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Israel Observes Rosh Hashanah in Uncertain Times

  • Robert Berger

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy has his photograph taken at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City September 28, 2011.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy has his photograph taken at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City September 28, 2011.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, comes at a turbulent time for Israel.

Israelis are observing Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the High Holy Days and a time of reflection and prayer. There are 10 days of repentance leading up to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.

The New Year comes at a time of political uncertainty in Israel, as the Palestinians seek recognition of an independent state at the United Nations.

Many Israelis, like these people on the streets of Jerusalem, are skeptical about the prospects for peace.

This unidentified man put it this way: "I don't expect a great deal of progress in the peace process. I don't actually expect that there will be a Palestinian state."

And this Israeli woman also expressed doubts. "I have my doubts," she said. "Because you can give many concessions to the Palestinians, and no matter how many you give they want more."

Further complicating peace efforts, Israel announced on Tuesday that it will build 1,100 new housing units in disputed East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future state. The United States and European Union reacted angrily to the announcement, saying it harms efforts to revive peace talks.

The Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel stops all settlement expansion. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave "1,100 no's" to the peace process.

"Mr. Netanyahu today answered by saying no to peace and yes to settlements. And that's very, very unfortunate," said Erekat.

Despite the settlements dispute, U.S. President Barack Obama emphasized the positive in a Rosh Hashanah message to the Israeli people.

"While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: The United States will continue to stand with Israel because the bond between our two nations is unshakeable," said Obama.

The political turmoil has apparently not dampened the national mood: According to a holiday poll, 88 percent of Israelis say they are in good spirits and that Israel is a nice place to live. So in a Rosh Hashanah tradition, they dip apples in honey for a sweet New Year.

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