Israel welcomed 2023 with festivities and parties Saturday night and early Sunday, with the celebrations free of COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in three years.
Around the country, and also Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, people flocked to pubs, restaurants and other public places to usher in the new year. Others held gatherings at home or simply celebrated in private.
The festivities were significantly hampered both at the end of 2020 — when the country was under its third coronavirus lockdown — and to a lesser extent at the end of 2021, when some restrictions had just been imposed at the beginning of what would become the country’s fifth and final lockdown (so far).
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said Sunday morning that its medics had treated around 1,000 people in total during the night, including 61 injured on the roads, 17 hurt in violence incidents and some 30 who required treatment following alcohol consumption. It also said 10 women were taken in ambulances to hospitals to give birth.
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.
Unlike the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, in the fall, New Year’s Day is not an official holiday in Israel.
Many 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.
Many of Israel’s 1.7 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants — tens of thousands of whom arrived in 2022 in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — traditionally mark Novy God, or New Year’s in Russian, a day celebrated beginning December 31 that includes parties and family gatherings.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to the leadership two days before 2022 ended, released a festive message: “A new year, a new government, a new direction. I bless all Israeli citizens a good and happy new civil year. And I want to wish all those who celebrate Novy God — S Novim Godom.”
Lee-Bob, who has a group of friends who gather every New Year’s Eve in Rehovot to celebrate Novy God, told The Times of Israel that while in previous years they had watched Russian President Vladimir Putin’s traditional holiday speech, this year they switched to watching Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s instead.
“It’s our high school clique’s tradition to meet up at this friend’s place, make sure there’s a whole lot of food and drinks, then watch the speech and countdown before playing board games together,” he said.
“COVID made it difficult, but now it’s just like it was before, and it rocks.”