Well, let's see, much has transpired here in the past few days... I spent New Years Eve at a house party in Herzliya, a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv. It was a very interesting house, kind of like a futuristic adobe igloo in the middle of Israel. The party was filled with people in their early twenties replete with a full bar, video projection screen and DJ. It was a riotous party, lots of dancing, lots of fun.
The New Year here is referred to as "Sylvester." It took me a few days to get around to investigating this strange reference. It seems this is a common term for New Years Eve in the Middle East. But who is this Sylvester I wanted to know? Well in a land filled with Jews it takes a while to find out that Sylvester was actually an ancient pope. Which of course just leads to the next set of questions: why do they honor a pope on this day, and in Israel of all places? It turns out that Pope Sylvester I died on December 31st 335, and so to the Roman calendar this becomes a significant reference. Which then leads one to realize, but of course, the New Year that we celebrate on January 1st is merely the Roman New Year, and although Israelis do function on the Christian calendar, it is a Christian calendar nonetheless. Rosh Hashanah of course, would be the celebration of the Jewish New Year. And so, as you can imagine, holiday season in Israel is nothing like the States. Holiday season in Israel falls in September and October, apparently the Jewish calendar year and the Christian calendar are not in synch, go figure. I was speaking to a man on the street the other day, and I wished him a happy holiday, to which he responded by scolding me, "Holiday? What is this New Year? This is not our new year, it is Christian new year, not holiday." Sylvester, not new year.
I encountered two young American girls on the street the other day. They were each about 21 years old. They had both moved to Israel permanently, they had made Aaliyah. One was serving in the military and the other was going to school, although she was going back to the States to finish up her undergraduate degree. It is truly a bizarre concept to me that someone from the United States would consider giving up their life as they know it, in order to fight in the Israeli army. It is no small sacrifice, I assure you. In addition to the decrease in the standard of living (mainly the luxuries we become accustomed to as Americans), the entire mindset of this nation requires a total reassessment of priorities. These girls were asking me whether I had considered making Aaliyah, and I almost surprised myself by how emphatically I opposed the idea. I think at least part of it has to do with the fact that I see myself as being a lot more capable of influencing Israeli politics and the world at large from the United States...
So I asked these girls, were they happy with their decision to move, was Israel everything they had expected? I think they were inclined to answer me in half truths, but they insisted emphatically that their existence in Israel was a whole heck of a lot better that the United States. Given, they hailed from Florida and Northern Virginia, but their zealous responses smacked of overcompensation of the fact that they hadn't yet fully convinced themselves, much less me. Their sticking point was based around the tenet that Israel is not an easy place to live. It is a struggle. A struggle to make ends meet everyday, a struggle to survive, a struggle to learn a new language, with new customs and people. For these young ladies, it was almost like fulfilling a biblical prophesy, they were enamored with the concept of hardship and sacrifice. But keep in mind, American Jews receive compensation for moving to Israel, a stipend if you will. I'd be pissed if I were Israeli.
Economically, Israel is in the doldrums. The tourist industry is just now beginning to find its feet again. Amir Peretz, the new head of the Labour Party, rests his political laurels entirely upon his economic principles, which are very much socialist. The Labour Party here is a true labor party. Their concerns are economic, and not much else. Security, the environment, social justice, are not the concerns of this leadership. Ariel Sharon looks like he will run away with the upcoming election. Even young people who do not agree with his hard-line tactics and his military history agree that he is the best man for the job. It will be fascinating to see how it all unfolds, there is much about this election that remains unpredictable, especially with the advent of the new Kadima Party.