This article first appeared in the OzTorah emails in December 1999.
Scenario One: Eat, drink and be merry. Spend thousands partying. Pour vast sums into the coffers of hostelries and hotels. Glide along in expensive limousines. Find a nook or cranny with a view of the action and bankrupt yourself to pay for the foothold.
Yet the same time, half the world’s population is hungry, there are far more homeless people than we know, families are battling to survive, children are dying from disease. It might have been an idea to remember them a bit more. You have money to burn? Why not stay home on New Year’s Eve, get a night’s sleep, and resolve to do more for human beings, instead of squandering good money on baubles and beer?
Scenario Two. Have a good time. Put yourself in the mood with drink and drugs. Smash a few shop windows, break into a car or two and steal and vandalise. Turn your music up, past the point of excruciation. Make yourself deaf and give everyone else a headache. Pit your rowdiness against any spoilsport who wants to sleep. Fun! Fun!
All right, if that’s how you must have it – have fun! But how about the other kind of fun – quality time with the family, some quiet friendship, a smile to cheer up someone who is feeling low, a visit or phone call as a tonic for someone who is ill, a bit of serenity to do some thinking about what really matters in life? This way at least you won’t have a hangover, and will move into the new year as a mensch.
But it’s a milestone, you say? Says who? A thousand years since what? Two thousand years since what? Not, despite the popular view, since the birth of Jesus. No; he was born three, four, maybe six years earlier than the accepted date. So in a sense it’s now too late for his followers to celebrate the event. Someone should have thought of it a few years ago.
“Spoilsport!”, you say: “Who needs to be so pedantic?” Some sincere Christians do. They base themselves on a New Testament passage in the Revelation of St. John (20:1-2) about an angel who seizes the devil and locks him up for a thousand years, after which Jesus will return to establish a thousand-years kingdom.
No matter that a thousand may simply be a large round number, not to be taken literally. No matter that when history failed to come to an end in 1001 there was such disillusionment that it led to debauchery and anarchy. No matter that whenever people thought they had calculated the end of the world, they were proved wrong and discredited.
“Spoilsport!”, I can hear you again: “It’s an important day for fellow citizens if not for us.” The fact is that significant sections of mainstream Christianity have distanced themselves from the hype. But those who take it all too seriously may be a greater danger than we imagine.
A thousand years ago, some believed that Jesus had failed to come because of the Antichrist. And who was the Antichrist? The Jews. Q.E.D.: so let’s persecute the Jews! In 1999, some believe the supposed Second Coming requires Jews to be converted to Christianity. No matter that Jews show no interest in complying, and indeed insist as a matter of democracy and decency that everyone is entitled to their own commitment, convictions, conscience, individuality and identity.
“Spoilsport!” – you’re saying it again: “At least Y2K will bring a tourist influx to Israel!” Fine, if they are normal. But if they are ratbags, fanatics, cultists and cranks who will want to act out their apocalyptic fantasies in an area that is already somewhat fraught, they’re no metziah. Such visitors spell only trouble.
“Spoilsport!”… again? “Even if the occasion has some built-in problems, what’s wrong with marking a turning point?” Maybe so. Mazel Tov. Mark a turning point – but let it be an occasion for thinking and assessment of where civilisation is at – what it has done wrong (and right) in the last decade, century, thousand years, whatever – and for planning how to save human beings from themselves, and the world from self-destructing.