Year in Review

Remember the fear and trepidation that accompanied the coming of the year 2000? Millennialists ran around like Chicken Little, selling us on bottled water and canned tuna, promising disaster.

It turns out they were off by a year.

As it happened, 2001 was Hell Week. Leading up to Sept. 11, there was the tanking economy, petty divisiveness and lurid scandal. Since the morning of Sept. 11, there’s been all that plus terror, war and fear.

The year began shakily. There was the inauguration of a new president with whom few felt at peace; the fight over his attorney general; and early skirmishes over energy policy, stem cell research and the environment.

There was an energy crisis in California, though Angelenos were saved from the worst of it, in no small part due to the foresight of David Freeman.

There was the second intifada in Israel that began the previous year and shows every sign of continuing into the next. It wove itself in and out of the world’s larger war: Americans and Israelis bonded over their common enemy, but America left Israel out of the anti-terror coalition. Many in the rest of the world pointed fingers at Israel as a source of the problem, and the finger-pointing, as our cover story reveals, has quickly transformed itself into the threat of anti-Semitism.

The intifada in Israel has made its recession much worse: tourism there is down to something less than a trickle, hotels are closing, not only is no one going to Israel, many Israelis are leaving.

Here in Jewish Los Angeles, the turmoil and bad news came Ali-like, in rapid-fire body blows. We seemed eager to add to the sense of general unrest.

There was the furor that erupted when Rabbi David Wolpe reviewed the scientific evidence for the Exodus story from the pulpit, just before Passover. By late fall, we would be nostalgic for the bloodless rancor of that debate.

Last month, more bad news. The Jewish Federation slashed 30 positions, citing the economic downturn. The Jewish Community Center system faced imminent collapse, and Jewish Los Angeles was suddenly faced with the prospect of losing much of a 70-year-old system that has served the needs of generations.

As the year wound down to a close, two Jewish militants were arrested by the FBI for allegedly plotting to use explosives against a mosque and an Arab American congressman.

I’d like to believe the news couldn’t get any stranger this year, but to paraphrase Jack Palance in “City Slickers,” the year ain’t over yet.

To be bright about things, the days following Sept. 11 looked truly bleak. We reeled awaiting the next attack with a certainty that the millennialists of Dec. 31, 1999, could only envy.

Things had fallen apart, including perspective. Optimism seemed an early casualty of terror. It is now, believe it or not, just three months later.

The evidence of hard times is everywhere. But the other shoe hasn’t dropped, and the president whose competence we questioned has led much of the world to victory over those who harbored terrorists, and over at least some part of a terrorist network. The success hasn’t gone unrewarded: in a poll released earlier this month, 82 percent of American Jews said they approved of Bush, pretty much mirroring the percentage of Jews that voted against him in 2000.

Even the JCCs look like they have a shot at rescuing themselves. Their leaders and members have devised a plan for a short-term solution, and are now facing the challenges of the long-term.

And in case you missed it, Wolpe published an article in the December issue of Moment magazine titled, “We Were Slaves to Pharoah in Egypt.”

Of course, that’s what he had been saying all along: The Exodus happened, just not the way we expected.

Then again, few things ever do.

Have a Happy New Year.