TEL AVIV, Israel -- Jews in Israel and around the world ushered in Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year 5744, paying little thought to the doom predicted by the ominous mystic implications of the coming year.
Israelis jammed stores for last-minute holiday food and gift shopping and then clogged roads on their way to family dinners and resorts in preparation for the two-day festivities and a rare three-day weekend.
Tourism Ministry officials estimated some 17,000 people arrived in the country for the holiday that began at sunset Wednesday.
The holiday is the start of a 10-day period of self-examination and soul searching that culminates in Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement - the most solemn day of the Jewish lunar calendar.
The four Hebrew letters representing the new year 5744, each bearing numerical values as in Latin, form the Hebrew word Tashmad. The word means 'destroy.'
Some mystics in Israel have been predicting a year of doom, or at least difficult times. Some go so far as to forecast Armageddon.
Shlomo Shoham, a Tel Aviv university professor, has said British author George Orwell chose '1984' as the title for his doomsday novel because of the influence of some Cabalists, or Jewish mysticists.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who announced he was resigning 10 days ago, was spending the holiday with his family at his Jerusalem residence.
Last year Begin was informed during Rosh Hashana of the Christian Phalangist massacre of several hundred refugees in Israeli-guarded Palestinian camps at Sabra and Chatila on the outskirts of Beirut.
This year, many Israeli families are divided because of the thousands of troops still stationed in Lebanon. They have been there since last June 6 when Israel invaded Lebanon to oust Palestinian guerrillas.
Rosh Hashana, which means 'head of the year,' finds its origins in the Old Testament in Leviticus 23: 23-25 and Numbers 29: 1-7. These passages speak of the first day of the seventh month, when tradition has it Creation occurred.
'Rosh Hashana is like the birthday of the world,' said government spokesman, Ditza Eshed.
Prayer services were held after nightfall in more than 8,000 synagogues across the country, punctuated by shrill blasts on the shofar, the ritual ram's horn.
In Washington, President and Mrs. Reagan extended wishes for the new year to Jews in the United States. 'May the year 5744 bring health, prosperity and peace to you and your families,' they said in a message from the White House.