2013 started with a bang, as the biggest winter storm in decades hit Israel on January 9. Local authorities quickly ramped up public services to help stranded drivers: Israel's Airport Authority offered free bus service to Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem's Light Railway gave free rides to discourage people from driving on hazardous streets. (Little did we know that 2013 would end with a far bigger storm.)
Israel's sweeping new ban on underweight models took effect this month, positioning the Jewish state as a world leader in societal health. To appear in advertisements and on fashion runways, models are now required to have a body-weight index of 18.5 or higher. (The new law comes close on the heels of Israel's "Photoshop Law" of 2012, banning the use of manipulated pictures in Israeli ads.)
Women were big winners when Israelis went to the polls on January 22. Three of the main political parties were headed by women. Female MKs now include: Penina Tamono-Shata, a human-rights lawyer and journalist who came to Israel at age 3, became the first Ethiopian woman elected to Israel's Knesset; Karin Elharrar, director of Bar Ilan University's Disability Rights Clinic and wheelchair user herself, said she'll use her new position to promote greater ease of access for Israel's disabled citizens. In all, a record 26 women were elected to Israel's parliament (a higher proportion of female lawmakers than in the U.S. Congress).
52% of all Israelis tuned in to watch Israel's Master Chef finale, the highest-ever viewership in Israel's history. Showing Israel’s diverse population, a Tel Aviv lawyer and German convert to Judaism won the finals, beating an Arab nurse and an Orthodox housewife.
In a groundbreaking development that has the potential to revolutionize infertility treatment, scientists at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, succeeded in growing human eggs from uterine tissue. The breakthrough could help women whose ovaries lack eggs to have children without relying on donor eggs.
A major, US-funded study of Palestinian textbooks found significant bias: 96% of Palestinian textbooks failed to identify the Jewish state on maps, and 81% of Palestinian teaching texts identified Jews and Israelis as enemies. Palestinian textbooks also contained incitement to violence.
"Godzilla", a green pepper grown at Moshav Ein Yahav, an Israeli organic farm in Israel's Arava desert, entered the record books as the world's largest pepper. Weighing over a pound, the pepper was grown with brackish water and without chemical pesticides.
The King David Hotel changed to a kosher-for-Passover menu as usual – days before President Barak Obama arrived to stay during his official visit to the Jewish state. "We're used to hosting heads of state and also American presidents, but this situation is very special for us because it's so close to Pesach [Passover]. For us it will be double the preparations," said the hotel's manager.
The OECD's annual survey found that Israel is the world's eighth-happiest country. The survey also ranked fifth in the world for health, with a life expectancy of 83.
Israel's population passed 8 million this month. The Jewish state is now home to the largest Jewish population, surpassing the United States, which had long held that title.
Israel's air force intercepted an Iranian-designed Hezbollah drone as it approached Haifa. It was the second Hezbollah drone shot down over Israel in seven months.
News broke that Hamas had introduced a new program to train children for military combat against Israel. Hamas, which has banned sports from its schools, offers weekly lessons in handling Kalishnikav rifles and military tactics. Hamas also announced that 5,000 children signed up for a war-training summer camp.
A government report established that the infamous 2000 video of Mohammed Al-Dura being shot by Israeli troops was a hoax. The video, aired on French TV station France 2, helped spark the Second Intifada, and was cited as a motive of Osama bin Laden and the killers of Daniel Pearl. A "review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive" the committee concluded. One Israeli government minister called the fabricated video a "modern-day blood libel" against the Jewish state.
Israelis got help this month deciphering what's inside Israel's national snack obsession: bourekas, the filo dough pastries enclosing fillings of spinach, potato, meat or cheese. Bourekas containing cheese or other dairy ingredients will now have a distinctively round shape when they're sold in the Jewish state, while parve bourekas (containing neither dairy nor meat) are triangular or spiral-shaped. The new guidelines will help kosher consumers know whether their bourekas can be served with a meat or a dairy meal.
A new survey showed Israelis are the world leaders in use of smartphone apps, enjoying their apps a whopping 80 minutes a day.
Austria announced it was removing its UN troops from the Israel-Syrian border due to safety concerns. The UN troops were mandated by UN Resolution 1701 in 2006 to keep the peace and disarm the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, but are widely acknowledged to have failed in their goals. Austria's withdrawal leaves the formerly 1,000 strong UN force with just 150 remaining soldiers.
Weeks after Facebook's proposed $1 billion purchase of Israeli company Waze fell apart because Waze's founders insisted on staying in Israel instead of relocating to California, Google bought the company for $1.3 billion. Waze tracks followers' satellite phone signals to update traffic data in real time, to inform users of optimal routes.
