‘Of Course It’s Our Millennium’

An image of the Dec. 31, 1999 edition of the Baltimore Jewish Times. (Connor Graham)

If The Jewish Times ran the headline “Embracing Millennial Shabbat,” in 2019, odds are the story would be about post-college-age Jews exploring new ways to observe Shabbos.

But in the JT’s final issue of last millennium, Friday December 31, 1999 — or Tevet 22, 5760 by the Jewish calendar — Rabbi Brad Hirschfield provided an op-ed about why, despite the year 2000 being a Christian measurement, Jews around the world mark the new millennium as their own.

“Having New Year’s Eve 1999 fall tonight — on a Friday night — creates a remarkable opportunity for Jews. As a people, we have understood the importance of marking times for thousands of years,” he wrote. “Of course some will ask: Since the calendar is based on a Christian counting, is it really ‘our’ millennium?”

Of course it’s our millennium, he answered, before citing examples of members from different Jewish movements who believe the new millennium is of no significance to the Jewish people.

“All of these institutions, coming from different ideological places, miss an opportunity to engage the life of the Jewish people as they live it,” he wrote. “From Orthodox to Reform, one thing for certain is that New Year’s Eve really matters to many Jews.”

Like the word “millennial,” Hirschfield’s use of the word “wall,” would come with different connotations in 2019 than it did in 1999. He describes “a wall between people’s lived lives and the ability of religious leaders to create the language and symbols that bring meaning to those lives,” but that “if something is part of the human experience, it can be given expression within Judaism.”

How did Rabbi Hirschfield plan to express his Judaism that New Year’s Eve?

“I fill up my Kiddush cup with champagne, scatter my Shabbat table with confetti, and when the clock nears midnight, shake my children awake so that we can experience this global transition together.”


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