It began as an effort to do the impossible: revive the Hebrew language and resettle the Jewish People in the Holy Land, almost two millennia after the Jewish capital of Jerusalem was occupied by Roman legions and the Holy Temple burnt down.
Over the centuries, the Jews had seemed to turn into a non-nation: a multicolored world tribe of wanderers, always weeping for their lost glory, always on the run, forever fearful of the wrath of the "normal" nations within whose borders they resided.
All nations recognized the Jews' unique talent, and realized the debt that civilization owed the ancient nation. Monotheism, the precepts of Western morality, the idea of nationality that transcends time and borders, even the seven-day week and the Sabbath were passed on to the world by this Semitic-Mediterranean tribe.
As the world progressed from "Dark Ages" to modernity, all recognized the utterly disproportionate contribution that Jews made, as individuals and as a group, to the commercial, financial, scientific and political systems that defined the new world. Amazing breakthroughs in knowledge, bold artistic revolutions and earth-shaking world movements were formed and led by the progeny of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov.
Yet no one believed that this nation could ever muster its old spirit and live again as it did in the times of David, Solomon and the dynasties that followed them. The movement toward Zion was seen as a lost cause, or a form of insanity.
Defying the mechanics of the human world
The settlers were Jews of all stripes: religious and non-religious, socialists and businessmen, Jews from Germany and Yemen, eastern Europe and North Africa. Light-skinned, anti-religious intellectuals from Vienna and London shared the land with devout darker-skinned Jews from Muslim-controlled lands. Other than the most basic Jewish tenets and customs like circumcision, the Pesach Seder and the fast of Yom Kippur, they seemed to have little in common. The dream seemed to defy the mechanics of the human world.
If all the difficulties of re-establishing national-territorial life on the ancient homeland were not enough, the Holocaust came. The German war against the Jews annihilated one-third of the Jewish nation with uncomprehensible cruelty. The Nazi armies were destroyed before they could reach the Land of Israel, but surrounding Arab armies were ready to pounce upon the state once it was declared.
Yet G-d was on the side of the Zionists, and in 1948, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, a secular Jew who had received a traditional Jewish education and was steeped in Torah, declared the state's independence.
Miracle followed miracle: under a socialist government, Israel liberated the ancient capital of Yerushalayim -- Jerusalem. The Temple Mount, the very Seat of Sanctity which served as the connection between Divinity and the earth below it for centuries, the Jewish nation's uplink to G-d Himself, was again in Jewish hands. Yet the time was evidently not ripe yet for the rebuilding of the Temple, and the government of Israel allowed the local Muslims to continue to run the Mount, which they had captured 13 centuries earlier.
A time of hesitation
In the decades since, the Jewish nation has grown deeper roots into the soil of the Land. Torah study has never been as popular as it is, and the economy, amazingly, is considered one of the world's strongest. Religious Zionists are seen by many as the new social and ideological leadership of the nation, showing the way for the rest of the Jews in their idealistic settlement of the land and the family values that swell their numbers yearly. Every year, the dream of rebuilding the Temple is becoming more clearly defined and easier to imagine.
Sixty-three years down the line and many wars later, Israel is stronger than it ever was in terms of security, population and economy. Yet it faces new challenges - including an urgent need to redefine its goals and rekindle the fighting spirit that typified its early decades.
There is a confusion, too: a sense that the time has come for a political decision in the Holy Land, between the identity of the wandering Jew and that of the national Jew. The wandering Jew camp warns that insisting on the dream of full Jewish revival is suicidal. The national Jew camp says that only through true belief in the Torah promise and their divinely-ordained destiny can the Jews survive and triumph.
As the Muslim world turns increasingly to its religion, it appears to challenge the Jews to do the same. As the Muslims act upon their perceived destiny of world conquest, they seem to dare the Jews to realize their ordained fate of global leadership. Yet the Jews hesitate -- unsure if the time is right, afraid of what some see as irrationality and ill-fated "Messianism," unable to locate a leader who will inspire them sufficiently to take the plunge of faith.
Plagued by doubt, they retreat instead of conquering. They negotiate in good faith with child-murderers. They reward brutal criminals and arrest pioneers. The Jewish state appears to some to have turned upon itself, as if it is trying to hide from the world.
Another miracle is needed.