What Are the Gift-Giving Customs in Israel?

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Wrapped gifts

Several years ago Parents Magazine contacted me about a story it was doing on parenting around the world. The inquiry led to What Defines Israeli Parenting, a raucous discussion, and a second highly charged post about Israeli “rudeness.”

Recently, a gift website asked me to help out for a series on gift-giving customs in various countries. I’d love your input on this. I once overheard an Israeli saying that Americans were “stingy” when it comes to gifts. I do find that Israelis give gifts more often and put a lot of thought into their choice and presentation.



Here are the categories, but irrelevant categories can be omitted. I appreciate the sender including Chanukah, even though she forgot to mention Passover and Rosh Hashanah. General comments about gifts and Israeli culture are welcome.

  1. Good Gift Wrap Colors:
  2. Bad Gift Wrap Colors:
  3. How to Present a Gift:
  4. Unique Etiquette:
  5. Good Gifts:
  6. Business Gift Giving Standards:
  7. Historical Gift Giving:
  8. Taboo Gifts:
  9. Gift Giving Occasions and what to give (what’s traditional):* Hostess gifts* Housewarming* Birthday* Anniversary* Bar Mitzvah

    * Hannukah

    * Funerals

    * Wedding

    * Baby Shower

Related: What Hostess Gift Do You Enjoy?

Easy and Inspiring Chanukah Crafts

Fun and Frugal Chanukah Party Games

 

image: FutUndBeidl

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Comments

  1. For weddings, silver Judaica items, such as a kiddush cup, candlesticks or a chanukiyah, seem to be popular gifts in Israel.

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    • Thanks Sherri. Most Israelis seem to expect cash for weddings, I thought.
      Hannah Katsman recently posted..Gift-Giving Customs in IsraelMy Profile

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

      • Our wedding gifts were pretty evenly split between cash and other stuff – we received a lot of kitchen items (particularly serving dishes that we have yet to open, three years later) and several different books on marriage, in addition to the typical Judaica stuff.

        For housewarming I’ve seen food, flowers, and dishes (for serving or for a centerpiece). Also the occasional picture or painting.

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        • Hi Devorah, Is it too late to say Mazal tov??? How many of the non-cash gifts were from Israelis?
          Hannah Katsman recently posted..Gift-Giving Customs in IsraelMy Profile

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          • Considering the fact that we have a 2-year-old child, I think perhaps Mazal tov is slightly overdue. :) We actually received a wedding present after already starting to receive baby gifts. Go figure.

            I would say that most of the Israelis gave cash and a lot of the Anglos who made aliyah 20+ years ago gave kitchen stuff. There definitely was a mix, though. We got some ‘holiday-themed’ items from Israelis like a honey bowl for Rosh Hashanah, a matza cover for Pesach, etc. The Israelis were the ones who gave the books on marriage as well.

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      • I always heard Ashkenazim are stingy with gifts and sephardim/chilonim are generous with cash, at least in terms of wedding gifts (although when we attended smachot bat for coworkers of my husband’s hefty checks were expected as well.

        I think another gift giving aspect to cover is the employer/employee gift giving relationship, from the intimate one of employer/metapelet up to working for a large company. In all cases, gifts are expected at Pesach and RH (not chanuka, actually).

        There’s also children’s birthday gifts and the the whole “craft kit” industry that tries to capitalize on it, but then the child often ends up getting a whole bunch of the same or similar kits.

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  2. At Sephardi weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, cash is expected. When we heard that, we were flabbergasted (is that word still used?) to hear that it’s because the PARENTS use it to pay for the event!! So, we make a point of giving an item, rather than cash, so it goes to the couple (or boy).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    • I have mixed feelings about this. But, it’s important to keep something in mind. Unless the parents are insisting on a much fancier wedding than the child(ren) want(s), a cash gift that gets used to pay for the wedding is giving the young person something – his or her wedding celebration.

      This, by the way, is fairly common in the US.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • I also disagree with deliberately giving gifts so they don’t go to the parent– parents here are very generous with their kids in other ways, such as by paying down payments on mortgages, so I think we’re better off just respecting the system!
      Maya recently posted..Happy Purim!My Profile

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  3. Debbie, I used to feel like you , until I got to the stage of making my own children’s weddings. As Ashkenazim we don’t use the money our children receive to pay for the wedding- it goes straight to them. But I can understad the sefardi custom and it’s not so terrible if 1. the kids insist on an expensive wedding and 2. they are aware of the custom as all sefardi kids are, and don’t expect to receive the money.

    We recently married off our youngest child and the gifts were 50/5 cash/presents.
    Several friends of ours asked them what they wanted and clubbed together to buy something of greater value i.e. a dinner set / food processor.
    Amongst the Jewish type presents, apart frm Seder dishes and Challah cloths were a Shabbat urn, Shabbat lamp.
    If in doubt remember that it’s always useful to receive bed linen.

    Many kitchen items from well known Israeli chain stores came with an exchange voucher and they did in fact exchange many of the items.
    Ann Goldberg recently posted..WRITING UNDER FIRE – ISRAEL v GAZAMy Profile

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  4. There seems to be a custom to give gifts to your parents or in laws for Rosh Hashannah and Pesach.

