Israel at 55 — a time for hope

Israel spent its first half-century fighting for its very survival, its soil. Now, at 55, some Israelis say their country is also fighting for its soul: Can Israel remain a Jewish state and a democracy? Can it nourish Jews of all streams and foster human rights for all?

And can it remain secure? Security remains a central concern in a land that many of its citizens describe as being "in a bad neighborhood," the Mideast.

Terrorism, combined with a bad global economy, has taken a severe toll, nearly obliterating tourism and jeopardizing countless businesses. "The situation," as Israelis euphemistically call it, is bleak.

But "HaTikvah," Israel's anthem, means "the hope." And despite grim news reports, we, like our Israeli brothers and sisters, are committed to keeping that hope alive.

Certainly the fall of Saddam Hussein — whose Scud missiles attacked the Jewish state in 1991 — fuels that hope.

In addition, Ariel Sharon, Israel's right-wing prime minister, may be able to accomplish what his more left-leaning colleagues could not, craft an agreement with the Palestinians.

Moreover, the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, may be able to lead his compatriots out of the morass of terror and hopelessness.

As Israel marks its 55th Independence Day, the nation is out of its infancy and even its teen years. It is also recognized by the world as a nation, not an experiment.

Israel will survive — but its struggles are far from over. It is vital that we, as American Jews, continue our support. It is also vital that we pay attention to the Jewish soul and work to build a country in which Jews of all streams — and Israelis of all faiths — can thrive.

Peace involves more than diplomats sitting at a table. Neighbors, too, must learn to get along. In fact, the Golden Rule and "love thy neighbor" are central principles of our faith.

In that spirit, we must continue to support not only the peace process itself but the grassroots efforts of our local federations on behalf of pluralism and coexistence. We must preserve the hope that the "bad neighborhood" can ultimately become a land of peace.