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What You Should Know About the First Aliyah?

Where did the immigrants come from?

Mainly Eastern Europe: Romania and Russia.


Who were they?

Heads of family, believers in heritage, idealists and dreamers.

Most of them were not rich, but minor artisans and merchants.

In the spirit of the time, women were not photographed, but they and their children were vital to the success of the settlement.


Were there any others?

A wave of Yemenite Jews arrived in 1882 and settled in Jerusalem. 


When was the First Aliyah?

1882-1904. It took place in two main waves: the first in 1882 and '83 and the second in 1890 and '91.


What inspired the migration?

A series of pogroms (massacres) perpetrated against the Jews of Russia by the locals. In addition, the general antisemitic policies and consequent lack of response displayed by the authorities of Russia and Romania deprived the Jews of most of their civil rights.

They were in financial distress to the point of severe poverty. Many Jews immigrated to America, or the New World, in those years. Immigration to Eretz Israel was the choice of a small few who believed that the Jewish people would only find a home and a national identity in the land of our forefathers.


Who was ruling the land at the time? 

The Ottoman Empire (Turkey).


Did Jews already live in Israel back then?

Yes, mainly in the "four Holy Cities": Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron and Tiberias. Several Jews also lived in the Galilee, Jaffa and Haifa. They were called "the old settlement." In 1882 their number was about 26,000 people.

Why is it called the First Aliyah?

Jews immigrated to Palestine throughout all of the years of exile, even during the 19th century leading up to 1882. The uniqueness of the "First Aliyah" is that it was the beginning of organized Zionism and the "new settlement" of the Land of Israel.

Its name was coined by the participants of the Second Aliyah (1914-1904) who wanted to differentiate themselves from their predecessors.

How many colonies were established in the First Aliyah?

About 25 colonies can be identified according to common consensus as having been founded in the first years of aliyah. Some of them became large cities in Israel (Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Rehovot, Hadera). Some have remained small rural towns to this day (Mazkeret Batya, Rosh Pina, Zichron Yaakov, Bat Shlomo) and some failed and have since been abandoned (Mahanayim, Ein Ganim, and the colonies in the Horan, the area not included in the State of Israel).

The land on which the colonies were built was partially bought with the money of the immigrants themselves, but the most considerable finances were provided by Baron Rothschild.


The progression of the Jewish-Israeli population:

A total of about five thousand people lived in the colonies of the First Aliyah. The rest of the immigrants settled in Jerusalem and Jaffa, or retraced their steps and left the country.

More than half of the Jewish community  was concentrated in Jerusalem before the First Aliyah. Most of them focused on Torah study and 90% of these Palestinian Jews subsisted on money distributed from donations collected among the various Jewish-European communities.

Those receiving the money were important for maintaining the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. They were perceived as keeping a mitzvah and credited with preserving the land of the patriarchs and thus will hastening the redemption. However, in the second half of the 19th century, due to a fourfold population boom in the old settlement, the allocated  fund-raised money was suddenly not enough for everyone, and a new desire to start earning a living on their own from agricultural work and trade was born

The first agricultural school, Mikve Israel, was established in 1870 by the French branch of "Kol Yisrael Haverim," to extend philanthropic assistance on a humanitarian basis to Jewish communities wherever they were and promote educational and cultural enterprises. It was initiated by Karl Netter.

Petah Tikva - the "Mother of the Colonies" - was founded in 1878 by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Jerusalem, who wanted to be freed from relying on the communal money. Due to diseases, floods, malaria and severe friction between the settlers, the settlement disbanded in 1881.

In contrast, the immigrants in the First Aliyah started out with the intention to make a living on their own and not rely on other people's money.


They bought land with their own money, but subsistence was extremely difficult. At the end of 1883 the condition of the first colonies was poor. Baron Rothschild of Paris came to their aid, shouldering the task of supporting and instructing the farmers in establishing the colonies.

He sent Eretz Yisrael officials to serve as managers and guides. The help was essential, but the attitude of the officials towards the colonists was humiliating. In 1900, the Baron decided to abolish the bureaucracy and transfer the colonies to the management of the YCA (the Society for the Settlement of Jews, founded by Baron Hirsch).

Until his death in 1935, Baron Rothschild continued to support the colonies with considerable sums of money, and kept on eye on their development. He visited the country five times, in the years 1887, 1893, 1899, 1913 and the last time in 1925 when he was 80. His Baroness, Ada, accompanied him on every trip and even donated a lot of money from her own family.

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Founders of Zichron Yaacov, Romanian immigrants, 1890

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