Beliefnet
(RNS) JERUSALEM -- When the Holy Land enters the new millennium, brightly lit boats full of New Year's Eve revelers will be sailing on the Sea of Galilee. Two thousand doves symbolizing peace will be released into the moonlit skies above the city of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

And in Israeli west Jerusalem, where New Year's Eve coincides with the Jewish Sabbath, the hotels will serve festive dinners -- but that's about it. By orders of the local rabbinate, no dancing to music or loud celebrations will be allowed in the old millennium's waning hours.

Months and even years of quiet negotiations between the hotels and the state-supported rabbinical authorities to obtain permission for the staging of New Year's Eve parties for Christian tourists have, in the end, come to naught, says Yonatan Harpaz, president of Jerusalem's Hoteliers Association.

An agreement that was supposed to have permitted the hotels to offer private parties to their guests in conference room facilities ultimately collapsed in the face of rumors and veiled threats that the hotels might lose their kosher certifications.

The certifications, which regulate food preparation, are required by observant Jewish hotel guests and are particularly difficult to obtain in Jerusalem. There, unlike other parts of the country, rabbinical authorities use the licenses to ensure the hotels will strictly observe the Sabbath as well as keep their kitchens kosher. And on the Sabbath both the manual operation of electrical devices and the playing of instruments is forbidden.

"It's now two days before the turn of the century, and whatever problems we have had in staging celebrations are almost irreparable now," said Harpaz mournfully.

"There was a lot of innuendo in the local press that if the Jerusalem hotels dared to violate the Sabbath, their Kashrut (kosher) licenses would be revoked," added Harpaz. "The result is that Israel will come out of the millennium with a little egg on its face, and this was not the intention of the hotel industry."

If west Jerusalem will be subdued on millennium eve, the Arab eastern part of the city is offering lavish parties and events in its hotels and major restaurants. But with only 2,000 rooms in all of east Jerusalem's facilities, it will be impossible to handle the estimated 12,000 Christian tourists roaming the city this weekend.

Initially, at least one major west Jerusalem locale, the 5,000-seat International Convention Center, received an official go-ahead to host a big New Year's Eve party with musical performances and loudspeakers normally not permitted on the Jewish day of rest. But the rabbis simultaneously nixed any provision for food or drink service, effectively ensuring no group would really want to rent the facilities.

A state-sponsored concert of Handel's "Messiah" was later scheduled for the same venue. But it, too, was canceled this week after Israel's Treasury failed to transfer the necessary financial subsidy for the concert. The allocation, sources say, was simply overlooked after Israel's politicians became embroiled last week in a heated debate over the shape of the nation's year 2000 budget.

Even when the odds are stacked against them on millennium eve, some west Jerusalem hotels are determined to take advantage of the holiday and celebrate on Jan. 1, 2000. Crowds of traditional Jews have been invited to come out for a "Y6K" event at one five-star international kosher hotel, a reference to the fact that this is the year 5760 in the Jewish calendar, and not the year 2000.

While tourism industry officials have loudly bemoaned Jerusalem's indifference to the four-digit date change, it isn't really clear if the tourists themselves will much care.

Those looking for a real millennial eve experience in the Holy Land will most probably just flee the city, observers predict. And given the region's mild climate, some magnificent outdoor settings beckon them for a New Year's Eve that would be far less inviting in the chilly climate of Europe and the United States.

"I know of one big Christian group that is going up to Tiberias to have their all-night celebration on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee," noted Harpaz, referring to the big, brightly lit paddle boats that ply the waters of the ancient lake. The boats will be featuring drinks and dining, music and scenes of the historic Galilee and Golan Heights mountains against the first beams of moonlight in the third millennium.

Newly renovated downtown Bethlehem will also be showing off its nighttime attractions. Tourists and locals are all invited to a big open-air New Year's Eve concert of Western and Middle Eastern music by a famous Moroccan soloist, Amina Alaoui, along with a candlelight vigil and the midnight release of doves into the skies.

And for those seeking something on a more spiritual plane, the Roman Catholic Church is sponsoring a smaller candlelight prayer vigil and Mass in Jerusalem's Garden of Gethsemane, complete with the midnight erection of a "millennium cross" against the backdrop of the Old City walls.

There are also Woodstock-style "happenings" that could draw young Israelis and tourists by the hundreds or even thousands, just by word of mouth. One such event is rumored to be taking place somewhere in the Sinai desert, said Finnish Christian tourist Tiina Pitkajarvi, 19.

Pitkajarvi was still undecided, however, if she would attend. "I might opt for Ein Gedi instead," she said, referring to the Israeli oasis nestled in the mountains of the Judean desert along the shores of the Dead Sea. "I don't know who would want to go to a party in a hotel anyway here on New Year's Eve. If I don't go to the Sinai, I'd just as soon spend the night in the desert with a few friends discussing the last few thousand years."

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