What a difference 12 months can make. Up until this past year, mention of 2020 generally evoked either perfect eyesight or, at worst, a long-running ABC News television program.
Now, after just 365 days, the term has taken on a whole new meaning, bringing to mind various nouns, adjectives and even a few adverbs that are simply unprintable in a respectable publication such as The Jerusalem Post.
Indeed, writing a year-end review of 2020 would seem to be a pointless and painful exercise bordering on sadism. There was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, with which we are still grappling, widespread rioting and racial unrest across the US, massive brush fires in Australia and California, a contraction of the global economy, locust swarms in Africa and a run on toilet paper.
Even the British royal family did not emerge unscathed, when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle scandalously stepped down from their duties in what the British press termed "Megxit."
And while the Internet had a field day with the seemingly endless stream of bad news, producing countless memes and images poking fun at all the trouble, most of us found ourselves scratching our heads in bewilderment and longing for a return to normalcy.
But ultimately, how we view the world is a matter of choice. As the late Wayne W. Dyer once noted, "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change."
So in that spirit, I thought it best to gaze backward and highlight a few great things that happened this past year, lest they be lost amid the torrent of negativity that has taken hold among many.
Sure, 2020 had a seemingly incomprehensible amount of "downs," but it also had a fair number of "ups," too, and they should not be overlooked.
TO BEGIN with, peace became contagious in the Middle East, thanks in no small measure to the Trump administration's tireless efforts. Starting in August, Israel reached peace and normalization accords with four Arab states within just four months.
On September 15, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the Abraham Accords at the White House with the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Just five weeks later, on October 23, Israel and Sudan announced that they would normalize relations, followed by an agreement between Morocco and the Jewish state that was made public on December 10.
This breathtaking series of deals has literally changed the diplomatic and political landscape of the region, creating a momentum for peace that was previously unthinkable. A number of other Arab countries are said to be close to following suit.
So, in this respect, 2020 can be viewed as the year when peace with Israel began to break out from North Africa all the way to the Persian Gulf.
Still another wonder of 2020 was the speed and efficiency with which an effective vaccine was produced to combat COVID-19. During the first wave of the deadly virus, the airwaves were filled with pessimistic prognostications regarding when, or even if, a vaccine would be possible.
On May 4, German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned that "the development of vaccines is one of the most challenging and difficult tasks in medicine," and said that it could take "years" to produce one. Similarly, National Geographic cautioned readers in an April 10 headline as to "Why a coronavirus vaccine could take way longer than a year."
And yet, here we are, at the beginning of January 2021, and not only have a number of efficacious vaccines been developed, but they are already being deployed in large quantities in countries around the world, giving hope that corona will soon be a thing of the past. If that isn't a remarkable testimony to Divine providence and mankind's perseverance, what is?
The year 2020 also saw a number of exciting technological developments, some of which the MIT Technology Review described as "breakthroughs that will truly change how we live and work."
These include hyper-personalized medicine, in which new drugs tailored to a single patient or group of patients suffering from rare genetic diseases are being developed, giving hope to those whose cases were previously deemed to be hopeless.
The MIT review also cited important advancements in a new class of anti-aging drugs which could treat ailments such as cancer, heart disease and dementia by slowing parts of the aging process, as well as breakthroughs in quantum computing that could one day make our present laptops appear prehistoric.
It was also a good year for Zionism, as 2,000 Ethiopian Jews who have been waiting for years to make aliyah were finally able to do so. And the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe from northeastern India resumed last month with the arrival of 250 new immigrants, thanks to Aliya and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Shavei Israel, the organization I founded and chair.
In addition, news reports indicate an unprecedented surge in interest in returning to Zion among North American Jews.
And back in June, Jewish Agency secretary-general Josh Schwarcz told the Knesset Aliyah and Absorption Committee that Israel can expect to receive as many as 50,000 new immigrants in 2021, one of the highest figures in years.
These are but a few of the positive stories to come out of the past year.
Sure, not many people will be looking back with nostalgia or longing for 2020, with all the pain and uncertainty that it produced.
But as we dip our toes into 2021, it is worth recalling that along with the bad, 2020 had its share of good news, too.