CBSN

Israelis Welcome New Year, Hope For Peace

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk past Israeli border policeman before the start the holiday of Rosh Hashana near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, Sept. 29, 2008.
AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Robert Berger in Jerusalem.
Israelis around the country gathered in synagogues for Rosh Hashanah Tuesday, the beginning of the High Holy Days and the Jewish New Year 5769.

It is a time of repentance and prayer, leading up to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.

Security was tight Tuesday. Fearing terrorist attacks, Israel sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians who live in the territories from entering the country.

Israeli newspapers reflected on the past year with disappointment.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned over corruption allegations and President Moshe Katsav stepped down over a sex scandal.

"We are divided, skeptical, disbelieving, and facing the greatest leadership crisis there has ever been here," wrote columnist Yair Lapid in Israel's biggest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.

In a holiday interview with the same paper, Olmert said Israel would have to relinquish much of East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank for the creation of a Palestinians state. He said that Israel would also have to withdraw from the Golan Heights to achieve peace with Syria.

Nevertheless, Olmert is a lame duck who does not have the political clout to deliver on a peace deal. A Rosh Hashanah poll showed only 32 percent of Israelis expected peace this year, despite nearly 10 months of negotiations with the Palestinians.

But Leora Eldad, a Jerusalem resident, said the holidays are a time of hope. "I'm praying that we can have peace, to the extent that it's possible in these days."

Politics aside, Rosh Hashanah is a festive time and Israeli women were cooking up a storm. Some prefer American-Jewish traditions like matzo ball soup and gefilte fish, but not the native-born Israelis.

"Traditional is boring, we're in the 21st century," said high school student Alona Chen, and that means a "hip" holiday dinner: "I'm making roasted cauliflower, chicken nuggets, beef, lettuce wraps and sourdough bread."