After bittersweet end to year, Netanyahu puts hopeful spin on 5777

After bittersweet end to year, Netanyahu puts hopeful spin on 5777

Ahead of Jewish New Year, prime minister declares he’s more hopeful than ever, and says Israel will pursue peace efforts — though only in English

An Israeli child blows a shofar in a kindergarden in Efrat, Gush Etzion, September 8, 2016, The shofar is used mainly on the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year (Gershon Elinson/Flash90).
An Israeli child blows a shofar in a kindergarden in Efrat, Gush Etzion, September 8, 2016, The shofar is used mainly on the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year (Gershon Elinson/Flash90).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broadcast a message of optimism ahead of the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown Sunday night, trumpeting the state’s accomplishments and vowing to pursue peace efforts — a statement he made only in English.

Closing out a year bookended by a wave of deadly violence and the death of former president and peace pioneer Shimon Peres last week, Netanyahu attempted to telegraph a message of hope for the coming year — 5777 by the Jewish calendar.

“Shimon was a man of vision and optimism,” he said in an English-language video distributed Saturday night. “And I think Shimon would want us to celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year by looking back with pride and looking forward with hope.”

“He was the strongest representative for a better hope, and with the entrance of the new year, I as well, more than any other time, am filled with hope.”

The video was sent out a day after leaders from around the world gathered in Jerusalem to bury Peres, considered the last of Israel’s founding fathers and a major figure on the international stage.

Netanyahu in the videos touted increased ties with the US and the world and, at least in English, said Israel “will continue working for peace.”

The words about peace, however, did not appear in his Hebrew message, which focused on advances in Israeli society.

“This year too we will continue to do our great work, continue to build the country, continue to develop it, to boost the economy, to ensure our security, to make our lives easier, to work toward your future, our future,” he said the clip.

In English, he called on “Jews around the world to remain hopeful and continue pursuing justice and truth.”

The Jewish New Year, marking the start of the High Holy Days, is typically celebrated as a time of looking forward to the year to come as well as reflection on the past year. Many Jews celebrate the holiday with a festive meal marked by special foods meant to symbolize good omens, such as honey for a sweet new year.

But a year ago, the holiday marked for many the start of over six months of deadly violence, starting with the stoning of the car of Alexander Levlovitz in southeast Jerusalem, leading to his death on the first night of the holiday.

The deadly wave of violence that followed claimed the lives of over 30 Israelis and some 200 Palestinians, many of them attackers, in what came to be known as the “lone-wolf intifada.”

As in years past, the IDF announced it would seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Sunday to Tuesday for security reasons over the holiday.

The military said it would make exceptions for medical emergencies and “humanitarian cases,” with the approval of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

The closure will take effect on Sunday at 12:01 a.m. and is expected to last until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., dependent upon a “situational assessment,” the army said.

The closure comes as Muslims will also mark the Islamic new year, Raʼs al-Sanah al-Hijrīyah, which falls on the same day as the Jewish holiday in a calendrical quirk.

The holiday, which will herald the start of the year 1438 in the Islamic calendar, is generally marked by Muslim Arabs with large festive meals and many sweets.

While neither Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin, who also put out a holiday greeting Saturday night, mentioned the Muslim holiday in their videos, Rivlin spoke of the need for “connections between the various and varied communities within Israel, religious, secular, Jewish and Arab. We must build together a shared hope for Israel for our shared future in this land.”

According to population figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics last week to mark the new year, the State of Israel has a population of 8.585 million, including 6.4 million Jews and 1.8 million Muslims.

Jews make up close to three-quarters of the population at 6.4 million residents, while Israel’s almost 1.8 million Arabs make up one-fifth of the population.

Israel’s Jews make up about half the world’s Jewish population, and Rivlin in a video in English pleaded with Diaspora Jewry to visit and to strengthen the bond with Israel, noting as well the need to combat anti-Semitism.”

“We must work to help them continue to be proud to be Jewish, with security, free from anti-Semitism, and free to wear a kippa in the street. Every Jew will always have a home in Israel, but they should have the right to live without fear where they wish, and we must stand up for this right,” he said. “To the Jewish students and young families in Europe, North America and all over, I want to say, ‘Do not take Israel for granted, do not forget that our destinies are tied together.’”

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