Pop band the Pet Shop Boys fended off an aggressive campaign from anti-Israel boycott activists not to visit the Jewish state, to give a wildly popular concert in Tel Aviv. Lead singer Neil Tennant defended his band's decision: "I don't agree with this comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. It's a caricature. Israel has…universal suffrage and equality of rights for all its citizen, both Jewish and Arab… In apartheid-era South Africa, artists could only play to segregated audiences; in Israel anyone who buys a ticket can attend a concert."
A star-studded guest list celebrated Israeli President Shimon Peres' 90th birthday. Former US Bill Clinton called the Israeli elder statesman "the world's social Einstein." The oldest sitting head of state, Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Stef Wertheimer, 86, opened a major new industrial park in Nazareth to provide manufacturing jobs for the local Arab community. "My purpose is…to create good and interesting jobs for them that help families stay together. I want to get [the population around Nazareth]… to be part of the free world," by fostering trade, Wertheimer explained.
i24News went on the air this month. The 24-hour Israeli-based news service is produced by an international, multi-faith team of 150 journalists based outside of Tel Aviv. The brainchild of Frank Melloul, a former French diplomat and media advisor, the i24News' simultaneous news reports in English, French and Arabic debuted on the internet, and will soon be available via satellite in 300 million homes worldwide.
14-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keyes defied boycotters to perform for a sold-out crowd at Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv on July 4. Despite a high-profile campaign by anti-Israel protesters to cancel her appearance, Keyes told journalists "I look forward to my first visit to Israel… Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show".
Israel made a strong showing in the world of Thai kickboxing this month. Two Orthodox Israeli girls, Nili Block and Sara Abraham, won gold medals in their weight categories in the under-19 competition at the 2013 World Muaythai Council championship. The girls travelled with their own kosher food, and together made arrangements for Shabbat during the championship.
Saudi Arabia has a secret missile site deep in its desert, with rockets aimed directly at Israel and Iran, Jane's Intelligence Review reported. The Chinese-made missiles can travel up to 2,000 miles and carry a two-ton payload.
Researchers at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem and Hebrew University unveiled a new airplane seat design that vastly reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in legs that can develop during long-haul flights). NewSit, designed by an Israeli entrepreneur, allows greater leg movement, and according to one researcher, "will almost certainly decrease remarkably the risk of clots" on flights.
The Maccabbiah Games (the "Jewish Olympics") kicked off with a gala ceremony in Jerusalem as 9,000 athletes from 71 countries came to compete in 42 sporting events.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced plans to set up an area for public debate in Jerusalem's Sacher Park. Modeled after "Speakers Corner" in Hyde Park in London – where people gather to make and listen to speeches, heckle, argue and debate – Sacher Park will feature seating for 220 and ushers to organize the debates.
70,000 people lined Jerusalem's streets, watching Formula One race cars roar through the city's streets in the first ever exhibit in the Jewish state.
Israel announced plans for an ambitious new 473 km (293 mile) train network, connecting all major Palestinian cities with Israeli population centers, the Gaza Strip, and the border crossings into Jordan and Syria, serving both Palestinians and Israelis.
Mais Ali-Salah, an Arab-Israeli woman graduated top of her medical school class at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, one of the world's leading scientific universities. She lashed out at those who would boycott the Jewish state: "An academic boycott of Israel… doesn't achieve any of its purported objectives." Ali-Salah is currently a resident in Obstetrics in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Israelis lined to receive gas masks in case of possible Syrian chemical attack. As western powers threatened to respond to Syrian President Hafez Assad's chemical attacks on his own people in a Damascus suburb, Assad threatened to bomb the Jewish state – just 47 miles away – with unconventional weapons.
Israeli model Bar Rafaeli took to Twitter to demand that Roger Waters, the lead singer of Pink Floyd, stop using her image, after he lashed out at the Jewish state and demanded fellow artists to avoid playing in Israel. "Roger Waters, you'd better take my image off of the video art in your shows" Rafaeli tweeted: "if you're boycotting, go all the way."
News broke that hundreds of Syrians who were wounded in the civil war there are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Syria, which is officially at war with Israel, has been sending both civilians and combatants to be treated in the Jewish state. However, it's likely to go unmentioned back home in Syria; the aunt of one girl who was brought to the Israeli town of Nahariah for life-saving surgery confided "I won't say that I was in Israel. It is forbidden to be here, and I am afraid of the reaction."
The threat of rocket attacks from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula forced El Al, Israel's national airline, to cancel daytime flights to the city of Eilat this month.
Golden treasure from the Byzantine period was discovered at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar and her team announced they excavated gold coins, jewelry, and a magnificent gold pendant carved with a picture of the Temple's seven-branch Menorah, a shofar and a Torah scroll. Dr. Mazar thinks the treasure was hidden during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE.
