Israelis are known as sabras–after the yellowish/green fruit of a cactus bush that’s prickly on the outside but soft and sweet inside. So while you may encounter brusque Israelis on your travels through the Holy Land, it’s worth spending a little time trying to get to know the locals on a more friendly basis.
Most Israelis speak some English and are generally happy to spend time practising the latest expressions they’ve heard on American TV shows, so here are the top 10 places to find and meet locals in Jerusalem.
1. Public transportation–take the bus when you can, or hop onto the Light Rail, and it will be easy to strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers. Ask for directions and you’ll probably ende up getting invited home for dinner.
2. The Machane Yehuda market. This is where Jerusalem shops for anything food-related. As long as it’s not Thursday or Friday when the market is packed with shoppers doing their Shabbat shopping, stall owners will be delighted to tell you everything from whether they voted for Bibi Netanyahu in the last election to their predictions for price raises for their produce.
3. Friday evening at the Western Wall plaza is a great place to meet native Israelis. After evening prayers welcoming the Sabbath, the plaza behind the Western Wall is the place where people gather to socialize before heading home for Friday night dinner. There are always families at the kotel who are looking to extend Shabbat hospitality to guests.
4. Any synagogue on a Friday night or Saturday morning is a good place to meet the locals. In most congregations, someone is designated to look out for unfamiliar faces and make sure they’re invited.
5. Try to get to at least one of Jerusalem’s cultural institutions to meet locals. The Jerusalem Theater complex is full of art exhibit spaces where you could ask the Israeli standing next to you their opinion of the things you’re looking at.
6. Hang out at the cafe attached to the venerable Smadar Cinema in the German Colony. Lively, noisy and full of sophisticated Israelis who have probably visited whatever city you’re from.
7. The public spaces in and around the Cinematheque cater to the real film buffs who are used to meeting and greeting people from all over the world at the home of Israel’s prime art film house.
8. Cafes are good places to meet locals, and one of the most comfortable is the centrally-located Cafe Kadosh, where you can share your table with one of the regulars who come to work or meet their friends. Table-sharing is common.
9. Despite its reputation as one of the places that attracts multitudes of tour groups, the Haas Promenade or tayelet as it’s know to locals, is good ground for chatting up locals. The promenade is one of the few places used by Jews and Arabs together, and the early evening hours or weekends are the time to fall into step with the strolling families to start up a conversation.
10. Gilo Park is a broad expanse at the very southern edge of Jerusalem that’s part of the Jerusalem forest. With multiple playgrounds and BBQ areas,trails and benches, the park is another great place off the tourist track to meet average Israelis .