Well, we tried to get together with some friends but it seems they are too tired to come over to toast the new year. Either that or they’re out at a rave party and have omitted to tell us. So it looks like it’s going to be a quiet New Year’s Eve, although one of the most memorable actually was here in Israel, on a Friday night, no less.
It was December 31, 1999. Remember the Y2K scare? It seems far-fetched now, but everyone was talking about the world as we knew it coming to an end, all because of the fear that computers worldwide would crash when the two-digit date in their memories turned from 99 to 00. The theory was that at midnight the world would revert back to 1900 instead of moving forward into 2000. Some people hypothesized that there would be a return to the dark ages, with no electricity or running water.
When we heard that midnight had come and gone in Australia without the predicted apocalypse, we knew the fears had been groundless.
We had already decided to celebrate that particular Shabbat in a place where we would be totally unaffected by the goings-on in the rest of the world, and the only bugs would be those crawling underfoot. And where better to get away from it all than the lowest point on earth? We joined a group of ten like-minded families from Ra’anana on an overnight trip to the Dead Sea, staying at Ein Gedi Field School.
We drove down early Friday morning and en route we visited Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. The site was packed with Christian pilgrims on their way to Bethlehem to celebrate the millennium.
The weather was perfect for hiking. We had a picnic lunch near the Dead Sea and then checked into the Field School where we had an evening of traditional Shabbat revelry. After a song-filled dinner, some members of our group were yawning and looking at their watches – and it was only 8pm.
Shortly before midnight, those of us who were still awake went to the Field School’s terrace, which overlooks the Dead Sea. The night sky was amazingly clear and awash with stars. Jordan was visible across the sea, and we saw bonfires lit by campers on the shores below. As the clock metaphorically struck midnight, our small group joined hands with one another and sang Auld Lang Syne. Suddenly, fireworks from neighboring Kibbutz Ein Gedi illuminated the sky. The sound reverberated around the mountains behind us, creating a dramatic effect.
The next morning, the hardier members of our group got up at 6am and went back to the terrace to watch the sun rising over the mountains on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The first chink of sunlight soon expanded to provide a shaft of brightness on the sea, stretching from the mountain to the shore just below us.
When we got home late Saturday night, those of us who hadn’t watched television at the time were able to see endlessly repeated snippets of millennium celebrations across the world. The technology was amazing and the pyrotechnics were stunning.
But my personal memory of turn of the century weekend is of a star-lit sky, a sunrise and a natural waterfall. It was, I think, a wholly appropriate moment to be reminded that the best things in life are free – as the cliche goes – and they have been around since time began.
Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful 2014.