The Birth of the Nation
In historical terms, the relationship between the people and the land, where its story as a nation began thousands of years ago, is core to the Jewish narrative and ethos. It is the Land of Israel that, according to Biblical tradition, was given to the Jewish People as an inheritance, with instruction to live and express the will of God in it.
It is only in the Land of Israel that many halachot (Jewish laws) can find full expression and where the Jews built their Temples, the center of Jewish ritual and spiritual life for generations. Even after the destruction of the Second Temple, in 70CE, when Jewish civilization had to adapt and evolve to a long-term Diaspora reality, Jews never ceased to yearn for Zion, remembering the land of Israel in daily prayers and regular rituals.
Rituals, such as leaving a part of a house unfinished or breaking a glass at a wedding, functioned as concrete expressions of exile. Despite that relatively few Jews were able to fulfill the dream of returning to live in the Land of Israel, it remained in the collective consciousness.
The Vision of Sovereignty
After nearly two thousand years of dispersion, starting in the 19th century and born out of a range of social and political forces, including modern nationalism in Europe, the Jewish People created the Zionist movement that called for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
After envisioning the Jewish State, the Jewish People proceeded to send resources (including people) and support to build the pre-state entity (i.e., the Yishuv). As the Yishuv was built, the Jewish People lobbied the world to recognize the future State and raised funds to help it grow.
In 1947, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews to their own sovereign State and in 1948 the State of Israel was born.
During Israel’s 65 years of independence, the Jewish People have continued an active relationship with the State of Israel, supporting and encouraging the national Jewish enterprise. In the first decades, the main efforts focused on building the infrastructure and absorbing massive waves of North African olim (immigrants).
Later on, priorities shifted to improving the quality of life in the young State, its academic, research and cultural infrastructure, and developing effective lobbies for Israel (e.g., AIPAC) throughout the world. Those years were also marked by the challenge to absorb a massive immigration from the Former Soviet Union as well as aliyah from Ethiopia.
The last thirty years show active involvement among world Jewry to enhance relationships between Israel and Jews worldwide through programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel, Partnership Together, etc., and also to promote certain values, such as pluralism, in Israel.
The changes in the nature of involvement of world Jewry in Israel reflect the changing needs of Israel. But they may also point to a potential challenge to the paradigm of Israel as vision and venture of the Jewish People. In the context of Israel’s capability of managing its own affairs and a stable Israeli economy and society, the role and place of world Jewry in influencing Israel and the relationship between the Jewish People and the State, must be revisited.
It is helpful to think about this issue through a comparative lens. Most diasporas, such as the Irish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese, share varying degrees and levels of intensity in relationship with the “homeland,” as expressed in cultural rituals, pilgrimage and a general sense of identification and solidarity.
What made the Jewish Diaspora unique was the fact that unlike other diasporas, which were created through migration from the old country, the Jewish Diaspora, worked in the opposite direction, creating the Jewish State. In the years preceding the creation of the State and the first decades of its independence, it was very clear that the Jewish People initiated and owned the enterprise of building the State.
This feeling and sense of working on behalf of the Jewish collective was not only important to Israelis, but unified the Jewish People around a common vision and agenda.
And yet, as time passes and normalcy settles in, Israel is increasingly envisioned as the State of Israelis, both by its citizens and also, for various reasons, by world Jewry. This process of transforming Israel into the State of Israelis rather than the Jewish people questions the role and place of world Jewry in shaping the nature of the State and poses a threat to one of Israel’s unique features – that of being the State of the Jewish People.
It also threatens to change the essence of Jewish Peoplehood in which the State is a central component. To use the example above, if Jews connect to Israel in the same way that American Irish connect to Ireland, both Israel and Jewish Peoplehood will look differently.
Renewed Focus on Israel as Vision and Venture of the Jewish People
We believe that from a Peoplehood perspective, it is time to remove the hyphen from Israel-Diaspora relations. Israel should be viewed by all Jews as the State of the Jewish People. Some members of the people live in Israel and take a more active role in building and shaping the State.
And yet they share a joint commitment with world Jewry to the Jewish People’s sovereign entity. Without a current reinterpretation of the perception that Israel is the vision and venture of the whole collective, the Jewish People face the risk of a growing gap between world Jewry and Israel as well as a further weakening Jewish Peoplehood.
This requires a dialogue of equals between Israelis and world Jews, recognizing both the unique contributions each group brings to the table as well as the unique needs of each group. World Jews will need to re-assume the responsibility of active partners in the Jewish sovereign experiment (i.e., not just behave as passive or indifferent supporters).
Israelis will need to accept world Jews as genuine partners in the Israeli enterprise (i.e., not just passive supporters). Together they will have to carve a fresh vision with concrete expressions of the essence of the partnership.
 See, for example, Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 15:18, 17:8.
 See diasporamatters.com for some interesting resources about global diaspora communities and some contemporary developments in this field. See also Benedict Anderson’s book, “Imagined Communities,” which serves as a key theoretical statement in the field.