If you're at an Israeli wedding, don't look for a gift table... look for one of these.
In the US, gift-giving is something to agonize over. I'm pretty sure that half of the letters Dear Abby receives have to do with either how to ask for gifts in a non-tacky way, how to choose gifts in a non-tacky way, and how incredibly tacky it is when gifts are not properly recognized with thank-you notes in a non-tacky way.
Israelis, on the other hand, have no qualms about being tacky-- see, for example, the Israeli Wedding Dress. At the same time, Israelis definitely have social norms about how gifts should be given, though these social norms would make Dear Abby stuff her keyboard in her mouth.
First, gifts should always come with a gift receipt. ALWAYS. In the US, I think this is considered fairly optional and possibly tacky, but in Israel, a gift without a gift receipt is like hummus without pita. If you get a gift without a gift receipt in Israel-- especially one of candles and soap-- you can be pretty sure it was re-gifted. On the other hand, "registries" seem to be an unfamiliar concept here in Israel, so I guess gift receipts are really just a way to pick out your own gifts after the fact.
Second, gifts have a proper time and place. When your Israeli friend has a baby, do NOT throw her a surprise baby shower before the baby is born. Before the baby is born, its potential existence should only be noted with lots of spitting and references to the evil eye and "good hours." Most Israelis I know literally do not allow any baby furniture into their house until the baby has been safely delivered into a hospital bassinet-- they order what they want in advance and have it delivered during the mother's hospital stay. (Confession: we set up our crib and painted a mural on Nitsah's nursery wall months in advance. Tfu tfu tfu bli ayin hara!.) If you want to give a baby gift to an Israeli woman, bring it to the hospital or to her house in the weeks after the baby is born... with a gift receipt.
By the way, one proper time and place for a gift, according to Israelis, is when you get invited to someone's house for a holiday meal. We're not talking a bottle of wine... we're talking an expensive ceramic platter, a nice vase, a huge gift basket, a potted olive tree. All kinds of gift items go on sale around Passover and Rosh HaShana because Israelis are buying gifts for their holiday hosts. When I invited a huge crowd over for Thanksgiving this year, I got a hostess gift from every Israeli guest and few of the Americans, so this is why you should always make sure you have lots of Israeli guests. :)
Third, if you're going to an "eruah" (an event like a wedding, bar mitzvah, or brit), do NOT bring a gift-- just bring a checkbook. While Americans agonize over how to hint to their guests that, um, gifts of money would be great, thank you, Israeli event halls literally come with envelopes and lock boxes in which guests can deposit checks. In fact, there's a whole calculus involved in figuring out how much to give, based on your proximity to the wedding party and the cost of the event. If you throw an Israeli event, you can actually count on earning money off of the whole thing, which could explain the development of the "britta"-- not a water filter, but a brit for a girl, without any actual female circumcision involved.
Finally-- and this is where Dear Abby really loses it--thank you notes do not seem to be part of the Israeli event-gift-giving social norms. Either that or I have rude friends. ;) So, um, if you are one of the people who received a very late thank you note from me after my wedding seven years ago, maybe I was channeling my Israeli side early?
I have a guest post today up on A Mother in Israel, telling a story more serious than the ones I usually post on this blog. I also wrote a post about baby poop for the parenting blog Offbeat Mama-- read at your own risk. :)
My husband and I (and our cat Zeus) made aliyah to northern Israel in April, 2008. In Israel, we adopted two street kittens who have proceeded to make up for kittenhoods of deprivation by growing remarkably fat and shiny. In October of 2011, we welcomed our first daughter, Nitsah. Moving to a new country demands both a sense of wonder and a sense of humor. In this blog, I'll try to share both! DISCLAIMER: I actually can't tell you how to be Israeli, because I'm still working on it myself. But at least we can muddle towards Israeli-ness together!