2014 Year in Review

“It’s not a pretty world, Papa.”
“I’ve noticed,” my father said softly.
— Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev

As Jews, we say goodbye to 2014 with some nostalgia and a lot of good-riddance. Chaim Potok warned us. It’s not a pretty world. It’s true. We did not win any Nobel Prizes, a rarity, but if you’re feeling sad about this, you can go to the Israeli city Rishon Letzion and visit Tayelet Hatnei Pras Nobel, a street honoring all past Jewish Nobel prize winners with a plaque to each. But nine new tiny Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a post-doctoral researcher at Hebrew University, Dr. Yonatan Adler in 2013 and in 2014 the news was made public. They are now being analyzed for the significance they may yield on Second Temple Judaism.

It’s not a pretty world when three precious Israeli teenagers were kidnapped then murdered in those desperate months of May and June while we collectively held our breathes across the globe. It was the summer of Gaza tunnels, a closure of Ben Gurion airport, civilian casualties, the death of so many soldiers and a war no one seemed to win.

The tensions were not limited to Israel. On April 15th, a man with a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric shot a boy and his grandfather in a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and then hit an elderly woman in an assisted living facility.  Four people were killed in a Jewish museum in Brussels on May 29th. This was a year of escalated anti-Semitism around the world; from France to Crimea, Jews were victims once again of irrational hatred. This propelled an escalation in aliya this year. Over 5,000 Jews from the Ukraine made their permanent home in Israel in 2014. A full one percent of French Jews were expected to move to Israel in 2014. By August 31st, the number was 4,566. Fighting back, more than 400,000 young Jews from 66 countries have visited Israel on a Taglit Birthright trip as of the close of this year.

We all love the positive energy of start-up nation thinking so here are 3 Israeli inventions that are hitting the market just about now to make you qvell: ReWalk Robotics, an exoskeleton system that helps people who are paralyzed learn to walk again. Then there’s the Opgal/Lumus night vision system, an app that mounts a low-cost night-vision camera on an Android phone for security purposes and Stratasys/Objet, a joint Israeli-US company that is one of the top producers of advanced 3D printing equipment that may change food production and has been used in medical advances. Israeli scientists have also developed an early MRI test for trauma from brain damage. Israelis now even have an app for dog-lovers called Dogiz, a social network for dog owners.

Notable deaths in 2014 include that of Robin Williams who called himself an “honorary Jew” and Ben Ammi Ben Israel, an American born religious leader of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. Of course, the military leader and legendary political figure Ariel Sharon died on January 11, 2014 after having a stroke that incapacitated him in 2006. Founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, fled the Nazis and became a Lubavitch Hasid and joined with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to do outreach to a generation of Jews, many more interested in weed than creed. He died on July 3, 2014 having been a spiritual force for a generation of American Jews. We lost another 3 rabbis in the Har Nof Massacre on November 17, including Rabbi Moshe Twersky of the Soloveitchik family. It’s not a pretty world.

On a more positive note, that same family celebrated the receipt of the Israel Prize in the field of Jewish religious literature by scholar Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on the occasion of Israel’s 66thbirthday. No prize, however, can ever make up for the loss.

In September, with the onset of Rosh Hashana, Jews in Israel welcomed the seven year shmita or sabbatical cycle from the biblical chapter of Leviticus 25. This mandates that land lie fallow for an entire annual cycle and is said to increase abundance during the other years of the cycle.

Yossi Klein Halevi’s book Like Dreamers won the Sophie Brody Medal in 2014. Matti Friedman won the Sammy Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature for The Aleppo Codex and Sarah Bunin Benor was runner-up for Becoming Frum. The year’s end also saw the walk-outs of The New Republic’s executive and literary editors Frank Foer and Leon Weiseltier over a disagreement about the magazine’s direction. This year PJ Library gave out its 5 millionth book to a young Jewish reader.

Our year ended with the release of Alan Gross on December 17th  in exchange for 3 Cuban prisoners serving in US jails. Communities worldwide protested his arrest and the five years he spent in a Cuban jail. Gross, now 65, joined his family as the best Hanuka present they could have asked for.

So here are three “Jewish” resolutions for 2015:

  • Fight any and all anti-Semitism. It’s back, it’s ugly and it cannot be tolerated.
  • So much good is coming out of Israel. Make 2015 the year to strengthen your relationship to Israel.
  • Win a Nobel Prize. It makes our people happy.

God, please let 2015 be a prettier year for us all. We need it.

Shabbat Shalom