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Liz Neumark

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New Year's at 37,000 Feet

Posted: 01/09/2013 7:00 am

Slowly we go back to work after the holiday stretch -- embracing deadlines, setting meetings, dusting off the to-do list and peppering it with newly resolved goals and timelines. For another two or three weeks, we can still greet a friend or colleague with "Happy New Year" and ask how the time was passed. I spent both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve at 37,000 feet, wondering if I could catch a glimpse of a man with reindeer on a sled on the 24th or celebrate the stroke of midnight several times as we traversed the east to west time zones as 2012 came to a close.

Truth is, I slept -- knowing that I would be landing at 9 a.m. in Israel ready to have a full day ahead of me. I had been in Jerusalem eight weeks prior -- watching a magnificent full moon over the old city while my heart was in NYC, thinking that this same moon was responsible for tidal surges and destruction. It was also the week before the U.S. election, and everyone -- from friends, loquacious cab drivers and inquisitive shopkeepers -- was curious about my choice for president, eager to interpret American politics. There was a palpable tension in the air, and the gap between Muslims and Jews, Arabs and Israelis and even Israeli-to-Israeli and Arab-to-Arab felt tinged with restrained animosity.

A lot has happened in eight weeks -- here and in the Middle East. Our elections transpired peacefully. The Northeast suffered a devastating natural disaster. A gut-wrenching tragedy unfolded in Newtown, CT and a door opened on gun reform and the debate about our ability to demand change. The fiscal cliff played out, bringing the best and worse out in our politicians. In Israel, a different cliffhanger -- as the country prepared for military action and violence changed lives in bordering countries. This disaster, too, was averted.

The mood in Israel this time was different -- quieter, as I imagine people were greatly relieved and dealing with the outcome and uncertainty of the conflict resolution versus the alternative. This time, it is their own election that dominated the headlines and conversation, the complexity of their party system and the choices to be made.

What a complex part of the world! I look at the landscape and think about the thousands of years of history and try to fathom what makes this part of the world worth all the love, pain, inspiration, struggle and emotions I cannot begin to describe or understand.

It is quite amazing that life -- at least on the surface -- returns to a familiar routine, perhaps the only antidote to life's insanity. Work, school, shopping, eating -- in Tel Aviv, Connecticut, and I assume across borders I cannot travel.

It is a magical and mysterious part of the world, and I share the simple images from the markets where basic needs are fulfilled by commerce, colored with the beauty and character of this ancient land.

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