Israel at 50: Beloved Country

Beloved Country

Naomi Weiss and her father, Eric Weiss tells about her family's early years in Israel.Fifty years ago, against world opinion and against all odds, Jews willed a homeland into being.

On a sticky May afternoon in Tel Aviv in 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion read a declaration of independence announcing that what once was Palestine now was Israel.

With that simple ceremony, Jews had a land of their own for the first time in 2,000 years.

Ben Gurion offered peace to the surrounding Arab nations that day but might as well have invited war. Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese forces crossed into Israel that night.

Israel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year almost as challenged as it was in 1948. Relations with the rest of the Middle East are shaky at best, and hope for peace with the Palestinians is all but dead. The economy is dragging, and there's an increasingly testy religious dispute over who is Jewish enough to be an Israeli.

But if Israelis are finding it difficult to stay in good spirits, the anniversary is cause for Jews in the rest of the world to celebrate.

They feel a connection to Israel that goes beyond ethnicity, beyond religion. There's enormous pride that a people who survived a 2,000-year Diaspora and the ovens of the Holocaust could summon the strength to regroup, to build and defend a Jewish homeland in the land of their biblical ancestors.

This special report looks at Israel's history, its people and some of the challenges it faces, through the eyes of one family whose generations today live in Seattle and Portland, outside ancient Jerusalem and in modern Tel Aviv. Their story is not unusual or heroic. Many of the 5.9 million Jews in the United States, and the 40,000 in Washington state, could find in their families stories as compelling.

Which is partly the point: As Jews say today, the story of Israel is the story of all of them.

Table of Contents

What does it mean to be Jewish?

Growing up Jewish

Fleeing from Hitler

Gerda after World War II

Palestine: the exodus back

Palestine: the beginnings

'The Palestine problem'

Declaring independence

The War of Independence

Defending the 'Burma Road'

Rebuilding their lives

The Sych family arrives in Israel

Winternitzes in the shadow of war

Normal life goes on

Building new homes with bomb shelters

Pressures from within, without

What does it mean to be Jewish in Israel?

Tourism and public image

A January scene in Jerusalem

'If we fail, we will vanish'

Ties of the heart

'It means alive...'

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