year here I strive to build and live a purpose-filled life. 

One of the most important things to having a successful Aliyah journey is to find a good community of people that you connect with. For me, after asking around about different areas where religious young professionals are, I found out about Givat Shmuel. It’s the largest student community in Israel with over 1500 students. Living here and making close friends all while studying has really made it so much easier and enjoyable living in Israel.   

I’m at an exciting new stage in my life where I’m actually about to finish university and embark on the next chapter in my story. If you are considering making a life change and taking the plunge and actually making aliyah I would implore you to come knowing there will be bad days but know that if you are willing to make this work it is no dream!     

If I had to give you a few tips from my personal experience I would encourage you to:

-Be open to trying new experiences and new things. Having the mindset that Israel’s culture should be like the county you are from will only disappoint you.

-Try and be positive and easy going, in Hebrew we say zorem…or go with the flow.

-Learn about how to budget and manage your finances. 

-Do ulpan, but know it’s not enough to learn the language. You need to find a way to immerse yourself in it so that you can practice using conversational Hebrew.

-This last point is one that’s quite literally changed my life, it’s helped me to land the position in the army that I wanted, a full scholarship to a university, a large group of friends and many other things… it’s a general tip not connected to aliyah but one that has positive consequences in any area of your life. Learn to be charismatic, in other words, learn how to connect to many different types of people. If you can do this, then any problem you face in Israel you will be able to use your people skills to find the information and help that you need. A good place to start is by checking out “Charisma on Command” on YouTube.

Aliyah was just the first step but the rest of the journey is still ahead. The key is to try to embrace the ups and ride the lows, because at the end of the day all we can do is live and try.