Gift giving is a pretty universal concept, but Israelis do things a little differently. For expats, knowing when and how to give gifts to friends and loved ones is important. It won’t change the world, but it will help you assimilate.
Giving is an essential part of the Jewish culture and faith. Beyond charitable giving, Israelis, like in many other cultures, give gifts to friends and loved ones on holidays, in celebration of important milestones (e.g. weddings and births) and to show their appreciation for the ones they love.
For expats, the rules for gift giving in Israel aren’t entirely alien, but there are a few things that are out of the ordinary.
In Israel, it’s usually customary to include the receipt with the gift. Registries are pretty uncommon, so a receipt gives the recipient the option to choose a different gift if they wish.
Gifts should also be given at the appropriate time and place. In some parts of the world, it’s common for friends or loved ones to throw an expecting mother a baby shower before the baby is born. Some mothers throw their own baby shower. This is when most people will give gifts for the new baby.
In Israel, it’s more customary to give gifts to new parents after the baby is born. Many Israelis won’t even bring baby furniture into the home until after he or she has been safely delivered.
In many cultures, it’s common and expected to send thank-you notes for gifts. This is one custom that Israelis don’t follow. The only real rule here is that you must remove the price tag.
As far as the actual gift is concerned, most Israelis prefer cash over material items, especially for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. With that said, traditional wedding gifts and religious items given on religious holidays are also acceptable.
But for weddings, a cash gift is generally the best option. In fact, many event halls have lock boxes and envelopes where guests can just deposit checks. Sometimes, the cash will be used to pay for the wedding. This is also a fairly common custom in the U.S.
When figuring out how much to give, it’s best to give it in multiples of 18, which is the numeric value of “Chai.”
If invited over for a meal, you should bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be something extravagant. A bottle of wine, a box of nice chocolates or a bouquet of flowers will work perfectly. However, if you’re invited over for a holiday dinner, bring a bigger gift. Plants, gift baskets and platters are acceptable gifts. It’s also common to give gifts to parents and in-laws for Rosh Hashanah.
When friends and loved ones pass away, gifts are generally not given. However, Israelis may gift Seudat Hawra’ah to the family of the deceased, which is the first meal after the burial. Eggs or bagels are normally given, as these are symbols of the continuity of life.
Friends and members of the community may bring gifts of comfort, support and food during Shiva, the first period of mourning.
Some of these rules aren’t necessarily set in stone and some may differ from one area of Israel to the next. Observing how others give and receive gifts can be helpful if you’re unsure of what to do.