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The Key to Bringing New Year’s Eve to Israel

Despite decades of opposition, there is hope yet for revelry: drunk Americans

Adam Chandler
December 31, 2013

Over at the AP, Dan Perry and Tablet contributor Daniel Estrin have investigated a matter of high importance. If you didn’t know, Israelis are annually unenthused about New Year’s Eve. (If I were in the BDS camp, I might just start my litigation right there.) It’s a great piece, rich with historical, religious, and sociological analyses about why Israelis are blasé about a holiday that the rest of the world treats as the ultimate occasion for deleterious merriment.

In it, Perry and Estrin paint a grim picture of what New Year’s Eve looks like in Tel Aviv, a city place that Forbes calls “the city that never sleeps” and Lonely Planet ranks as one of the Top Ten Ultimate Party Cities alongside Ibiza, Vegas, Berlin, Montreal, and Havana:

“We open a champagne bottle in the lobby at midnight,” but that is all, said Chen Michaeli, manager of Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel.

The Dan Panorama! You know, the luxury one that’s 50 steps from the Mediterranean with the massive pool patio that’s just ready-made for a New Year’s rager (or, at least, a very suggestive Cialis commercial)? They pop one bottle, folks. And why?

Still, the Jews — like the Chinese — do have another calendar, and the issue has become interwoven with the ever-present, not always overt project of figuring out what it means to be “the Jewish state.”

“We treat (New Year’s Eve) with jealousy and disdain. Jealousy because the world has a blast of a party. Disdain because we were not invited,” wrote columnist Yossi Klein in the Haaretz newspaper. “The seclusion and the guarding of the gates are exhausting.”

It doesn’t have to be that way! I would argue that Israelis, if properly motivated, can be turned into New Year’s Eve fanatics. The key to this, however, requires the continued ambassadorship of American students studying abroad in Israel. My friends, not so many years ago, I was one such ambassador.

It was New Year’s Eve in the early aughts. I was studying abroad on a gap-year program and a huge number of our group shuttled to Tel Aviv for the big night. After searching fruitlessly for something to do along Allenby Street, we ended up on the beach for our own midnight blowout. I’d like to say there was champagne popped, but we were probably drinking 10-shekel (plastic liter) bottles of vodka and drinking warm Carlsberg beer. I should mention, we were all under the age of 21 and many of us were away from our parents for the first time in a country where drinking was legal for us.

We raucously settled on the pier on the beach (not more than a few matkot matches away from the Dan Panorama) for the last hour of the year. Some Israelis who were out and about who looked on with total befuddlement, but more than a few coalesced near us as we started our countdown. They sensed what was coming. They saw, nay, they felt the promise of New Year’s Eve in the Levant air. For reasons that seem cliché–call it the ultimate matzav typusi–when the new year hit, the gaggle of 20 or so American gap-year students immediately commenced with a large make-out session. The group hierarchies were shredded away like so much tickertape. Not a soul was left out. (Even the one kid with the braces was totally dominating.)

By 12:05, the arbor hadn’t abated. Bad decision after bad decision was being made. Passersby were stunned. With mixed success, some duly inspired Israelis tried to work their way into our PG-13 orgy. And that’s when I knew that New Year’s Eve, like waiting in line for anything, might be something that Israelis could warm up to someday.

I’m not alone. Tablet contributor Romy Zipken offered this New Year’s Eve in Israel anecdote from several years later:

We just had your standard messy Americans in Israel New Year’s Eve tale. About ten of us (most sick with bronchitis) piled into a hotel room for two in Eilat for a few days leading up to a New Year’s Eve party that would have all the techno music, vodka redbulls, and sushi we could hope for. Every morning we woke up to a speedo-wearing DJ at the hotel’s pool, blasting USA’s jams to a completely empty pool (it was freezing out…god bless him for trying).

She added that the night involved one blackout-prone participant (nicknamed Jason Bourne) attempting “to scale the hotel building and a couple of very drunk people had to talk him off a balcony.”

See! It’s very simple. As long as American parents keep sending their teenage children to Israel, there will always be hope for New Year’s Eve. The same goes for the 21st birthdays.


Bonus: An old friend of mine from Israel, who wished to remain semi-anonymous, e-mailed to say that he is living proof that Israelis like to party on New Year’s Eve: His birthday is October 3rd.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.