Spending Money in Israel
While this is a free trip, you’ll still want to bring some money! Two meals a day are included, so you should have money for lunch. You may occasionally want to buy bottled water (although tap water is safe), snacks, drinks, souvenirs, etc. We recommend that you bring $200-$300.
Accessing the Local Currency
Israel uses the shekel as its currency, and each shekel is worth about 25-30 American cents. We do not recommend that you bring a lot of cash since there will be few chances to exchange your money at a reasonable rate along the trip. We do recommend that you bring an ATM or credit card. They work well with Israeli ATMs and often provide a better exchange rate. Note that ATM cards with a Visa or Mastercard always work in Israel. If you plan to use your card, please check with your bank before traveling. If you do choose to bringing dollars to Israel, you will receive time to exchange your dollars to shekels at the airport.
Tipping the Guide and Driver
In planning your budget for spending money in Israel, we request that you tip your Israeli tour guide and bus driver. We suggest that you set aside $70 for your tip in a separate envelope. Your guide makes their living off of trips like yours, spending the majority of the time on the road working hard in the field. While you are not required to do so, it is expected that you do so in Israel and is considered an integral part of these professionals salary and signifies the type of service and professionalism that you should expect and will receive from your guide and driver.
Rules of the Program
- Participate in all tours and activities on time, understanding that a 10-day trip, with much to see, must function on a tight schedule.
- Treat the other participants on the URJ Kesher trip with dignity and respect. Please respect the rights of personal privacy of each individual. Hotel rooms are the private domains of the occupants of those rooms.
- Abide by the safety and security guidelines provided by the Union for Reform Judaism Kesher staff and your bus leaders. Remember, you are in an environment where you need to be careful and use good judgment. There will be places where you will be advised not to go for your safety.
- Free time will only be permitted at structured, supervised times and locations. Otherwise, participants are expected to remain with the group. Participants will not be allowed to separate from the group during scheduled activities or leave the hotel after the group returns in the evening.
- Recognize that while Israel has a legal drinking age of 18, there is a long tradition in Israel of responsible use of alcohol. Because this is a program within an educational framework, you may only drink alcohol at specific times and places that will be designated by your URJ Kesher staff. If you choose to drink you will need to do so in moderation and use good judgment. Participants are not to bring alcoholic drinks back to their rooms in hotels and other accommodations. Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.
- Many participants choose to buy a hukah in Israel. Smoking the hukah in any indoor establishment or any public place is not allowed! If staff finds you doing this, your hukah will be confiscated and you will be monetarily responsible for any damage to the hotel that might be found.
- Understand that the possession and use of controlled substances (drugs including marijuana and hash) and the abuse of over the counter and prescription medication, is a violation of the laws of Israel and will lead to your expulsion from the group and possible deportation from Israel. Remember, Israel is a different country and culture with no tolerance for violations of the law.
- Do not bring with you to Israel any item that is a weapon or could be construed as a weapon (for security reasons). This includes knives of any kind. Please know that behavior that threatens violence or is destructive to people or property will lead to immediate dismissal from the program.
- Recognize that like all Union for Reform Judaism and Kesher sponsored events, there is no smoking in bedrooms, during program time, or in public buildings of assembly.
As a reminder, you previously signed the Birthright Israel participant waiver and adhering to these requirements in mandatory.
If you plan to bring small electrical appliances to Israel, keep in mind that Israel uses a 220 volt electrical current and the outlet holes are different than in North America. In order to avoid “frying” any electrical items, come prepared with appropriate voltage adapters. The rule of thumb is that anything with a motor (like a hair dryer) requires a converter, while objects without (cell phones, cameras, etc.) just need an adapter.
Free Time & Rest
The URJ Kesher program is jam packed with touring, and you will find that 10 days is a very short time to be in Israel. There will certainly be some down time on the trip, and we suggest that you use that time to relax and re-energize. If you would like to visit with friends or family members while you are in Israel, your best option is to extend your ticket and meet up after the program. If you can only meet during the program, the best time for visiting with family is during the “free evening” of the trip — which typically takes place in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Saturday afternoon is also a great day for friends and family to come visit you at the hotel. Just keep in mind that apart from the one free night trip, Birthright Israel rules do not allow for leaving the group under any circumstances.
Kashrut & Special Dietary Needs
All group meals, including meals on the plane, are kosher as certified under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. There is usually one meal per day that you will be purchasing on your own (typically a light lunch), and you are perfectly free to eat whatever you wish. People with special dietary situations (e.g., lactose intolerance, vegetarian, etc.) should contact us in advance to make proper arrangements for the flight and during the program itself.
Medication & Contact Lenses
If you are taking medication, we recommend that you bring enough medication to last for the entire time that you expect to be in Israel. We also recommend that you pack your medication as part of your carry-on luggage in case your main luggage is delayed. The air is very dry in Israel, and particularly dusty/sandy in the desert. If you wear contact lenses, make sure to bring an extra pair of glasses for comfort. If you have a notable medical condition, please inform us in advance; no one likes surprises, and just remember that this is all for your safety (note: all medical records will be kept strictly confidential).
We highly recommend leaving your expensive electronics at home. Your personal property is exclusively your responsibility at all times. Although theft is not common in Israel, it does happen, and if you do bring electronics, be very careful about keeping track of them. Most importantly, this program is an experience more than a tour. Unplugging your communication technology in Israel is the best possible way to connect to the actual experience.
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, and it is a perfect time to reflect on the experiences that you have had so far and to rest and re-charge for the experiences ahead. During the trip, Shabbat (and any other Jewish holidays that fall within the trip) will be observed in a way that reflects most Reform/Progressive Jewish communities. T’filot (services) may include musical instruments, and participants are free to use electricity in their own rooms. When in public, we are respectful of the Shabbat observance of other Jews. Please know that the trip’s schedule may include driving on the bus towards the end of Shabbat, which is consistent with Reform Jewish practice.
No special vaccinations are required in necessary in Israel. However we recommend that you come to Israel with an up to date tetanus shot.
Israeli tap water is perfectly safe to drink. If you prefer bottled water, it is widely available and inexpensive. We recommend buying a bottle of water when you arrive and refilling it with tap water for the rest of the program, or just buying bottle of tap water throughout the trip. The expectation is that you will always have at least two liters of water on hand.
The accommodations in Israel are a mix of hotels and kibbutz guest houses. It’s three people per room and single-gender rooming only. We have found that the group forms a stronger bond when room assignments are given out at the beginning of the trip. After the first few days, we allow you to choose your own roommates. Of course, everyone gets their own beds, and there are bathrooms with showers in each room.
We will let you know exactly where we are staying about a month prior to the program as part of the trip itinerary.