My Word: Neither the best, nor the worst

My Word Neither the bes

ueen Elizabeth once described her year as an "annus horribilis," resorting to the Latin to avoid offending the sense of British understatement. This has not been, as Jews wish each other, a shana tova - a good year. Neither, thankfully, has it been the worst. As we mark 70 years since the outbreak of World War II, we know we have much to be grateful for. We are still alive. We have a sovereign state, often ordered around, but independent by nature and deed. Two other anniversaries this year demonstrate the essence of these emotions: Tel Aviv went to town over its centennial as the White City which grew from a few homes on the sand to a metropolis more liberal than many others along the Mediterranean. Hebron, on the other hand, has just commemorated the 67 Jews killed in the riots of 1929, in which the city's ancient Jewish community was expelled by Arabs. Incidentally, both events go a long way to dispelling the myth that Jews built their homes here only after the Holocaust (or, for that matter, that the source of the Mideast conflict is Israel's "occupation" since 1967). Between Tel Aviv and Hebron, Jerusalem this year elected a secular, hi-techy mayor and became the site of potentially the worst type of conflict: the religious wars being waged by some ultra-Orthodox zealots over everything from the opening of a parking lot to the detention of a mother suspected of abusing her child. The Jewish year in Israel started with an incident that proved that the show does not always go on: The Acre Fringe Theater Festival was canceled following riots which started with an Arab resident driving noisily through the carless streets of a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur. In November, the nature of the global village and Global Jihad was broadcast worldwide as Islamist terrorists hit Mumbai, India. The Jewish world reeled from the deaths at Chabad House of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg while rejoicing in the survival of their two-year-old son, Moshe, saved by his Indian nanny. International attention turned back to Israel in late December - way too late, according to most residents - when prime minister Ehud Olmert was finally forced to risk a repeat of the Lebanon II mistakes and determined enough was enough. Israel could not tolerate 80 missiles a day raining down on its citizens. A war in everything but name, Operation Cast Lead saw the IDF using an iron fist, leveling certain neighborhoods where Hamas was operating. This naturally took a toll on the civilians as Hamas had been diligently digging tunnels to smuggle weapons and goods but neglected to build public shelters. Hence the Palestinian civil population was largely turned into human shields instead of being shielded. On the Israeli side, the definition of "The South" changed as people in previously pastoral towns and villages as close to the center as Gedera were forced into shelters when Hamas demonstrated they had Grads and were not afraid to use them. The war marked a distinct change from Lebanon II. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi got the officers away from plasma screens in war rooms and back in the field, working at limiting the Israeli casualties. The fact that more Israeli civilians weren't hurt can be attributed to the way most moved to safer areas or into shelters, although schools and kindergartens sustained direct hits. In all, 10 IDF soldiers and three Israeli civilians were killed. The Palestinian figures depend on whom you ask - according to the IDF, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, at least 700 of them identified as Hamas operatives, although the Israeli public could not remain unmoved by the images of child casualties of a war they were too young to understand. At the end of the operation, Gilad Schalit, abducted two and a half years before, remained the only IDF soldier still in Gaza. Soberingly, this year Yona Baumel, father of Zachary, one of the three MIAs from Lebanon in 1982, died without knowing his son's fate - a tragedy the Schalit family wishes to avoid at any price. During the campaign, protesters against Israel took to the streets in "blood-stained" clothing and attacked branches of Jewish-owned Starbucks coffee shops in places as diverse as London and Lebanon. In Davos, Switzerland, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of war crimes. Anti-Semitic incidents increased around the world in what seems like the comeback of the blood libel, magnified by the wonders of modern technology. That a Swedish paper last month could see fit to run a story that IDF soldiers abducted Palestinians to steal their organs is a sign of how far Israel has been delegitimized. But some things never change. Pope Benedict XVI added insult to old injuries by announcing his intention to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop, not long before his visit to the region. No wonder it was New Age kabbalist Madonna who got a warmer welcome when she gave a performance in the country a week ago. IT WAS a year in which the ballots were flying. Ehud Olmert was forced to resign after what one reporter described as a "meteoric downfall" and Binyamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister's Residence, older and hopefully wiser, for a second chance at leading the country. In an obviously historic moment, Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, changing the tone of the diplomatic process with his Cairo University address in June which might as well have been given in Arabic, the language and rhetoric were so clear. Shortly after being feted by the UN in Geneva, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had the world a-Twitter with his electoral win, declared before the votes had been counted and leading to a mini-revolution on the streets of Teheran whose final results have yet to be seen. His allies in North Korea set the world on awkward edge in April when they defied international warnings to test their long-range missile technology showing, you might think, that global peace is not dependent solely on Israel's settlement policy. The financial world, shaking from the Wall Street crash, was slapped again when Bernard Madoff gave greed a face in December 2008. The scandal of the New Jersey rabbis at the end of the Jewish year also left people discussing the moral crisis. In Israel rising crime rates left the country feeling vulnerable. As former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau often notes, he misses the days when murders were so rare the entire country knew the name of every victim. Political convictions - of the criminal kind - also played a demoralizing role: Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and former health minister Shlomo Benizri were both put behind bars while Olmert is fighting corruption charges, and previous president Moshe Katsav, having been found guilty by the media, is now on trial for sexual offenses including rape. Nonetheless, there was also much to celebrate: Israeli filmmakers waltzed off with prestigious awards; despite the specter of academic boycotts, Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs continued to make breakthroughs to benefit all. The Maccabiah Games proved that we are still one people with a sporting chance. Immigrants continued to arrive by the Nefesh B'Nefesh planeload. And 20 years after the start of the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union, the IDF marching band on September 5 paraded in Moscow's Red Square as part of the annual Moscow Day celebration. So, as Madonna puts it: "It's a holiday... Let's celebrate."