(RNS) — These are the most important events and trends of the year in Jewish life, from the horror of violent anti-Semitism, to the hope of a burgeoning birth rate in Israel.
1. The political stalemate in Israel. After a pair of inconclusive national elections, both Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders of the two largest political parties, failed to build a viable governing coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. At year’s end, Netanyahu, despite being formally indicted for criminal activities, tenaciously remained in power as prime minister. An unprecedented third election to resolve the deadlock is scheduled for early March 2020.
2. The resurgence of violent anti-Semitism. Nearly 75 years after the end of the Holocaust and World War II, violent acts of anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews and Judaism) sharply increased during the year, including fatal hate crime shootings at a San Diego-area synagogue and a Jersey City kosher market and an unsuccessful attempt to kill worshipers on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in Halle, Germany. They were but three of the growing number of both physical and verbal attacks on Jews in the U.S. and Europe. In France, 89% of French Jewish students report experiencing anti-Jewish abuse and, since 2003, a dozen people have been murdered in that country for the sole reason that they were Jewish.
3. The threat from Iran. Iran’s military and political influence continued to expand in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. As a result, Israel currently faces Iranian armed forces on its Golan Heights frontline. In 2019 the Israeli Air Force responded with a sustained series of attacks on Iranian military installations in Syria. Hamas-controlled Gaza remained a tense flashpoint along with the threat posed by the Hezbollah terrorist group located in Lebanon.
4. Anti-Semitism in Britain. Critics of Britain’s Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, charged that he has not simply “tolerated” anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs, but he transformed his party into one that condones Holocaust denial, crude Jewish stereotypes, conspiracy theories that include blaming Israel for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., as well as vocal and online abuse of Jewish Labourites. The United Kingdom’s chief rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned the attacks on Jews. In December, Labour, led by Corbyn, suffered its greatest electoral defeat in 80 years.
5. Jewish candidates for high office. For the first time in American history, two Jewish candidates, albeit very different in style and policies, are vying for a major party’s presidential nomination: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Jewish political leaders are increasingly being elected to local, state and federal offices. In addition, Colorado and Illinois have Jewish governors, and a Jewish woman is the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
6. A new Old Testament. Robert Alter, a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, published his highly praised English translation of the entire Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. He attempted to capture the rich cadences, poetic nuances and authentic meanings of the ancient texts: an extraordinary literary and spiritual task that took decades to complete.