Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Memorable Events in Israel 2013

New Year's Day is not a national holiday in Israel.  Although there are certainly many Israelis who celebrate New Year's Eve (known in Israel as the "Sylvester" holiday - after Pope Sylvester - the origin of New Year's commemorations), it is a normal work day for most Israelis.

Nevertheless, with the calendar changeover from 2013 to 2014, I thought I would review some of the major Israeli events of 2013.  I wound up writing about most of these events in one way or another during the year, but not everyone has the chance to read all of my blog posts.  (Some intentionally disregard them...).  So I thought you might enjoy this collection of key events, in no particular order.

1.  Israeli National Elections:

This has to be considered the biggest event of 2013.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected, though he formed a very different coalition.  A new government was created without the ultra-Orthodox parties, and with a huge number of voters turning to the centrist party, Yesh Atid.  For a detailed discussion of the Israeli elections, you can have a look at my election summary post here or some of my other blogs about the Israeli elections which are listed in the contents by topic page.  The coalition is still a work in progress with some very different views being represented within the same government.  Nevertheless, the election was a sea change in some ways for Israeli politics.

2.  Visitors to Israel: 

President Obama visited Israel for the first time as President in March 2013.  It was a short visit and nothing particularly substantial was accomplished.  Nevertheless, any time the President of the United States visits Israel, it is a newsworthy event.  There was a great TV ad put together by McDonald's in honour of the occasion.  Other visitors to Israel in 2013 included performing artists Rihanna, Jose Feliciano, the Pet Shop Boys and Alicia Keys.  Pink Floyd member Roger Waters certainly did not visit.  Instead, he spent his time trying to vilify Israel and dissuade other artists from visiting or performing here.  Fortunately, many artists of goodwill and other celebrities ignored his wrong headed and quite possibly anti-Semitic attacks.

3.  Mishpacha:  Celebrations and Losses:

Israeli President Shimon Peres celebrated his 90th birthday in style.  Celebrants in attendance included former President Bill Clinton, Barbara Streisand, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and many others.

Israel lost one of its great musicians, Arik Einstein.  Two well known Rabbis passed away: former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died as did Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.  The American founder of the modern day Kabbalah movement (followed by Madonna and many other celebrities) Philip (Shraga) Berg passed away and was buried in Israel.  In December 2013, noted philanthropist Edgar Bronfman died.  He was a great friend of Israel and a noted advocate of Jewish causes worldwide.

4.  Charged, Released and Convicted:

There were many stories relating to criminal activity or accusations of criminal activity that made the news in 2013.  Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was acquitted of all charges after facing a state led investigation and prosecution that spanned many years.  Israeli singer Eyal Golan was released without any charges after stories circulated about a sex scandal involving minors.  Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was arrested on a slew of charges relating to fraud and bribery.  That process could take years until the outcome is determined.  Danny Dankner, the former CEO of one of Israel's largest banks, Bank HaPoalim was convicted on fraud and breach of trust allegations as part of a plea bargain.

5.  Another Large Scale Hi-Tech Sale:

Israeli security company Trusteer was sold to IBM for almost a billion dollars.  Trusteer manufactures software that is used for, among other things, securing bank account information.  This was yet another in a series of transactions where international business interests have been willing to pay top dollar for leading Israeli technology companies.

6.  Israeli Municipal Elections:

Israeli municipal elections were held on October 22, 2013.  While it is true that it was mostly a story of incumbents returning to office, there were some other stories of interest.  The election results in Bet Shemesh have been mired in scandal, with an Israeli Court recently ordering a new election due to evidence of widespread voter fraud.  In Ra'anana, a former Mayor returned to power with a landslide victory over the incumbent.  For a more detailed look at Israel's municipal elections, you can have a look at my article of October 24, 2013.

7.  The Kotel and Egalitarianism:

A Jerusalem District Court released a landmark decision in April 2013 (State of Israel v. Lesley Sachs).  According to this decision, there is no prohibition on women being able to pray in the women's section of the Kotel, wearing Tallitoth and Tefillin if they wish to do so.  This marked a huge change over the way in which Israeli laws were being enforced up until that point.  Within months, Israeli Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett expanded and opened up the Davidson Center (the Southern Wall) in an effort to diffuse the effect of this ruling.  Women are still prohibited from bringing a Torah Scroll to the women's side of the Kotel.  However, this Court decision was a huge victory for Israeli organization Women of the Wall.  For a discussion of the issue as it was in 2012, see this blog.  For a discussion of the changes in 2013, see this entry

8.  The Weather:

Israel faced a huge rain storm in January 2013 that flooded many areas.  In December 2013, Israel encountered one of its largest snow storms in many years.  More than 30 centimetres of snow fell on Jerusalem by some estimates.  The city was paralyzed for days, with the loss of electricity and roads that became completely blocked.   Just my luck that after being in Israel for this storm, I happened to be in Toronto during a snowstorm that caused 300,000 families to lose power, in some cases for more than four days during the bitterly cold winter.  So everything must be considered in proportion.  But this was a huge storm by Israeli standards. 

9.  Ice Hockey:  

How could a Canadian summarize Israeli events of 2013 without mentioning Ice Hockey?  The Israeli national ice hockey team won a gold medal in its division - Division II, Group B at the World Ice Hockey Championships in April 2013 in Izmit, Turkey.  The team will now move up to Division II, Group A for the 2014 tournament.  Israel will play teams ranked 29-34 in the world, with a chance to move up to Division I if the Israeli team can finish first in this difficult group.  The tournament will take place in Belgrade, Serbia from April 9 to 15, 2014.  Israel will face Australia, Belgium, Estonia, Iceland and Serbia, with Estonia and Serbia listed as the favourites to win the division.  It is also worth mentioning that Twin Peaks Ice Rink in Holon, Israel became fully operational in 2013, providing Israelis who live in central Israel with a much more convenient place to get some ice time.  Until recently, the only place to play was Metullah, which is more than 180 kilometres north of Ra'anana.

10.  Wine News:

In November 2013, Israeli archaeologists found a 3,700 year old wine cellar near Nahariyah, Israel, containing 40 ceramic jars, each large enough to hold 60 litres of wine.  It is believed that this cellar was part of a Canaanite palace.  Many historians have noted Israel's ancient history of high quality wine production, which was dormant for many years during periods of Muslim rule.  While Israeli wine making was reintroduced in the late 1800s, as early immigrants arrived as part of the first two waves of immigration, the industry only truly took off in the early 1980s.  Israel is now blessed with more than 280 wineries, including Kosher and non-Kosher, large and small, producers.   

 The 2nd Annual Kosher Wine Festival was held in Jerusalem in January 2013 (I managed to attend the 2012 event with a visiting friend) and the Golan Heights Winery celebrated its 30th Anniversary in June 2013 with a big festival at the Tel-Aviv Port. 


This summary is by no means comprehensive, though, hopefully, it is reasonably accurate.  As usual, I welcome any comments, suggestions or additions.  I apologize in advance if I have overlooked some key events.  This is, after all, just a hobby for now.  Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014.

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