Israel's time is + 2 hrs from GMT so when it's 6PM GMT, 1PM EST, it's 8PM in Israel. Daylight saving time Summer time begins on the last Friday before April 2nd, and ends on Saturday between the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
Public Holidays in Israel follow the Jewish calendar and as such vary from year to year although tend to fall within the same few-week period. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. The public transportation, for example, tends to completely stop its activity in many holidays. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins at sunset, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the afternoon hours a day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won't see big changes in the levels of activity.
Official national holidays are bolded.
Jewish New YearRosh Hashanah, Falls between Sept 5 & Oct 5
Fast Day of Gedaliah Tsom Gedalyah ben Ahikam, Falls two days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah New Year
Day of AtonementYom Kippur, Falls between Sept 14 & Oct 14. The holiest day of the year - this is the day 'when everything stops', including all shopping, public and private traffic, etc.
Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)Sukkot*, Falls between Sept 19 & Oct 19 Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days
Assembly of the Eighth Day Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret, Falls between Sept 26 & Oct 26. Street festivals and dancing are common in most cities and towns on the preceding evening.
Yitzhak Rabin's Remembrance Day Yom Hazikaron le Yitzhak Rabin
Feast of Rededication First Day Hanukkah, Falls between Nov 27 & Dec 27. Celebrated in public as well with big Hanukiyot lamps lit by fire which are lit by sundown.
Tenth of Tevet Fast Tsom Asarah b-Tevet
Fifteenth of Shvat Tu Bishvat. New Year of the Trees similar to an Arbor Day
Fast of Esther Ta`anit Ester
Memorial Feast for the Triumph of EstherPurim*, Falls between February 24 & March 26. Street parades are common on this day.
PassoverPesach, Between March 26 & April 25 Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days. No leavened bread or grain products are sold or served in most places during this week.
Seventh day of Passover Shvi'i shel Pesach, Falls between April 1 & May 1
Holocaust Remembrance DayYom HaZikaron LaShoah VeLaGevurah, Falls between April 7 & May 7. At 10AM, air raid sirens sound and the entire country comes to an eerie standstill for two minutes. Places of entertainment are closed on this day and its eve.
Fallen Soldiers Remembrance DayYom Hazikaron, Falls between April 14 & May 14. Air raid sirens sound and the entire country observes a minute of silence in the morning and preceding evening.
Independence DayYom Ha-Atzmaut, Falls between April 15 & May 15. Large street festivals, city-wide parties and fireworks are common on the preceding night.
33rd day of the `Omer Lag Ba'omer, Bonfires are common on the preceding night.
Jerusalem Day Yom Herut Yerushalayim, Large parades and festivals occur in Jerusalem.
PentecostShavuot, Falls between May 15 & June 14
Seventeenth of Tammuz fast Tsom Shiva` Asar b-Tammuz
Ninth of Av fast Tisha B'Av. Destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples
Fifteenth of Av Tu B'Av. Festival of Love
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 30 years. This may change in light of recent discoveries of huge natural gas and some oil finds off Israel's shores, which will reduce imports and increase government revenues. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles and services in various fields are the leading exports. For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government's foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR during the period 1989-99 coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began moderating in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Growth was a strong 6.4% in 2000. But the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly the declines in the high-technology and tourist sectors, and fiscal austerity measures in the face of growing inflation have led to declines in GDP in 2001 and 2002. However, in 2007 the economic growth was 5.3% and the inflation was only 0.4%. In the first six months of 2008 tourism has grown with 45%. In 2011 Israel had one of the best performing economies in the OECD with low unemployment, relatively high growth rate, increased tourism and stable fiscal and monetary policies.
The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews - who make up 75% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan - and non-Jews mostly Israeli-Arabs, who make up nearly all of the rest. As well, some 350,000 people who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jews according to halacha Jewish law, though they largely identify with the Israeli mainstream. In terms of religious backgrounds, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian Arabs and 2% are Druze a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam.
There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the cultural division between the 'Ashkenazim', who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the 'Sephardim' and 'Mizrahim', who immigrated from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa Sephardi and Mizrahi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim. In recent years, the divide between these ethnic groups has, however, grown much less acute and intermarriage has become common.
While ethnic divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between 'secular' and 'Orthodox' Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox 'haredim', only 15% 2008 est. of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics, to 50% who are 'modern orthodox' and finally 45% who consider themselves secular, although still adhere to some traditions. While secular Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
While the current State of Israel is a relatively new country founded in 1948, the Land of Israel has a long and often very complex history stretching back thousands of years to the very beginnings of human civilization. It has been invaded by virtually every Old World empire including the Persians, Romans, Ottomans and British. Even the Mongols once raided cities on what is now Israeli soil. It is also the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem is also a sacred city for Muslims.
Israel has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with Neanderthal remains from the region dating back 50,000 years. Its strategic location serving as the gateway from Asia to Egypt and Africa had made Israel an ideal target for conquerors through the ages. The first nation to have influence was the great Egyptian civilization. Approximately 1000 B.C, an independent Judean Kingdom was set up under King Saul. The land lay to the south of Phoenicia. After intermittent civil war, the land was conquered by the Assyrians and Persians and in ~330 BC by Alexander the Great. A newly independent Jewish state, ruled by the Maccabees, was conquered in 63 BC by the Romans. Around 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry in the Galilee.
Following a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE, the Israelites were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, creating a substantial Jewish diaspora throughout the world. However, many Israelites did remain in the Land of Israel outside Jerusalem for a few centuries, although perseuction gradually eroded at whatever Israelites population was left in their homeland. The area was captured by Muslim invaders in the 7th Century. In the middle ages, European Christians invaded in a period known as the Crusades and established a small kingdom, but after a few centuries were expelled. The land was then ruled for many years by different Muslim empires, culminating in the Ottoman Empire.
During WWI, Palestine, as it was known, was captured by the British. The British agreed to support the idea of European Jews returning to their ancestral homeland. During the 1920s and 1930s there was mass migration of Jews into Palestine, many of them European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic riots caused by political movements in Germany which would eventually lead to the Holocaust. By 1939 the population of Palestine was one-third Jewish by comparison, in 1917 the population was only 10% Jewish.
The Jewish nationalist movement was strengthened significantly because of the events of World War II. Many major powers, including the Americans, endorsed Jewish independence in Palestine as the only way to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. The British were more hesitant, however, as they worried about a possible Arab revolt. The Jewish nationalists, emboldened by support from the Americans and the French, grew impatient with the British delay in granting independence and started several armed uprisings of their own against British rule.
After two years of growing violence, in the fall of 1947 the British decided to withdraw their troops from the area. The UN recommended that the territory of Palestine be partitioned into two states: A Jewish state, and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs firmly rejected it. Nonetheless, half a year later, on May 14, 1948, Jewish nationalists declared independence as the State of Israel. The Arabs responded with a military invasion. The Israelis won a decisive victory. Over the course of the war, approximately 600,000 Arabs in Palestine fled from the territory of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. To this day, it is hotly debated whether Israel forcibly expelled these people or they moved out on their own.
Further fighting continued over the next few decades, and in 1967 the Israelis won another decisive victory against the Arabs. Following this victory, a slow movement towards peace and reconciliation began. In 1979, peace was concluded between Israel and Egypt, and in 1994, a similar peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Both agreements have held to this day. Attempts to create similar treaties with Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian-Arabs have failed, and in 2000 violence resurfaced when Palestinian-Arabs launched a violent insurrection against Israel. By 2007, Israel had crushed this revolt. With the exception of the Gaza area which has seen continued violence, most of the country is now at peace, although deep tensions remain.