By Joshua Yudkin
Political scientist Benedict Anderson defined a nation as an imagined political community that is inherently limited yet sovereign. In other words, this political community is imagined, because not everyone knows everyone else; limited, because it is exclusive; and sovereign, because it is self-ruling.
For the past 74 years, the Jewish people have had their own nation-state, the State of Israel. While Israel is a Jewish democratic state as defined in its basic laws, not all Jews are citizens (although they could be) and therefore do not have the right to vote in Israel. Nonetheless, global Jewry has played a pivotal role in statehood, and Israel has been an important part of global Jewry.
Last month marked the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, where Theodor Herzl, the secular Jewish reporter who covered the Dreyfus Affair in France, founded the modern political Zionism movement with hundreds of representatives from Jewish communities from 17 countries. In Herzl’s own words, “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it.” Almost 50 years later exactly, the State of Israel was born.
At the celebration last month, Israeli Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai mirrored U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous maxim and said, “Ask not what the Diaspora can do for Israel — ask what Israel can do for the Diaspora.” He affirmed, “Instead of staying sidelined, we need a relationship of involvement,” acknowledging that “decisions we make in Jerusalem affect not only the citizens of Israel, but Jewish communities around the world alike.”
Therefore, I would like to use Minister Shai’s words and pose the question to our Jewish community, and ask what a more involved relationship would entail. How do we make Israel less imaginary and more tangible? How does Israel better support our community and community needs? What would meaningful engagement or a relationship of involvement feel like?
I would like to offer two preparatory steps for us to consider to help us answer this question:
First, we need to continue to engage in decent dialogue to build relentlessly respectful and inclusive relationships within our own communities. Our Jewish community is heterogenous, and it is essential that everyone feels welcomed, included and safe. It is vital that everyone has a voice. We must celebrate and support the diverse experiences, beliefs and identities within our own Jewish community. It is critical that the entire community is supported and uplifted so that Israeli leadership understands the diversity of Jewish experiences and identities that make up our community.
Second, we need to continue to prioritize mifgashim, or encounters between our community (global Jewry) and Israelis both in and out of Israel. We can cultivate a better understanding and deeper respect for our Jewish community and respective diasporic and Israeli communities through more immersive and firsthand experiences not just with, but also participating in, each other’s communities. Understanding that community, culture and identity are dynamic, and that there are always divergent and convergent changes, is critical.
As we enter this new chapter between Israel and global Jewry, how do you want to be supported? How can Israel enhance your Jewish identity, connection and/or experience?
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.
The source article that inspired this piece can be found at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/diaspora-minister-calls-for-new-paradigm-in-israels-ties-to-jews-abroad/