Happy 53

Some birthdays are better than others, and number 53 is especially tough for Israel.

Whether or not we in America see it this way, Israel is at war. A recent fax from the office of the mayor of Efrat in Gush Etzion reported, "the current PLO war has taken a tragic toll."

That’s only one front. As Gil Sedan reports in this issue, Arab terror groups recently concluded a two-day meeting in Tehran to coordinate strategy against Israel.

Economically, Israel has been struck by the tech burst and the tourism bust. "We’ve been through tourism crises before," Israel Tour Guide Association head Rafi Glass told the Jerusalem Post. "But this? This is a catastrophe."

The presence of such bad news is amplified by the absence of something else: optimism. The supporters of the peace process once argued that if it all fell apart, then the country would be no worse off than it was before the process began. That may be true, but now the country is facing a dream of peace deferred. The result, on the Israeli street, is a drying up of hope and, on the Palestinian street, an explosion.

What about us on the outside? This has been a month when many in the L.A. Jewish community are consumed with the factualness of events millennia old. Meanwhile, recent surveys have found not only that fewer than one-third of American Jews see Israel as a "very meaningful" aspect of their Jewish identity, but that many are unaware of important facts about it.

North America’s Jewish federations are mobilizing for two national solidarity rallies to be held simultaneously on Sun., June 3, in New York and Los Angeles. Let’s not only mark our calendars but use the time leading up to these rallies to educate ourselves and others about Israel’s history, its current crisis and the complex challenges it faces.