Yasha Harari
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What everybody ought to know about the Gregorian New Year in Israel

Some things you can pick up about that last day of December by using your smartphone
Confetti flies over Times Square in New York  as the new year is celebrated, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)
Confetti flies over Times Square in New York as the new year is celebrated, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

Celebrate ... 2014 Happy New Year editorial cartoon

Happy New Year… means what in Israel?

Oh look… planet Earth has completed another solar orbit around the Sun. Go, gravity!

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Whether or not you are an astrophysicist, you have to love the sheer magnitude of the forces of nature in our solar system, let alone the galaxy, or the universe(s).

Of course, New Year’s Eve is just an arbitrary calendar date, which does not signify the start or end of any particular orbit, since the orbit is an ellipse and we do not have any idea where exactly in time and space it first started.

Nonetheless, in the common Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western Calendar, or the Christian Calendar, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have been given their special place as the end of the old year and the start of a new year.

Now as it happens, Israel is the birthplace of Christianity, and thus one could argue that without Israel, there may never have been a Christian calendar. So you’d think there might be a modicum of appreciation in Israel for this most common calendar having its roots in a religion which originally stems from Israel. And yet, most Israelis I know don’t celebrate on New Year’s Eve, unless they grew up somewhere outside of the Middle East.

Ironically, those that do, when speaking Hebrew, refer to New Year’s as “Sylvester”. No, not named after the lovable cartoon cat. Sylvester, as in Pope Sylvester, or Silvester (depending on your preference), the 4th century C.E. leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who would later become Saint Sylvester.

According to various sources, the Israeli usage of the term “Sylvester” to describe New Year’s Eve celebrations, is linked to Saint Sylvester, who wore the big hat during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.).

Historians have recorded that in 324 C.E., just one year prior to the convening of the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester convinced Constantine to forbid Jews from living in Jerusalem.

In a hotly debated point of historical order, many have contended that during the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester used his influence to push through a range of terrible anti-Semitic laws. Others have stated that anti-semitism was not so prevalent or deeply entrenched during Pope Sylvester’s reign. We are talking about Jerusalem affairs here. So of course, despite the whole story having happened some 1,700 years ago, academics have yet to resolve the matter.

In Catholicism, all Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester’s Day – and so, parties and celebrations on the night of December 31 are often held in memory of, and dedicated to, Sylvester.

Full disclosure: I did quite about a bit of research about St. Sylvester for this New Year’s Eve article on a roamin’ smartphone with many parts designed and built in Israel as well as many other countries. So there’s another example of cultures co-existing in the Middle East… thanks to hi-tech.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a great 2014. Now if only there was an app to ensure that you don’t lose so much champagne when you pop your cork at midnight …

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About the Author
Yasha Harari is an editorial cartoonist and entrepreneur with decades of experience spanning a broad variety of business expertise, including political lobbying, startups, internet technologies, publishing, marketing and the arts. Yasha made aliyah from the U.S. in 1998. His comics and caricatures have been featured in books, websites, accessories, and worn by runway models in fashion shows from Milan to St. Petersburg.
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