    In fact, if we are writing for immigrants, it is important to know that these are gift giving times.

    A kitchen things is acceptable as well as plants.

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  5. I was surprised that people would give kitchen items (plus cutlery sets and sets of dishes, etc) without knowing what the taste of the couple was–registries don’t seem to be popular in Israel. Faced with that kind of quandary, I’d give cash.

    We’ve had very few wedding invites, though, in our limited time here. Going to start having a lot of bar/bat mitzvahs though.
    Kate recently posted..Temper, temperMy Profile

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    • All good comments so far, just have some additions:

      -The closeness of the recipient is a big indicator of the size
      gift to be given, whether it is money or a ‘real’ gift that won’t be used
      to pay the electric bill. If the recipient is your son’s best friend from the army,
      that is different from a member of your teaching staff who you barely know
      but the whole staff is going so……

      -If the event is for someone close (family or good friend), I usually like to ask
      what the person/s want or need. This goes for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings,
      housewarmings etc.

      -This sounds crass but isn’t–if there is no way to know someone’s taste but I still
      want to give something and not just money, I sometimes get a Gift Card –for
      housewares and bedding, or for books, or for camping stuff etc., so the recipients
      can choose what they want within a range of things.

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    • Oh yes, I remember the “intersting” pot sets we got from Israeli friend’s of my husband’s. One friend just gave a small pot.

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    • I guess then that Maya’s hint of including a return receipt is relevant here.
      Hannah Katsman recently posted..Interview with Yael Levy, Author of Brooklyn LoveMy Profile

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  6. My husband is a shul Rav, once he had a family (who gets tzedaka and food baskets) claim that its worthwhile for them to have a bar mitzva in a hall in so that they can get lots of checks for gifts :(
    Yael Maizels recently posted..Laying a stone for the Netzarim Shul in ArielMy Profile

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    • It is a mentality thing. Having the nice bar mitzva is very important to them, and if you make something in a place that looks more expensive than it is, you can even make money on it.

      We also had neighbors who made fancy events, when we knew they were not so well off. In such cases one feels obligated to give a check that will cover the cost of the event.

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  7. If you have a good friend in israel and their oldest daughter gets married, how much should you give?

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  8. “Americans were “stingy” when it comes to gifts”

    i can’t speak for what happens in israel, but here in america it is so true that generic american jews are stingy (to say the least) with gift giving. sephardim and russians (in the wider sense) are much more generous.

    ” If in doubt remember that it’s always useful to receive bed linen.”

    why? how do you know the matress size, or preference for color, patters, material, etc. and how do you know they really need another set? or that they don’t have a way to get bedding at a cheaper price than you can get it? i personally think cash is the best present, unless you know 100% what the person wants/needs and you can get it for less than they would have to pay. (acceptable alternative is a gift card for amazon or another retailer with a wide variety at good prices.)

    ” I usually like to ask what the person/s want or need.”

    i always feel uncomfortable when people ask me this.

    “We also had neighbors who made fancy events, when we knew they were not so well off. In such cases one feels obligated to give a check that will cover the cost of the event.”

    who told them to be irresponsible? we have a big problem of spending too much $ on simchas and there is no reason to reward someone’s financial stupidity. on the other hand, it is also very wrong when people complain about this or that at a simcha and then don’t cover the cost.

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  9. I was surprised at how generous families in my son’s small gan chova were with birthday gifts. In America if you make a party in nursery or kindergarten there is no expectation for the kids to bring gifts. I suppose because the “guests” aren’t invited. If you make a party outside of gan then a gift is normal. Here most people have no time for a party outside of gan so nicer presents are normal. I’m not sure if this is also true in a gan chova with lots of kids.

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  10. this has been interesting to read having recently made aliyah. i have been wondering about the
    different customs and expectations. if it is expected to give monetary gifts to cover the cost of your
    attending the wedding how do you know how much that is? is this information generally known? do
    you also give additional so that the couple could receive something? does it matter what your connection to the couple is? thanks!

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  11. I would love to know if you did give any feedback to Parenting magazine and what that feedback was in regard to the Parenting approach in Israel. I find this a fascinating subject. I was surprised to read that your impression was that Israelis give gifts more often then Canada or other Anglo countries. I did not notice this; not saying that it is not true. Maybe there is some truth to this. I gather it probably depends on in what context the gift is given. I am accustomed to bringing a small gift when I am invited to a dinner, brunch or a lunch. In Israel, I have received a very surprised reaction to me bringing a small gift to the dinner or lunch; to the extent that one time someone actually criticized me and asked me why I felt it necessary to always come bringing gifts ( I could tell by the tone it was much more then politeness). The next time I was invited over again to their home for coffee and cake along with some other family members I decided not to bring a gift. One of the guests however came with gifts, ( not for the hostess) but for each of the woman’s children. I found this strange considering it was not a holiday nor their birthday, yet the hostess seemed not to be surprised. I still have not figure out how this works???

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