CouchSurfing in Israel

“We envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community.” – CouchSurfing International

One unique (and money saving) way to travel the world is through CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing involves a social networking site that connects travelers with hosts. I know it sounds sketchy, but we think it’s brilliant. Membership is free and members have an online profile sharing things about themselves and explaining the living space situation they have to offer. Members share references about the people they’ve hosted or stayed with and a verification process guarantees that a person’s listed address is indeed their home.

We decided to take up CouchSurfing again while traveling through Israel and had the pleasure of having three very unique experiences. Never wanting to paint too broad of a brushstroke for a culture, I share the following stories as individual examples and not THE representation of an entire people.

Our first host was a Californian man who moved to Israel because he was tired of people not understanding his religion, Judaism, back home. From the moment we arrived at his flat, he spent the next seven hours educating us about Jewish history. We could not get a word in edgewise; not even to ask a question. I kid you not! A believer in Zionism, the national movement for Jews to return to the homeland, our host went into great detail explaining the psyche of the Jewish people. This is what he shared/claimed:

– The Holocaust still plays a tremendous role in Jews’ identity and it will always be a part of who they are.
– Israeli Jews will do anything in the name of security because they fear being annihilated by their neighbors. Security issues trump any discussion within the government.
– Israeli Jews feel like they’re always under attack. Fear about neighbors attacking them is based on both real and imagined/unjustified reasons.
– Many homes and apartment complexes have bomb shelters because the people want to be prepared for an attack at any moment.
– Before we rented a car he told us to be careful because Jews drive like “they’ve been touched by God.”

The second host was a welcoming Jewish family who seemed to be very progressive. Their daughter, who was visiting for the weekend, had no qualms about breastfeeding in front of us without anything to cover up. The father expressed concerns that Israel was becoming Fascist. We cooked a meal together and they shared the first night of Hanukkuh with us. We listened as they sang songs (in Hebrew) and we were given the honor of lighting the first candle on the Menorah.

Our third host lived on a kibbutz, an Israeli commune that was traditionally based on agriculture. The young man had been born and raised on the kibbutz and served as its bar manager while he wrapped up his college degree. He explained that it was just too expensive to live anywhere else and the kibbutz provided a cheaper living option. This particular kibbutz overlooked the Sea of Galilee, had around 300 people, and was complete with a dining hall and row after row of small homes that all looked the same. Until the eighties, young children did not live with their parents. Instead, they were grouped together by age and lived with a supervisor in their own house. After school they would spend about four hours a day with their families before returning to the house to sleep. What a different life! We were shocked to discover that this educated man had absolutely no idea that Israel had built settlements within the West Bank (Palestinian territories). More about that later…

We highly recommend CouchSurfing because it allows you to spend time with people (be that a cup of coffee, a shared meal, a walk through the town, or a few nights at their abode) and learn about a culture from one of a kind perspectives.

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