May 08, 2008

Happy 60th birthday to Israel!

Today Jews around the world celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel on our ancestral land of Israel. The only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a potpourri of people from many lands and cultures coming together to make the desert bloom.

Before I experienced the reality, I fell in love with the idea of Israel as a teenager and I've never fallen out of that love. I vividly recall the first morning I woke up in Jerusalem to the sounds of bells -- a shepherd was herding his flock nearby. I heard my first jazz concert. I saw the motorcade when Anwar Sadat came to make peace with Menachem Begin. I shopped in the outdoor markets and ate my first artichoke, dipped bread into za'atar and enjoyed fiery Yemenite charif sauce on my falafel. I worked in the tomato fields and packed onions on Kibbutz Ketura. I learned to speak Hebrew. I witnessed the aftermath of a suicide bombing at the Sbarro Pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem.

The startling blue of Lake Kinneret, the rugged beauty of the Arava desert, and the stones of Jerusalem all reminded me of my people's ancient connection to the Land. I climbed Masada to see the remains of the last Jewish defenders against the Romans. They are long gone, but we are still here!

Over the years, I have left many notes pressed into the cracks between the stones of the Kotel. For her birthday today, I wish that Israel could live in peace and prosperity with her neighbors and continue to be a "light unto the nations" for the rest of the world.

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