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Farewell 2020: Israel rings in New Year under lockdown

Celebrations largely muted as police deploy in force throughout country to prevent partygoers from congregating

An Israeli couple celebrates New Year's Eve, in central Israel, December 31, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)
An Israeli couple celebrates New Year's Eve, in central Israel, December 31, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

Israel at midnight Thursday-Friday bid adieu to 2020 and rang in the New Year amid a renewed national lockdown to curb rising coronavirus infections.

Celebrations were largely muted, with Israelis barred from traveling more than a kilometer from home unless for essential reasons, or visiting other people’s homes. Gatherings are also limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside.

Nevertheless, police deployed thousands of officers across the country to break up New Year’s Eve festivities.

To prevent mass gatherings, police called on people to report their neighbors to the authorities if they were hosting events in violation of the rules.

Police were also using helicopters and drones to locate prohibited gatherings, and set up checkpoints on roads to enforce restrictions on movement and check for drunk drivers.

Israelis walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on New Year’s Eve, during a third national coronavirus lockdown, December 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Like in Israel, concerns over the pandemic limited New Year’s Eve events in major cities across the globe, though others carried on like any other year.

Unlike the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, in the fall, New Year’s Day is not an official holiday in Israel, with schools open and business as usual in the workplace.

Israelis call New Year’s Eve “Sylvester” — a term also used in some European countries, which refers to fourth-century Pope Sylvester I who died on December 31.

Although many Israelis mark the arrival of the New Year, it is a much lower-key event than in Western countries and there is no local equivalent to the dropping of the ball at Times Square or the fantastic fireworks displays in capitals around the world.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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