According to Jewish tradition, we are supposed to be optimistic about the future. At the end of the Passover seder we proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem,”
and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur we pray to be sealed in the Book of Life, looking forward with hope.
Jan. 1 comes in the month of Tevet on the Jewish calendar, four months into the Hebrew year. But in our Western culture it marks the New Year, a time for reflections and resolutions (usually short-lived).
Looking back, 2012 was marked by a number of serious challenges, and tragedies, from the brief Gaza war to the shocking Newtown killings, with a marked deterioration of prospects for peace in the Mideast. We witnessed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority move toward reconciliation with Hamas, the escalating civil war in Syria, and Iran’s continuing push to achieve nuclear arms despite effective, U.S.-driven economic sanctions imposed by the West.
The new year seems poised to play out the next chapter of these crises.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking at the UN in September, asserted that 2013 would be the year of decision regarding Iran. If diplomatic efforts continue to go nowhere, is the U.S. prepared to take military action to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons? If not, will Israel strike, despite fears of deadly retaliation? Those questions hang heavy at the outset of the year, as do worries over the fate of Syria, whose collapse could lead to a stateless territorial war among tribes and the possible takeover by neighboring Iran.
The next several months may give us a better indication of whether President Morsi in Egypt will place pragmatism and financial stability over Muslim Brotherhood ideology in charting a course for the Arab world’s most important state. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be showing signs of whether he is seeking rapport with Hamas or Israel as the Israel-Palestinian stalemate continues.
Already there are signs of cracks in the American Jewish community’s support for Israel’s hardline approach toward Abbas. In the wake of the UN vote for “Palestine” as a non-member state, AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, supports a congressional effort to shut down the PLO’s Washington office while the Reform movement is opposed. Both sides indicate they will wait to see if the Palestinians go to the international courts and seek to have Israeli officials charged with war crimes.
These trends indicate this could be a dramatic and contentious year, but in the spirit of our tradition, we hope and pray for a year of peace.