Palestinian rioters hurled rocks at Jewish worshippers at Joseph's Tomb, and shot at the Israeli troops who were protecting them. Under an arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, Jews are permitted to worship at the holy site once every three weeks. In 2000, a Palestinian mob killed Rabbi Hillel Lieberman and an Israeli policeman, ransacking the Tomb with pickaxes and sledgehammers. In 2011, one Israeli was killed and five were wounded when Palestinians opened fire on Jewish worshippers.
Natalie Portman arrived in Israel to direct her first film, "A Tale of Love and Darkness", based on the novel by Israeli writer Amos Oz. Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, is writing the screenplay, and will star in the movie, reciting some of her lines in Hebrew.
Israel is one of the highest-ranking countries in terms of travel freedom, a new survey revealed. Israelis can visit most counties in the world without a visa, more than travelers from Russia, South Africa, or the Vatican.
A "terror tunnel" one mile long and 60 feet deep was discovered leading from the Gaza Strip to a farm inside Israel; Hamas claimed responsibility for the tunnel, which was thought to be built to carry out terror attacks or kidnapping.
Malka Shaps became the first ultra-Orthodox woman dean of a major research university, when she took up the post at Bar Ilan University this month. Shaps, a Harvard-trained mathematician, is grandmother to 17, and is also a best-selling novelist.
The largest funeral in 2,000 years occurred in Israel when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 93, spiritual leader of the Sephardi Jewish community, was laid to rest in Jerusalem. 800,000 people, from diverse religious backgrounds, came from across Israel and abroad came to pay their respects.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh boasted about Hamas' capabilities to send rockets to Tel Aviv – while his baby granddaughter was receiving emergency medical treatment in a hospital near there.
Ben Gurion University signed agreement with Chinese authorities to develop the Kubuqi Desert Research Institute in Mongolia. The Israelis will lend their expertise in water management, solar energy, waste water treatment and other fields, to help China combat desertification.
"Israel" was the name of the first baby born in the field hospital set up by Israeli first-responders after a typhoon devastated the Philippines this month. Israel sent one of the largest aid delegations to the Philippines, flying in over 150 Israelis to assist in search and rescue, medicine, and humanitarian aid.
Just in time for Chanukah, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced they'd excavated a Jerusalem house dating from the Chanukah era. The 12-foot-tall structure was unearthed in the City of David, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. It was built before the Jewish revolt against Greek rule, and was standing when the Hasmonean-led Jews rededicated the Temple, the event commemorated by the holiday of Chanukah. Chanukah-era coins were also recovered from inside the house.
The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology announced it was teaming up with Cornell University to build a so-called "genius school": an innovative graduate school and tech start-up hub on Roosevelt Island in New York. The partnership is expected to have 2,000 full-time graduate students, and plans to foster several new high-tech start-up companies each year.
Time Magazine named Israeli-designed ReWalk one of best inventions of 2013. "Call it an exoskeleton or a bionic suit, but for paraplegics, it's freedom" the magazine wrote: "This innovative device, developed by a quadriplegic Israeli scientist, relies on sensors that anticipate shifts in the user's balance and translates them into movements like walking and standing". A 32 year old paraplegic wore the suit at the 2012 London Marathon, completing the course in shifts over several weeks.
The Jewish National Fund continued its annual tradition of distributing Christmas trees to churches, monasteries, foreign journalists, embassies, and the general public. The trees – Arizona Cedars – are specially grown for this purpose in central Israel. (Chicago Jewish Star, 12.20.13)
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a historic water agreement this month, which will see a desalinating plant bringing fresh water from the Red Sea, and filtering excess salt water back into the Dead Sea. In addition to providing people in the region with more drinking water, the plan will help stabilize the Dead Sea, which has seen its water level decline in recent years.
Casualties were narrowly averted when an alert bus passenger noticed a bomb placed on a Tel Aviv-area bus: he alerted the driver, who evacuated the passengers minutes before the device exploded.
A young ultra-Orthodox man found more than he bargained for when he picked up a bag that had been dropped on the street outside Tel Aviv's diamond exchange: $200,000 worth of diamonds. The man – who didn't gave his name – promptly brought the bag into the exchange: "I wasn't tempted for a moment to take it" he said; "I was brought up to believe that we don't touch anything that isn't ours."
Israeli boxing champion Yuri Foreman finished up his comeback year, after taking time off for injury, winning all four of his fights in 2013. The former Welterweight World Champion discovered boxing when his family moved to Israel from the Soviet Union; because boxing isn't a widely popular sport among Jewish in Israel, Foreman trained in an Arab gym, gradually breaking down barriers and becoming a respected figure there. An Orthodox Jew, Foreman is currently studying to become a rabbi. (Chicago Jewish Star 12.20.13)
2013 ended as it began: with a winter storm in Israel. Over a foot of snow blanketed the capital, Jerusalem. Soldiers and army vehicles were dispatched to rescue stranded drivers, and Israel's intercity trains ran special free services to help Jerusalem's travelers get into and out of the city.