Celebrate Sylvester! (Or don't. Nobody really cares.)

No, not this Sylvester. (Source: http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Humor/Cats/Sylvester.htm)

New Years Eve was actually the first "holiday" I ever experienced in Israel, on my Birthright Israel trip as a sophomore in college. (I went to Israel just because it was a free trip and I liked to travel... I didn't expect it to change my life so drastically and ultimately send me here!) On December 31, 2001, our group was staying in a hotel in Jerusalem. The Chabad rabbis leading our trip bought us fairly massive amounts of alcohol, and at midnight we stood on the balconies of a party hall near the top of the hotel, sipping vodka and orange juice screwdrivers, and waiting for the fireworks to mark the start of 2002.

They didn't come.

We finally saw a few little pops and fizzles way off in the direction of Bethlehem.

This was perhaps my first introduction to the vast differences between Israeli and American culture. I wasn't surprised by the lack of Christmas decorations in Israel, but no celebration of New Year's Eve?? 

To Israelis, New Year's Eve isn't really our holiday. Yes, we might think about going to a pub (especially in Tel Aviv, den of heathens that it is), or we might go for a late meal at a restaurant, but if January 1st falls on a weekday, we'll be working. In fact, the very name by which Israelis call New Year's Eve implies that it's a Christian holiday: "Sylvester," which refers to the anti-Semitic pope whose saint's day falls on New Years Eve. (To boot, "Silvester" is the term used by Germans for New Year's Eve. Nothing like the dual connotation of Nazis and Jew-hating Popes to dampen celebration!)

Because most Israelis are off on Friday, more Israelis are going out to celebrate Sylvester this year than normal. However, when one of my friends posted a call for Sylvester plans on Facebook, she got back the following  suggestions: prepare cholent, clean the house, go to sleep early. (And for the record, my friend is about as secular as they get!) There may have been a banner wishing Kiryat Bialik a Sweet New Year and "only good things" in September, but the only sign of Sylvester here was a sale on sparkling white wine at the Super, and that could be coincidence.

So, celebrate Sylvester tonight. Or don't. Either way. Shabbat Shalom, and oh, what it is those Americans say? Eppy New Year?

P.S. My husband and I are going to stay up and celebrate with strawberries and champagne... what can we say, we'll always be American. :)

P.P.S. Heh... I just caught a typo in the version of this message that I posted originally. For the record, we were not partying on top of a hotel in Jerusalem on January 31, 2001, although that would certainly have explained the lack of fireworks... 


  1. I think that in honor of "Sylvester" Israelies should celebrate by going out to the streets and feeding at least one cat each!

    And for the record: The chamoagne and strewberries were NOT my idea. I've never been THAT American. ;)

  2. our first NYE as a couple was on Shabbat; we had been married 3 weeks and were exhausted and were happy to get to bed at 9.

    Every year since we've tried to make it a point to be in bed by midnight. I love being boring.

  3. haha... let's hear it for being boring. :)

  4. I made aliyah on Dec 28th 2009 and before I came I made a point of telling everyone I would be celebrating NYE on the beach (I live in Eilat). Luckily for my pride, there was a massive fireworks display at the hotels and I stood on the beach and watched them and realised just how different my life was going to be from now on. I came from the UK, which is currently covered in snow and freezing cold!

  5. Welcome, Isobel! And... when can I come visit? :)

  6. hi maya...great blog, i really enjoy reading it. i'm wondering if i can ask you some questions about cost of living and avg salaries in israel considering i'm making the move in a few months. could you email me if you're willing? thanks so much!

  7. Nikki, I'll see if I can write a post about that sometime soon... it's kind of confusing.

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