(Photo: Artem Dolgopyat (L) President Isaac Herzog (C) and Linoy Ashram (R) with their Olympic gold medals at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, August 16, 2021. Photo credit: Itay Beit-On/GPO)
Am Yisrael has just ended the period of the Jewish high holidays, a traditional period of reflection for the Jewish people. It begins with Rosh Hashana, the New Year, followed by Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and repentance, and concludes with Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, the holiday commemorating the 40 years of biblical wandering in the desert to the Promised Land.
The past year has seen changes in the land that are both promising and challenging, full of dramatic and exciting events from politics to sports, hi-tech to pandemics.
Here are few that dominated the Israeli headlines.
On the political front, Israel voted in a new government and a new Prime Minister after three elections failing to reach conclusive results. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-reigning premier, and his Likud party were sent to the opposition by voters in the fourth election, held in March 2021. The new coalition is Israel’s most diverse government to date, including parties from both ends of the spectrum and, for the first time ever, an Arab party. The White House welcomed a new face to the Israeli – USA relations arena when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, on his first official state visit, met with President Biden at the Oval Office in late August.
The Knesset also voted in a new President, in accordance with the national presidential timetable of seven years. Unlike the Prime Minister, the President is largely a ceremonial, apolitical figure. The popular Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin ended his term this summer and Isaac “Bougie” Herzog took office as Israel’s eleventh president. He is also the first President who is the son of a former President; his father Haim Herzog was installed as Israel’s sixth President in 1983. As a teenager, Isaac Herzog attended high school in New York and American Jewish summer camps and as a college student he attended NYU and Cornell. Herzog faced off against Miriam Peretz, a prominent educator, public speaker and recipient of the Israel Prize. 87 of the 120 Knesset members voted for him, making his election the largest victory in Israel’s presidential history.
Eighteen months into Covid, Israel is learning to live with the pandemic. With one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the first country to vaccinate 12–16-year-olds and a quick roll-out of the third booster vaccine, life in Israel is approaching normalcy. Schools opened according to schedule on September 1 and indoor and outdoor events are taking place with precautions and vaccination guidelines. The holidays saw Israelis enjoying their proximity to Europe, and are travelling once again. While infection numbers plummeted in the early summer, they were on the rise during the holiday period, now reducing again, and the most encouraging news is the relatively low number of seriously ill patients, directly related to the high vaccination rate and the booster shot that over half of Israeli adults have taken.
Thanks to the high vaccination rate, the reopening of the economy, and a robust hi-tech market, the economy is pushing ahead in the shadow of the pandemic, with the Bank of Israel predicting a GDP growth this year of 5.5%.
Israelis were elated with their record results at both the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games. The all-star national judo team won bronze in the mixed event and Israeli athletes brought home a bronze in Taekwondo and two golds in gymnastics. For the first time in the country’s Olympic history, Israel participated in baseball.
Israel wrapped up the Paralympic Games ranked a respectable 22 on the medal ladder, bringing home 6 gold medals, 2 silver and 1 bronze. Swimmers Ami Omer Dadaon and Mark Malyar created new world records in swimming and swimmer Iyad Shalabi is Israel’s first Arab citizen to bring home a medal. The outstanding athletes with disabilities served as a wonderful source of pride and inspiration for the entire country.
The new year ahead holds many challenges, but Israel is off to a promising start.