Happy New Year by Matt Rees

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Frequently Jerusalem hits the headlines because Jews and Muslims do rotten things to each other. They kill; they shoot; they make the most predictable speeches in the history of the United Nations General Assembly, which is not known for spicy dialogue at the best of times.

However, there are many benefits to living in a country where the Jewish and Muslim calendars predominate. Right now, for example, I’m reaping one of those benefits, wishing my Jewish pals a “shana tova,” or happy New Year, while outside the weather is balmy to bloody hot.

The Jewish New Year is a time, as a friend of mine mentioned yesterday, for praying. It’s followed a few days later by Yom Kippur, which is a time for asking God not to kill you in the forthcoming year. It’s not a time for getting wasted, trying to random kiss women in the street, vomiting in Trafalgar Square, or punching some bloke because he looked at you the wrong way.

Those, of course, are the traditions of December 31, and I never much enjoyed them. It’s very pleasant to wish someone Happy New Year without slurring your speech – an experience I never had before the age of 27. It’s also great that the Jewish New Year starts at sundown, rather than at midnight. I’ve got a seven-week-old baby. Why should I stay up until midnight to watch people get drunk and sing the nonsensical words of an old Scottish ballad?

The last time I “celebrated” the New Year’s holiday with which most of you are probably familiar, it was 1993 and it was New York. I had an eventful night. I was jostled by a police horse in Times Square, shortly after which the horse appeared to have a seizure and collapsed right next to me. I swallowed so many Jell-o shots I couldn’t stand up. When I made it to my feet, I hailed a taxi and got out without paying underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, thinking it was where I lived. (I lived 90 blocks away.) I got very cold and slept in a dumpster. I woke up early, went to my girlfriend’s house for a day we had planned to spend together, and shivered in bed until the afternoon, retching every quarter of an hour. (She’s married to a Wall Street bond trader. Which means she must be retching every fifteen minutes now.)

Happy New Year, eh?

By contrast, I’m not compelled by peer pressure to celebrate the Jewish New Year.  On Yom Kippur, I’ll take a walk with my family through Jerusalem’s streets, which are entirely free of traffic on that day.

My friends here will be going through the torment of family holidays. Of three straight days filled with the proscriptions of the Sabbath. Mothers all over the country will suffer nervous breakdowns as they strive to provide meals for the whole holiday period without actually cooking once the holiday starts. And then they have to run around apologizing to anyone they might have affronted in the last year, for fear God might not sign them into the book of life for the next year. For them, it’s pure craziness.

But for me it’s a great holiday. And I can completely ignore December 31! Happy New Year.

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