The celebration begins. Today, Israel turns 60.

The 1948 War of Independence and subsequent United Nations recognition established Israel as an autonomous modern Jewish state, and the first Jewish nation in two millennia.

That independence came at no small price for Jews and Palestinians, who have been caught up in conflict ever since.

But even as peace negotiations start and stall, as terrorist attacks and military incursions crest and subside, as compromises large and small are achieved, Israelis mark a major milestone today , the sixth decade of a country that 100 years ago was nothing more than a dream.

People around the world are acknowledging the occasion with ceremonies, speeches, events, services and celebrations.

The Charleston Jewish Federation, with support from the Sol and Celia Cohen Foundation and the Israeli Consulate General to the Southeast, has organized an afternoon of fun on Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in West Ashley.

The event, free and open to the public, will feature Jewish food, activities, music, movies, arts and crafts, a climbing wall and special exhibits, according to Lara Leroy, event organizer and director of the federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The celebration will feature Ya'ara Ophir, a member of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli rock band EggRoll.

Leroy said the birthday event is to focus on Israel's many accomplishments rather than the ongoing conflict. The Israeli economy is healthy and the country has been responsible for many technical and medical advances that have benefited the world, she said.

Martin Perlmutter, director of the College of Charleston's Jewish Studies Program, said the perception outside of Israel that the Holy Land as a war-torn place to be avoided does not match reality.

In fact, he said, Israel is thriving and violence has subsided.

Sunday's celebration at the JCC will kick off a series of events to be presented in the coming months.

The Jewish Studies Program, in cooperation with the city of Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs, will present "A World of Jewish Culture" at Piccolo Spoleto later this month.

The series this year has as its theme "Israel at 60" and will feature a poetry reading by Ambassador Reda Mansour, consul general of Israel in Atlanta, music recitals and a special commemoration of the Holocaust in honor of Pincus Kolender, a survivor and long-time Charleston resident who died Feb. 29.

Local synagogues Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and Emanu-El will host movies on June 22 and Aug. 24, respectively. The local Chabad chapter will present a family art-education project in October. Today, students at Addlestone Hebrew Academy will stage a play, sing songs and offer a slide presentation about Israel.

Earl Cox, a Charleston resident and Christian supporter of Israel who has been working to provide bomb shelters in Israeli border cities such as Sderot, said he produced a television advertisement featuring Israeli basketball star Lavon Mercer and crowds of supporters attending pro-Israel rallies in the Southeast United States. In the ad, everybody yells "Happy Birthday." It will air on Israeli TV shortly, Cox said.

David Kalik, chairman of the Charleston Jewish Community Relations Committee, said he hopes many people will attend Sunday's party. There will be opportunities to learn about Israel, but the main purpose is to have fun, he said.