Rosh Hashanah: What happened in Israel in the Jewish year 5782?

From Middle East peace and war to COVID-19, political instability, rising prices, terrorism, Iran fears, Hezbollah threats, immigration and the Russia-Ukraine War: What happened in Israel?

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Still an influential presence.  (photo credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Still an influential presence.
(photo credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

It was a year of peace (the Negev Summit), and a year of war (Operation Breaking Dawn). A year of the plague, and a year of a return to health. A year of political instability. A year of immigration. A year of soaring prices. A year of a mini-terror wave and determined action to break it. A year of worry about Iran, and action against Iran both in Syria and in Iran itself. A year of Hezbollah threats. 

It was a year when, for a second, it appeared as if Israel was to play a central role in mediating one of the world’s most critical problems: the Russian-Ukrainian war. It was a year of a US presidential visit, and a continued stalemate with the Palestinians. 

In short, the year 5782 was a year similar to so many others the country has experienced recently. No one huge memorable event took place that will sear this year into the nation’s collective memory. Rather, the year was full of smaller, though often dramatic, events that followed one after the other in rat-a-tat fashion – just like every year.

The news cycle in this country is dizzying, and 5782 was no exception. One day the headlines were about finally passing a national budget, another day about dissolving the Knesset. One day about prime minister Naftali Bennett jetting off to Moscow on Shabbat, another about President Joe Biden coming here. One day about a horrendous terror attack in Beersheba, or Bnei Brak, or Elad or Tel Aviv; another day about the death of a prominent Al Jazeera journalist, and yet another day about a military campaign against Islamic Jihad in Gaza

 ONE DAY we were wearing masks, the next we weren’t: Then-premier Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visit a Kfar Saba school in February.  (credit: Dana Kopel/Pool) ONE DAY we were wearing masks, the next we weren’t: Then-premier Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visit a Kfar Saba school in February. (credit: Dana Kopel/Pool)

The pace of the news here is exhausting – unmatched, perhaps, anywhere else in the world. As always, never a dull moment. Yet while each of those headlines was dramatic, none of them represented anything that we had not seen before, none of it was new in a groundbreaking way. 

WE HAVE had years of groundbreaking events in recent memory. 

In 2018, corresponding to the Hebrew year 5778, for instance, when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem – that was groundbreaking. The year 2020 (5780) saw the outbreak of the coronavirus and the signing of the Abraham Accords. Those were singularly momentous events, which generated headlines we were unaccustomed to seeing.

The past year was devoid of any one such landmark event. Rather, it was the year of more of the same.

For instance, more corona, until it petered out without much fanfare. One day we were all wearing masks, then a couple of weeks later we weren’t. One day we were not flying abroad, or if we were, we had to get tested for corona before departing from Israel and returning, and then all of a sudden everyone seemed to be traveling again, with no antigen test needed. 

One day the kids were still learning at home via Zoom, and then they were back at school. We went this year from being obsessed with the coronavirus, to hardly thinking about it. And the change from one mode of thought to the other was almost imperceptible. 

No trumpet flourish heralded the end of the coronavirus, no collective dance in the national endzone celebrating that the plague had passed. Rather, life just slowly went back to normal. Traffic returned to pre-corona levels, as did traffic accidents. Concert halls filled up again, as did sports stadiums and synagogues. Sure, the Omicron variant made a disruptive appearance, but then it, too, was gone. 

The COVID-19 pandemic taught the world humility

So why were there no major post-corona celebrations or declarations this year? Why were there no headlines announcing that the plague is over? Because COVID taught everyone some humility, and that while there may be no plague today, there could be a new variant tomorrow coming at us from various parts of the globe: South Africa or Brazil, Britain or Mexico.

Be that uncertainty as it may, COVID did not dominate our lives, or the headlines, this past year anywhere near the way it did the previous two years – obviously a most welcome development. 

A year of immigration to Israel

IT WAS also a year of more immigration. Some 60,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel this year, compared to 28,500 last year, and 19,700 the year before that – but those were years in which immigration was hit badly because of corona. More than 31,000 Russian and Ukrainian immigrants came since the start of the war, as well as an additional 29,500 Ukrainian refugees not eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return, of which 14,600 still remain. 

Some may say that this was an event unique to this year, but this absorption of newcomers – temporary and permanent – is something Israel has done innumerable times. Mass influxes of immigrants are nothing new to the country; only the causes of those bursts of immigration change wave by wave. 

Political instability remains in Israel

Something else that remained the same in the outgoing year was the country’s political instability, a phenomenon that began well before the onset of the coronavirus.

When 5782 was ushered in last Rosh Hashanah, there was a degree of hope that the political instability and dysfunctionality that had dogged this country since Avigdor Liberman brought down then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government in December 2018 was finally a thing of the past. 

Last September, Bennett was the prime minister, head of a diverse government of eight parties representing a smorgasbord of Israeli opinion – Right and Left, religious and secular, Jew and Arab – whose overriding message was that they agreed on more than they disagreed on, and that they would put their ideological disagreements to the side for a while and, for the common good, focus on what they agreed upon.

Great idea, even a noble one. It lasted a year. 

Eventually what divided the parties, what they tried to stuff away in a back closet, crept out and brought down this experiment. Bennett is no longer prime minister, with his term the shortest in Israel’s history. This Rosh Hashanah Yair Lapid is the premier. Who knows who it will be by next Rosh Hashanah? Perhaps Lapid, perhaps Benny Gantz, perhaps Netanyahu. 

Yes, Netanyahu, a man who – while he did not dominate the news of 5782 in the same way that he has in years past – was still a commanding presence. 

True, the country began getting used to life after Netanyahu as prime minister, realizing that it could carry on fine without him calling the shots; that relations with the world would not fall apart, that Iran would not detonate a nuclear device, that rockets would not unceasingly fall from Gaza.

Yet his presence was still felt strongly, both by the way he worked to bring down the government and by how his trial and the testimony of Nir Hefetz, Shlomo Filber, and Hadas Klein kept his name, and the allegations against him, front and center. As in each of the previous four elections, the upcoming election in November remains a referendum on Netanyahu. 

This serves as proof that in 5782, the more events may have seemed different, the more they were actually just updated versions of things we have gone through repeatedly in the past: new variations on well-worn themes.■