Israelis usher in Jewish New Year with uncertainty

As 5775 welcomed in, economy slowing, relations with Palestinians bleak, and prospectively difficult year ahead

A Jewish man places a note at the Western Wall. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
A Jewish man places a note at the Western Wall. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis ushered in the year 5775 as they celebrated the Jewish New Year on Wednesday still shaken from this summer’s 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, distressed by turmoil along their borders, and anticipating a difficult year ahead.

Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown, is celebrated not with fireworks and champagne but with family meals and introspection. The devout believe one’s destiny is set for the coming year during the two-day holiday, and that in the 10 days of soul-searching that follow — leading up to the fast day of Yom Kippur — prayer, charity and repentance can ensure a good year.

On the Jewish calendar, it will be 5,775 years since the creation of the world, according to tradition.

Some Israelis are already pessimistic about the new year. A public opinion survey published in Israel’s most widely read newspaper, the Israel Hayom freebie, said 70 percent of Israelis polled believe the coming year will bring another round of fighting, and 60 percent doubt peace negotiations will progress. One in three Israelis surveyed said life in Israel isn’t good.

The poll, conducted by the New Wave Research Polling Institute, surveyed 500 Jewish Israelis. The margin of error was 4.4 percentage points.

Israel’s economy is slowing, the government’s statistics bureau said this week. Tourism to the country plummeted due to the Israel-Hamas war, and Israel’s National Security Council said Israeli tourists traveling abroad for the Jewish holiday season face an “increasing potential threat” of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets, especially in Western Europe by jihadists returning to their home countries from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Hundreds of families in Israel’s rocket-battered south are still recovering after spending much of the summer away from their homes.

“We are going into Rosh Hashanah with a heavy sentiment from the summer, but a lot of hope for the coming year,” said Maya Tapiro, 28, a university student, at a cafe in Jerusalem.

The past few months saw a rapid succession of events that led to war.

There was the collapse of US-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in April, followed by a unity deal between the Western-backed Palestinian president in the West Bank and the Hamas militant group in Gaza.

In June Hamas militants kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. The deadly attack sparked an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem by Israeli extremists, and rocket and mortar fire from Gaza that led to a 50-day war. More than 2,100 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed, while 66 soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.

But in the hours leading up to the holiday, many Israelis were reflecting on things other than war and peace.

A television talk show was debating the merits of two rival holiday fish dishes: the European Jewish gefilte fish, a ground carp patty, and the North African Jewish chreime, fish cooked in a spicy red sauce.

Israelis were cooking for large holiday meals, and markets were packed with last-minute shoppers buying traditional holiday foods: apples to be dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year, and braided challah bread shaped in a circle to symbolize continuity.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press

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