TEL AVIV, Israel -- Almost from the beginning, when God called Abram (later Abraham) to pick up and move to some unknown destination, Jews often have had an adversarial relationship not only with God but also with the world around them.
Thank God. They have thereby taught the rest of us how to struggle against not just evil but also against what should be good but -- at least as far as we can tell now -- isn't. This attitude has led to such important questions as: Where was God in the Holocaust?
The Hebrew Scriptures are full of stories of how the people of Israel were persecuted but also how they sometimes brought trouble on themselves by not holding to the standards God called them to when God first entered into a covenantal relationship with them.
And, of course, in the Christian era the Jews often have been treated as parasites, with the horrific result being the Holocaust in World War II, in which six million of them were murdered.
After helping to lead a recent Jewish-Christian study tour to Israel, I am no expert on the modern state of Israel nor on the state of modern Jewry. So what I am about to say here may be misguided. But I think not.
After nearly 4,000 years of this adversarial relationship with the world, Jews -- especially those living here in Israel -- are, I think, at a crossroads and are rapidly moving to a position in which they can make peace not just with the still-stateless Palestinians but also with the whole world and even with themselves and their history.
Modern Israel is just entering its 65th year and is a marvel. The Jews have created a miracle on this wildly varied land and now Israel stands as a major military, industrial, economic, educational and religious power. The Jews who dreamed of this land -- starting with Theodor Herzl and other Zionists more than 100 years ago -- planted seeds that have led to amazing things here in the Holy Land.
But now it is time for the idea -- the quite historically justifiable idea -- that Jews are always and everywhere victims to give way to the idea that Jews can set that aside and become effective instruments of peace in ways that may not have been possible until now.
In an excellent recent New York Times column that I read here in the International Herald Tribune, Stephen Robert, former chancellor of Brown University, asked: "Can the Jewish people segue from deeply ingrained victimhood to the moral and practical dictates of being a major power?"
He thought so, though "there are risks for Israel in allowing a Palestinian state. But as Jews, we cannot tolerate a Jewish state that ignores its own Declaration of Independence and the teachings of our sages over thousands of years. A state that persecutes, deprives and denies its neighbors in a manner so similar to what our tormentors did to us cannot be acceptable."
Yes, Jews have longed for and worked for peace here for a long time -- against long odds -- and they have been the targets of many people near them who wanted them to disappear. But I sense that today the balance of power has shifted so that it is highly unlikely -- barring a nuclear attack by the theological thugs who run Iran -- that any of Israel's Arab neighbors can or would destroy it.
If that's the case, now is the time for Israel -- unilaterally at first if necessary -- to create the conditions in which a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is possible. If the Palestinians continue to live next to Israel without finally having their own state but existing in a state of frustrating suspended animation, then Israel will give up any claim to moral high ground, as Stephen Robert argues persuasively.
As we traveled this country (smaller than Vermont, by the way) from the Golan Heights, where we could look down into Syria, to the Dead Sea and its surrounding desert land, we could not help but be impressed with modern Israel's story, its loveliness, its power, its determination and even its diversity.
But all of that cannot last if there is no peace. It's time for the creative, restive, ingenious, argumentative Jews to move from an adversarial relationship with their neighbors to a relationship built on mutual respect and peace.
Are Israel's adversarial neighbors willing to help? I think so, hope so, pray so. But now they must prove it.
If they aren't willing to help, then the fault will not be Israel's, which, like Abraham, is being called to move into a future it cannot yet know, but a future into which it must trust God to lead it.
(I took the top photo here today from the 15th floor of my Tel Aviv hotel looking at the Mediterranean and the photo on the right at Caesarea.)