While birthdays are special occasions in cultures around the world, birthdays in Israel can be particularly meaningful. As with many cultures, there are milestone birthdays that take on a particular importance and ritual, and all of them include much enjoyment!
Day of Birth
While many think of when a child turns one as their first birthday, this is actually the 1st anniversary of their birthday. Your first birthday is the day of your birth. In Israel the thing that immediately makes birthdays unique is that you actually have TWO birthdays. Due to a following of the Hebrew calendar and a civil Gregorian calendar that don’t often line up, Israeli’s technically can celebrate on either day, or in some cases both days. However, every 19 years you will be listed to one when the two calendars coincide.
Curious of when your Hebrew calendar birthday would be? Use this calculator to find out!
Child Birthdays in Israel
Much like western traditions, children’s birthdays are for most of Israel’s inhabitants a time of fun and celebration. Birthday parties with close family and friends all the way to elaborate parties are thrown in honor of the birthday boy or girl. Some more conservative religious Jews do not celebrate birthdays for their children due to it being seen as an Egyptian practice.
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs
When you are in Israel on a Christian Holy Land Tour, you will undoubtedly visit the Western Wall. The Western Wall is considered the holiest known location for Jews and and is a place of profound meaning and prayer. Due to this, you will often see groups of men ushering in young boys to the wall. There will be festive singing, praying and a sense of jubilation.
This is all because on a boy’s 13th birthday in Israel, and around the world, he becomes a man and responsible for himself and his own actions and relation with God. This is known as Bar Mitzvah which translates to “Son of Commandments”.
The celebration is when he is welcomed as a man to pray and read Torah before people. He will put on traditional prayer dress. There is often a celebration after religious festivities, and these can be modest family gatherings up to elaborate, very expensive parties.
Bat Mitzvahs are when a girl becomes seen as a woman and this can be at 12 or 13, depending on the community. Bat means daughter. Some communities don’t recognize bat mitzvahs but they have become more and more common over the years. Some make this day much like the young men’s celebrations, but others change them as it is not seen as proper to have a woman read the Torah in front of people.
Gifts are given on this day as well. Some gifts are of religious value, but cash gifts have become very common in modern times. It is typically given in increments of 18, as this is the numeric representation of life, or “chai”.
While this day is reserved normally for 12 or 13 year olds, it is sometimes held even for adults if they were never celebrated their mitzvah before.
Adult Birthdays in Israel
Adult birthdays in Israel can be very celebrated or not at all. Some believe that it is never celebrated in the Torah, except by Pharaoh, so they don’t recognize it as a day of importance in any way.
On the other hand, there is a largely secularized culture in Israel, so birthdays are very celebrated. You will see young people at restaurants and night clubs celebrating with friends, especially in Tel Aviv.
Many also use this day to do a good deed for others, reflect upon the last year of their life and consider what blessings they were given and areas they can improve upon themselves in the next year.
How to Say Happy Birthday in Israel
In Israel many people speak multiple languages, and many speak English. So you can say “Happy Birthday” and they will be very aware of the greeting. However, if you’d like to speak a birthday greeting in the official language of Israel, you have three choices.
Yom Huladet Sameach– This translates to “Day Birth Happy”. While this may seem like a strange order in English, if you were to say it in as Sameach Huladet Yom in Hebrew, people will think you sound very strange!
Mazal Tov– This translates to “Good Luck” in English. This is often pronounced as Maz-El Tov but it is actually Maz-al in Hebrew. This is a generic well wish for any event of happiness, like birthdays, weddings, graduations, and births.
Ad Meah Ve Esrim– This particular greeting is a very Hebrew/Israeli greeting. It means “Until 120”. This is reference to Genesis 6:3. “And the LORD said: ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.”
Birthdays in Israel on Tour
We often have people who celebrate birthdays while they are on tour. What a special and memorable birthday! Many of our groups try to make the day extra special by doing something special for the birthday boy or girl. If you have someone who will be celebrating a birthday while on tour we suggest you bring a birthday card along for everyone to sign. Also sing happy birthday on the bus or at a meal time. You just might have the entire dining room join in!
God’s gift of life is truly a blessing!