Israel: 'New' calendar, old ways

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NEW YORK -- Israel has claimed the title of "the land where time began" in its latest advertising program, and travelers may well see it as the most appropriate place to mark the turn of the millennium.

The Holy Land is, after all, the location of much of humanity's earliest recorded history and the place where events happened that determined the calendar now used by most of the world.

New Year's Eve 1999 in the modern Jewish state will offer opportunities for the blowout Americans expect, but some visitors may opt for relaxation. The quirk is that New Year's Eve is low-key in Israel, and Dec. 31 this year falls on a Friday. Friday night is the start of the Jewish Sabbath and the end of the Muslim day of rest.

On Friday nights in the Holy Land, all kosher restaurants are closed, and hotels are limited to events appropriate for the day. So, where and how to party?

For revelry, nonkosher restaurants will be key. Isram World of Travel, based in New York, is one of the tour operators throwing a party for the occasion. It has invited all its clients who are in that part of the world to a New Year's Eve party in the port city of Jaffa, which is first mentioned in the Bible as the point of departure for Jonah.

Travelers preferring reverence or relaxation should follow the lead of religious groups and visit holy sites or take time with friends and family over a long, unhurried Sabbath meal.

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