The secular year of 2010 ended exactly two weeks ago. Although we wish each other Shana Tova at Rosh Hashanah in the fall, more and more Israelis celebrate New Year on January 1. This relatively new trend is a result of one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are used to celebrating this holiday, and Israelis becoming more cosmopolitan. We travel widely, and we consume worldwide culture, fashion, and sports. Celebrating New Year is just another way for Israelis to feel part of the global family, to feel like they belong. Anyway, Israel had a good year in 2010, and there was a lot to celebrate.
While the world is still in the midst of economic turbulence, the Israeli economy experienced a continuing recovery: inflation was relatively low at 2.5%, and the Bank of Israel interest rate grew gradually from 1.25% in January to 2% in December. Both imports and exports saw a jump in the first half of the year, and the labor market enjoyed major improvements, as the unemployment rate stood at 6.6% in the third quarter and participation in the labor market grew to 57.8%.
Israel has been invited to become a full member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and MSCI (a provider of investment decision tools) re-classified Israel from emerging-market to developed-market status. Countries classified as “developed” are considered generally less risky and a worthy place for investment.
Last year was also a record year for tourism to Israel, with almost three and a half million visitors. As a result, there is a shortage of hotel rooms–both a blessing and a problem. Major resorts, restaurants, and shopping centers are full of tourists from around the world, including many Christians.
Israel is known as the Land of Milk and Honey, and it may soon be known as the Land of Natural Gas. Israel is on the verge of absorbing impressive amounts of locally extracted natural gas into its energy market. The updated map of Israel’s offshore gas potential includes three major fields in the Mediterranean. Last year, electricity prices dropped by about sixteen percent, due primarily to the electric company’s transition to natural gas. That switch will also help the environment, and Israel night even become a gas exporter.
But 2010 set some less positive records as well: it was the hottest year since records began in Israel, and had the fewest recorded days of rain at many of the monitoring stations. The lack of rain caused Israel to declare a critical water situation, requiring an emergency plan. This was Lake Kinneret’s worst decade since 1920s.
The year will also be remembered for the largest fire Israel had ever experienced, which was followed by one of the most severe storms Israel had ever experienced.
Let’s hope that Israel will be blessed with more positive records, and only with positive records.
Happy New Year!
Shabbat Shalom, Leah