During my visit, Israel was celebrating 65 years as a nation. There were flags everywhere. For me, a highlight of my Israel visit was gaining an appreciation for the Zionist pioneers who built the country--slowly early in the 20th century, then very quickly after its modern founding in 1948--and seeing how far the nation has come.
In 1908 Tel Aviv was just a big sand dune. Born in 1909, the city today feels like San Diego. Of the almost eight million people in the country, more than three million live in the greater Tel Aviv area. The relative prosperity among Israel and its neighbors is striking. Waking up on my first morning here, I looked out my hotel window at the wonderful sandy beach (which is made of sediment from the Nile River). Pondering the joggers and kayakers getting in their morning exercise, I kept thinking it's as if someone put California in the middle of Mexico.
When you look at a photo of the early Zionist pioneers who came here and mixed sand, sweat, brain power, and a determined vision into a powerful nation, you can understand the passion Israelis have for their homeland.
After WWII, a generation of Holocaust orphans--many still wearing the striped uniforms issued to them in concentration camps like Dachau--helped end a 1,900-year-long Jewish diaspora.