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  • Writer's pictureWendy Yaniv - Founder / Group Leader

What is an Israeli?

That sounds like a silly question, right? However, like most things in that part of the world, it's complicated! And remember, we are talking about a country about the size of New Jersey with a population of just over 9 million.

Let's start with the fact that Israelis come in every language, color, and religion. You'll see beautiful religious garb that belongs in National Geographic photos alongside some of the most beautiful, scantily clad, tanned bodies! How does it all work together? Some times better than others but, in general is good! Regardless of what the news wants us to believe (does anyone REALLY believe the news anymore?), most people just want to be able to make a living and enjoy family and friends!

Israelis are a beautiful mosaic!

Israel is not a melting pot society, but rather a beautiful and complex tapestry made up of different population groups coexisting in the framework of a single state (country).

While most countries in the world aim to integrate various communities into a "mainstream" society, there is no such thing in Israel. Israelis opt for separation and a segregated lifestyle to maintain their cultural, religious, ideological, and/or ethnic identity.

Let's start with the separated school systems for Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews. Each religion chooses to maintain its own school system which includes the teaching of the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Koran. Some schools are more religious than others, depending on the community they serve. Correct!!! Separation of "Church and State" does not exist in Israel. There are a few school systems, privately run through donations, that bring in Arabs and Jews to learn together (yes, I love this!)

To make it even more complex, within each "community," there are sub-groups with different cultures, languages, foods, and customs.

Jews: (Modern Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Secular) Nearly half of all Israeli Jews are descended from Jews who made immigrated from Europe and the Americas, while around the same number are descended from Jews who came from Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq, etc and Central Asia. Over two hundred thousand are or are descended from, Ethiopian and Indian Jews. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, only Jews can apply for citizenship.

Arabs: (Muslims, Druze, Bedouins, and Christians). Although defined collectively as Arab citizens of Israel, the Arab Israeli sector is extremely diverse.

  • Muslim Arabs, the largest group, constitute three-quarters of the Arab Israeli sector and most are Sunni Muslims. Nearly one-tenth of Israel's Muslim Arabs are Bedouins, formerly nomadic shepherds. These Israeli Arab Muslims have Israeli citizenship as a result that their families opted, after the War of Independence, to accept the establishment of the State of Israel and accept the offering of citizenship.

  • Christian Arabs form the second largest group in the Arab Israeli sector. Although many denominations are nominally represented, the majority of the Christian Arabs are affiliated with the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. Christian Arabs were citizens of Israel as a majority live in Nazareth, which was part of Israel.

  • The Druze, some 100,000 Arabic speakers living in 22 villages in northern Israel, are a separate cultural, social and religious community. Highly educated and integrated into the Israeli society. Druze have come from various surrounding Arab countries. The Druze are known to be very dedicated to the country in which they live. Those living in Israel serve in the army and are an integral part of the Israeli community.

  • The Circassians, comprising some 3,000 people, are Sunni Muslims, although they share neither the Arab origin nor the cultural background of the larger Islamic community. While maintaining a distinct ethnic identity, they participate in Israel's economic and national affairs without assimilating either into Jewish society or into the general Muslim community.

Black Hebrews: (Note: Black Hebrews are not Ethiopian Jews)

The Black Hebrews, have two centers: Chicago and Dimona. About 2,500 members, led by Ben Ami Carter, live in Israel — most of them in southern desert areas.

The Black Hebrews believe that they are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel.

The first Black Hebrews began arriving in Israel in 1969, entering the country on temporary visas that were periodically renewed. In the meantime, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared that the Black Hebrews were not Jews, and therefore the sect's members were not entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Nevertheless, the Black Hebrew population in Israel continued to grow due to their high birthrate and because many of them, some with criminal backgrounds, illegally entered Israel using various forms of subterfuge. Israel avoided deporting the Black Hebrew members who lived in the country illegally but also did not allow for citizenship or permanent residency. The Black Hebrews acquired legal status in an agreement reached with the Israel Ministry of the Interior in May 1990.

Bahai: While their world headquarters is based in Haifa, Israel, few Baha'is actually live there. The gold-domed Shrine of the Bab in Haifa was built in 1953 to contain the tomb of Siyyad Ali Muhammed – the Bab – a Muslim in Persia who proclaimed the coming of a "Promised One" in 1844. He was executed in 1850 in Iran. His disciples brought his remains to Haifa in 1909. The man the Bahais believe was the "Promised One" – Baha Allah – is buried near Akko where he died in 1892.

Ethiopian Christians: Ethiopian Christian pilgrims came to Jerusalem, as early as the fourth century. The Church has had a community in Jerusalem since the Middle Ages. Today the small community consists of a few dozen monks and nuns, and a growing lay community. Pilgrims continue to arrive, especially since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Ethiopia.

Recognized Communities:

Certain Christian denominations have the status of being a 'recognized' religious community. Currently, the "recognized" Christian communities are the Greek Orthodox, the (Melkite) Greek Catholic, the Latin, the Armenian Orthodox, the Syrian Catholic, the Chaldean Catholic, the Maronite, the Syrian Orthodox, the Armenian Catholic, and - since 1970 - the (Anglican) Evangelical Episcopal.

Who serves in the Israeli Army (IDF)?

The obligation to serve in the IDF applies only to Jews, Druze, and Circassians. Christians are not required to serve in the IDF. Nevertheless, some Christians do volunteer (as you can see in the photo below with Father Nadaf of Nazareth with soldiers next to him). In 2019, a Christian soldier was appointed to the rank of lieutenant colonel, making him the first soldier of his faith to achieve that rank.



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