Honor fallen soldiers by building a secure Jewish state

At all times in Jewish life, we are asked to reflect upon that which came before and that which is still to come, keeping us conscious in every moment of our connection to history — and to each other.

Just as we break a glass during our wedding ceremony to remember the Second Temple, as we celebrate this Yom Ha'Azmaut — the historic 50th anniversary of Israel's rebirth — we must remember those who sacrificed their lives before us.

Though Israel was created as a safe haven for the Jewish people, the struggle for its defense has claimed the lives of thousands of Jews. In the War of Independence alone, 6,373 Jews died, including many new immigrants and foreign volunteers.

As American citizens, it is difficult to imagine the huge number of Israeli families that have been affected by the loss of a father, a son, a brother, a friend or loved one. In the cemeteries, rows of graves — age 20, age 18, age 22, one after another — also remind us of how young many of the casualties were. And before them, a generation of fathers and grandfathers as well were no strangers to war, many of whom suffered — or died — as a result of the Holocaust, pogroms, hatred and violence.

And so it is no coincidence that the Jewish calendar marks Yom HaZikaron, Veterans Remembrance Day, on the days preceding Israeli Independence Day.

More than reflecting, we must honor those who gave their lives and commemorate the sacrifices and tragedies that led up to the creation of the modern state of Israel. By acting quickly and practically, we can help safeguard this generation of Israelis as they face compulsory military service. Perhaps we can help them be the last generation to face this difficult responsibility.

Our debt to them, to the past and to the future is to create an Israel that further protects the sanctity and quality of each life. Judaism and Zionism demand no less from us.

Those Israelis who have survived violence, and who may have become physically or emotionally challenged in its course, deserve full respect and recognition. We can facilitate this by raising public awareness, by supporting groups that fund renovation projects to make public spaces accessible, and by encouraging our Israeli friends and relatives to lobby their legislators to oversee this mandate.

For the Israeli families whose loved ones are still missing in action, we must ensure that their suffering is not forgotten. Until the fate of the missing is uncovered, this human rights story must be kept on the front burner in American foreign policy by urging the United Nations and the White House to pressure Iran, Syria and Lebanon to come forward with information.

For the whole family of Israel, each of us can begin mending hatreds and prejudices by seeking dialogue with our neighbors of every national, ethnic, religious and political background. By listening to each other's history, each other's suffering, each other's hopes, we are making small steps toward understanding. We must not underestimate the power of these gestures.

And on the international front, our government and democratic nations worldwide can help ensure Israel's security by encouraging and enabling other Middle Eastern nations to teach diversity in their schools, while fighting regimes that preach hatred and intolerance.

For thousands of years, the Jews dreamed of returning to Zion. And after the advent of political Zionism, people spoke of the question of Israel. Today Israel is no longer a dream or a question. As a fully established nation, the only questions we have to ask now are how secure it will be and how the next generations will live.

We cannot wait for the bridges to peace and safety to be built by politicians. As every action, at home and in public, makes a difference, we must ensure that every day, in every act, our message is for humanity, for peace, for security — all together.

Those before us sacrificed and toiled so that Jews everywhere would have a homeland. When the state of Israel was finally established 50 years ago, it was not the conclusion of a project. Rather, the mission of Zionism continues to live on every day in each one of us, in every word, in every deed.