NEW YORK, Nov. 23 (JTA) — What will you be doing New Year’s Eve — or should we say New Millennium’s Eve?
Will you be decked out in festive holiday finery, tripping the light fantastic, partying like it’s (almost no longer) 1999? Or will it not be Dec. 31 for you, but rather the 22nd of Tevet, simply but pleasurably another regular Shabbat?
Interviews with Jews from around the country and across the Orthodox- to-secular spectrum revealed that, for most, the last Shabbat of the millennium will likely be a bit of both.
Some would like to get as far away from both the Jewish and secular aspects of the weekend as possible.
Filmmaker and writer Lilly Rivlin is hoping “to go to India, to totally avoid it and go to an ashram,” she said, where she will devote herself to meditating and dancing to what she described as New Age Indian music.
Some are going to do their best to ignore the importance of the date on the secular calendar and keep millennial revelry at bay.
Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a humanities professor at New York University, will do “what I always do on Shabbas,” he said. “I will have dinner, will study the sidra [Torah portion of the week] a bit and go to sleep, and then the next morning I will go to shul. Period.
“Any Jewish hoo-ha about the millennium is essentially playing into Christian hands. It’s not our party, not our millennium, and let’s cut it out,” Hertzberg said.
Bruce Temkin, director of young leadership for the New Israel Fund, and his partner are going “to try to avoid the overplanned significance and shmaltz of the evening,” probably by having a quiet dinner with friends and family as they do most every Friday night, he said.
For Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, an organization representing the interests of the fervently Orthodox, it will be a Shabbat like any other.
“Shabbat stands for things very antithetical to things like the noise, the ribaldry and the wild parties that go on at any New Year’s Eve and certainly at the turn of a millennium. Shabbat is about calm and peace and quiet. I hope it won’t have to register at all at our Shabbas table, but if it does it will just be a reminder of the contrast between the Jewish world and the rest of the world,” he said.
Yet other Jews expect to ignore the Jewish aspects of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 this year.
“The fact that it’s Shabbat isn’t going to really affect my life or my celebration at all,” said Sari Fensterheim, a New York-based video producer. She plans to go to her mother’s beach house with friends. “We’ll probably cook a nice dinner and drink some champagne, which sort of sounds like Shabbat dinner but isn’t on purpose,” she said.
For many, however, the confluence of Shabbat with New Year’s Eve will be a chance to meld their Jewish lives with an acknowledgment of the fact that they live in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish world.
Rachel Levin and her husband plan to have friends to their Los Angeles home for Shabbat dinner, supplemented by champagne to toast the new year, said Levin.
“I’m pleased it’s Shabbat, since to me it is so much about marking time. It’s really about being present in the moment, so I can’t think of a nicer way to begin the next century than being with family and friends,” said Levin, a program officer with the Righteous Persons Foundation.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Lubavitch rabbi famous for his book “Kosher Sex” suggested, at a recent New York City appearance, that one of the nicest ways for Jews to celebrate the millennium would be to invite non-Jewish friends over for Shabbat.
In Miami there will be a Shabbat retreat devoted to an exploration of the holy texts belonging to many of the world’s religions, at Reconstructionist Temple Beth Or and its Sh’ma Center for Jewish Meditation.
After Friday night services will come an all-night reading of texts from the Jewish Psalms, the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, the Buddhist text Dhammapada, the Taoist Tao Te Ching and Christianity’s Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, said Rabbi Rami Shapiro.
On Saturday he will run a day of silent sitting meditation, interspersed with text study, Shapiro said. “One of the hallmarks of religion in the 21st century will be interspirituality, a sense that while each of us comes from our own tradition, we also recognize that the truth is not contained in any one, and we can learn from different traditions.”
Other religious organizations are also capitalizing on the coincidence of special days in the Jewish and secular calendars.
Reform Temple Emanuel, in Beverly Hills, Calif., is encouraging people “to start the millennium with God” by coming to Friday night services before continuing on to whatever party is planned, said Rabbi Laura Geller.
Most Reform congregations are expanding their Friday night celebration of Shabbat into something a little longer and fancier to mark the occasion, said Emily Grotta, director of communications for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism sent out a booklet of programming, sermon and publicity ideas to each of its member congregations, suggesting that Conservative synagogue leaders try and turn the focus of the weekend away from “expensive, extensive, explosive, exotic styles and locations” and to themes related to transitions, which are to be found in that Shabbat’s Torah portion in the Book of Exodus.
A Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Ansche Chesed, will try to keep its members busy that Friday night with worship services, a dinner and entertainment late into the night. Champagne will be served at midnight, of course, and children will have a sleepover party with Israeli dancing. “This cuts across the lines of people who are more interested in doing something Jewish and those who are not. It’s a way to build one community,” said synagogue President Michael Brochstein.
Somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 sets of Shabbat candlesticks, candles, kiddush cup and bubbly grape juice will be sent out by the National Jewish Outreach Project to those who call 1-888-SHABBAT.
The organization will spend between $100,000 and $250,000 to try to persuade people to turn New Year’s Eve into Shabbat, said Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, its director.
Yet even for some synagogues it isn’t going to be a particularly significant Shabbat.
The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation solicited “a minyan of opinion” about whether to organize something movementwide for the Shabbat, said executive director Mark Seal, but though it is “a classic conflict between two civilizations, people don’t feel it profoundly.
“A lot of people feel the hysteria in terms of a crisis is overblown and are planning low-key Shabbats,” he said.