Should we usher in 2000 with parties or prayers

What will you be doing New Year's Eve — or should we say New Millennium's Eve?

Will you be decked out in holiday finery, tripping the light fantastic, partying like it's still 1999?

Or will you be simply but pleasurably ringing in the 23rd of Tevet, another regular Shabbat?

Interviews with Jews across the country and across the Orthodox-to-secular spectrum revealed that, for most, the last Shabbat of the millennium will likely be a bit of both.

Of course, a few would like to get as far away from both the Jewish and secular aspects of the weekend as possible.

Filmmaker and writer Lilly Rivlin plans to fly "to India, to totally avoid it and go to an ashram," she said, where she will devote herself to meditating and dancing to what she described as New Age Indian music.

For many, however, the confluence of Shabbat with New Year's Eve will be a chance to meld their Jewish lives with an acknowledgment of the fact that they live in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish world.

Rachel Levin and her husband plan to have friends to their Los Angeles home for Shabbat dinner, supplemented by champagne to toast the new year.

"I'm pleased it's Shabbat, since to me it is so much about marking time. It's really about being present in the moment, so I can't think of a nicer way to begin the next century than being with family and friends," said Levin, a program officer with the Righteous Persons Foundation.

Bruce Temkin, director of young leadership for the New Israel Fund, said he and his partner are going "to try to avoid the overplanned significance and shmaltz of the evening" by having a quiet dinner with friends and family as they do almost every Friday night.

Others are going to do their best to ignore the importance of the date on the secular calendar.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a humanities professor at New York University, will do what he always does on Shabbat.

"I will have dinner, will study the sidra [Torah portion] a bit and go to sleep. And then the next morning, I will go to shul. Period," he said.

"Any Jewish hoo-ha about the millennium is essentially playing into Christian hands. It's not our party, not our millennium, and let's cut it out."

Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the fervently religious Agudath Israel of America, will also focus only on Shabbat.

"Shabbat stands for things very antithetical to things like the noise, the ribaldry and the wild parties that go on at any New Year's Eve and certainly at the turn of a millennium. Shabbat is about calm and peace and quiet," he said.

Other Jews are planning to ignore any Jewish aspect of Dec. 31-Jan. 1 this year.

"The fact that it's Shabbat isn't going to really affect my life or my celebration at all," said Sari Fensterheim, a New York-based video producer. She plans to go to her mother's beach house with friends.

"We'll probably cook a nice dinner and drink some champagne, which sort of sounds like Shabbat dinner but isn't on purpose," she said.

In Miami, one Shabbat retreat will be devoted to an exploration of the holy texts belonging to many of the world's religions. The event will take place at Reconstructionist Temple Beth Or and its Sh'ma Center for Jewish Meditation.

After Friday night services, Rabbi Rami Shapiro said, participants will spend an all-night reading of texts from the Jewish Psalms, the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, the Buddhist text Dhammapada, the Taoist Tao Te Ching and Christianity's Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

On Saturday, Shapiro will run a day of silent, sitting meditation, interspersed with text study.

"One of the hallmarks of religion in the 21st century will be interspirituality, a sense that while each of us comes from our own tradition, we also recognize that the truth is not contained in any one, and we can learn from different traditions."

Other religious organizations are also capitalizing on the convergence of special days in the Jewish and secular calendars.

Reform Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills is encouraging people "to start the millennium with God" by coming to Friday night services before continuing on to whatever party they're planning to attend, Rabbi Laura Geller said.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism sent out a booklet of programming, sermon and publicity ideas to each of its member congregations.

The booklet suggests that Conservative synagogue leaders try to turn the focus of the weekend away from "expensive, extensive, explosive, exotic styles and locations" and toward themes related to transitions, which are to be found in that Shabbat's Torah portion, Shemot in the Book of Exodus.

A Conservative synagogue on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Ansche Chesed, will try to keep its members busy next Friday night with worship services, a dinner and entertainment late into the night.

Champagne will be served at midnight, of course, and children will have a sleepover party with Israeli dancing.

"This cuts across the lines of people who are more interested in doing something Jewish and those who are not. It's a way to build one community," said Michael Brochstein, the synagogue's president.

The National Jewish Outreach Project has done its part to promote celebrating Shabbat on Dec. 31 by sending out nearly 10,000 kits with Shabbat candlesticks, candles, a kiddush cup and bubbly grape juice.

And an Orthodox Jewish youth group is organizing a virtual retreat for Shabbat by offering materials for youths to download at before sundown next Friday.

Y2K "means that you too can create the holiness to make Dec. 31 something truly special," said Rabbi David Kaminetsky, the national director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

For some synagogues, it isn't going to be a particularly significant Shabbat.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation leaders solicited "a minyan of opinion" about whether to organize something nationwide for next Friday night, executive director Mark Seal said.

What they found is that although the evening is "a classic conflict between two civilizations, people don't feel it profoundly," he said. "A lot of people…are planning low-key Shabbats."

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