A year of determination

Once again, the time has come for our much-anticipated Israel in the Gardens celebration in San Francisco’s beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens. This year we gather to celebrate Israel’s 59 years of progress and achievement.

I have noticed that many countries celebrate their national day without mentioning how many years have passed since their original date of independence. For us in Israel, this number is crucial because every passing year enhances the miracle of an independent, sovereign Jewish state after 2,000 years without a national home.

Throughout the years, Israel has had an exceptional relationship with the Bay Area. The Bay Area is the home of a wonderful Jewish community with numerous ties to Israel and an interest in several aspects of Israeli life.

Israel’s relationship with the Bay Area strengthened further this past summer, when more than 100 high school students from Northern California visited Israel on the “Let’s Go: Israel!” trip. When the students’ visit extended through what unexpectedly turned into the Second Lebanon War, their determination and belief in the program’s importance led them to take appropriate precautions and remain in Israel until the scheduled departure date.

Also during the past year, both the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School and Brandeis Hillel Jewish Day School sent their eighth-grade classes to Israel for the first time. We hope this is the beginning of a significant and ongoing tradition.

In this time of celebration, we must remember to mention aspects of Israeli society beyond the Middle Eastern conflict. Although the past year has presented military and political difficulties, Israel’s economy has had phenomenal success. Even through times of war, the Israeli economy and stock exchange boomed, as though Israelis wanted to project that during times of attack, we will continue to innovate, build, discover and manufacture. Over the past year, the Israeli stock market and amounts of foreign investment in Israel attained record highs, while the Israeli real estate market reached a new peak with demand for prime real estate in major Israeli cities.

Israeli teenagers demonstrated their drive to flourish in the border town of Sderot, doubling a bomb shelter as a music room affectionately called “Sderock.” From Sderock have now come some of the most famous Israeli rock stars.

As is characteristic, the people of Israel continue to show the resolve to live a normal and prosperous life regardless of political complexity.

Israeli society is maturing, and the government reflects its multicultural character. We at the Consulate in San Francisco have been fortunate to have Ishmael Khaldi join us as deputy consul general and first Arab-Bedouin diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service.

In addition, Israel’s former consul in San Francisco, Israeli-Druze Reda Mansour, was appointed last summer as Israel’s consul general in Atlanta, showing that Israeli diplomats can be Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze. I hope that this trend will continue to convey Israel’s true nature in a time when certain sectors are accusing the country of intolerance.

While Israel is experiencing a complicated time politically with the recent commissions of inquiry, it is important to note the full half of the glass. Israel’s prime minister created the commissions himself, which is truly a testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy.

I am optimistic that there are prospects of political movement toward peace between Israel and its neighbors. The recent meeting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the King of Jordan, and the anticipated visits of Arab League representatives to Israel signify the start.

Looking at the big picture, we see that since Israel’s birth 59 years ago, we have progressed from a nation of oranges to a nation of high-tech, from having less than 1 million people to over 7 million citizens.

We are a country with a uniquely vibrant, open and democratic culture, with a booming economy and advanced scientific capabilities. Israel’s success is a proclamation that Israelis will defy circumstances. We are determined to build, discover and innovate. Israel has thrived, and will continue to surpass expectations for many years to come.