The intermingling of the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and the Middle Eastern Jewish traditions has been of profound importance to the forging of modern Israel; however, the arrival of immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics has slowed the trend, common among immigrants from Central Europe and America to create a cultural synthesis encompassing East, West, and native Israeli society. Not spoken since biblical times, the revival of the Hebrew language has been one of the cornerstones of this cultural revival and the development of modern culture in Israel. The acquisition of Hebrew was seen as a national goal; a popular slogan was “Yehudi, daber ivrit” (Jew, speak Hebrew). This diverse cultural landscape brought together by a common Jewish tradition makes Israel one of the most unique nation states in the world.
A thriving film industry has emerged in Israel and is one of the mainstays of the country’s cultural revival. For a country of just eight million people, Israel has ten film schools and hosts seven international film festivals. More films from Israel have been nominated in the foreign language category by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences than any other country (or language) in the world. Films like Out in the Dark (2012) have explored taboo themes like homosexuality and occupation of the Palestinian territories. Contemporary Israeli society is a fascinating mix of religion and secularism and often the two have clashed head on. While Orthodox Judaism is dominant and institutionalized, secular and liberal elements are widespread throughout the cultural panoply. From the Midburn Festival in the Negev Desert to the Middle East’s biggest gay pride festival in Tel Aviv, to the government’s backing of the medical cannabis industry and decriminalization of its recreational use, liberal cultural markers have found their place in Israeli society as well.