Ear­li­er this week, Daniel Gordis wrote about how ideas and the books in which they are expressed change his­to­ry and about the dis­course sur­round­ing Israel as a con­flict of ideas about the nation-state. Here, Daniel con­cludes his week-long blog series for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil in part­ner­ship with MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

In my last few blogs, I wrote of my hope that The Promise of Israel can help fos­ter a new kind of con­ver­sa­tion about Israel, a con­ver­sa­tion root­ed in ideas and not focused on the con­flict. Israel’s impor­tance to the world, I sug­gest through­out the book, is its cen­tral idea: the Jew­ish State is a reminder of the dan­gers of unfet­tered uni­ver­sal­ism, a call to arms urg­ing us to cel­e­brate our differences.

But dur­ing the course of writ­ing the book, it became clear that I need­ed to make an inten­tion­al detour in the argu­ment. For as I spoke about the man­u­script in front of audi­ences, it became clear to me: there’s a sense among many Amer­i­can Jews, par­tic­u­lar­ly among the younger gen­er­a­tion, that they real­ly don’t need Israel any longer. Amer­i­can Jews feel com­plete­ly secure, entire­ly accept­ed. They love Israel, but, they argue, they don’t real­ly need Israel.

So I decid­ed that I need­ed to include a chap­ter towards the end of The Promise of Israel to address this. I need­ed to remind them that Israel isn’t just a home­land far away, but it’s actu­al­ly the gen­er­a­tor that pro­vides an enor­mous por­tion of the ener­gy for the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Sans Israel, I decid­ed to argue, Amer­i­can Jews would find them­selves with­out per­haps the one issue that tru­ly moti­vates and ener­gizes their com­mu­ni­ty. With­out Israel, after all, what would remain to make Jew­ish­ness any­thing more than some ane­mic form of eth­nic mem­o­ry long-since erod­ed? About what else in Jew­ish life, besides Israel, do con­tem­po­rary Jews feel shame, or anger, or exhil­a­ra­tion? What else in Jew­ish life evokes the same inten­si­ty of emo­tion? It’s actu­al­ly hard to think of exam­ples.

When JCC’s dis­cuss whether or not they should be open on Shab­bat, do peo­ple get exer­cised? Not real­ly. When a Jew­ish home for the aging decides to cease offer­ing kosher food, does the issue bring out the mass­es? In 2011, a pro­posed ban on cir­cum­ci­sion in San Fran­cis­co that both saw Jews at the fore­front and had clear anti-Semit­ic over­tones; but did it pro­voke a stir any­where near as pow­er­ful as what hap­pened after an Israeli naval raid on a flotil­la thou­sands of miles away the year before? Not at all!

When Israel’s Chief Rab­binate or some Israeli polit­i­cal par­ty threat­ens to declare all Reform and Con­ser­v­a­tive con­ver­sions invalid, Amer­i­can Jews become enraged, even though that pol­i­cy will affect very, very few of them. Why, though? Some­times, it seems that Amer­i­can Jews get much more worked up about what Israeli rab­bis who are not of their denom­i­na­tion say than they do when their own local rab­bis speak!

We should not ignore this pecu­liar phe­nom­e­non, because it speaks to some­thing very deep inside us. When we think about it, we under­stand that on some lev­el, we intu­it that a Peo­ple with­out a state is miss­ing some­thing crit­i­cal. We can’t artic­u­late pre­cise­ly why, but we know it’s true. Amer­i­can Jews, secure and con­fi­dent though they are, need Israel because whether we want to admit it or not, even in the Dias­po­ra, Israel is key to mak­ing the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence whole.

That is why issues in issue elec­tri­fy Amer­i­can Jews in ways that many domes­tic” Jew­ish issues don’t. This, too, is a con­ver­sa­tion that I hope that The Promise of Israel will help to foster.

Read more about Daniel Gordis here.

Daniel Gordis is the Koret Dis­tin­guished Fel­low at Shalem Col­lege — Israel’s first lib­er­al arts col­lege — which he helped found in 2007. The author of numer­ous books on Jew­ish thought and polit­i­cal cur­rents in Israel, he has twice won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, includ­ing the prize for Book of the Year for Israel: A Con­cise His­to­ry of a Nation Reborn. Raised and edu­cat­ed in the Unit­ed States, he has been liv­ing in Jerusalem since 1998.