Following their expulsion and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE, the majority of the Jews were dispersed throughout the world. The Jewish national idea, however, was never abandoned, nor was the longing to return to their homeland.
Throughout the centuries, Jews have maintained a presence in the Land, in greater or lesser numbers; uninterrupted contact with Jews abroad has enriched the cultural, spiritual and intellectual life of both communities.
Zionism, the political movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, founded in the late 19th century, derives its name from word "Zion", the traditional synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. In response to continued oppression and persecution of Jews in eastern Europe and disillusionment with emancipation in Western Europe, and inspired by Zionist ideology, Jews immigrated to Palestine towards the end of the nineteenth century. This was the first of the modern waves of Aliyah that were to transform the face of the country.
The ingathering of the exiles to their ancestral homeland is the raison d'etre of the State of Israel. Aliyah (literally ascending) is the Hebrew word for immigration to the Land of Israel. The meaning of ascent in this context is spiritual as well as physical; all Jews are educated in the belief that this ascent is an essential part of Judaism. It is the ultimate form of identification with one's people, the Jewish people, whose life and destiny are inextricably tied to the Land of Israel. Since the beginning of the waves of Aliyah in the late 19th century, many hundreds of thousands of immigrants have arrived in the Land. The background, traditions and expertise brought by each wave have been of immeasurable value in the development of Israel's pluralistic, democratic society and modern economy.