When talking today about modern day Zionism and what got the wheels of history rolling that eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel, the year we choose to start the story in is 1882.
In this year the 1st Aliya begins. As a result of antisemitism, the rise of nationalism & the eternal “next year in Jerusalem” yearning, Jews from Eastern Europe, Russia & Yemen will begin emigrating to the land of Israel which at this time is under Turkish rule. Upon their arrival they buy land from absentee landowners and start settling the land.
What are the characteristics of the members of the 1st Aliya? They are mostly families, religious, with little to no agricultural experience. Their goal though, is to create new towns and work the land. Most of the land that they bought was not good for settling in at the beginning. They were strewn with rocks, or covered in swamps. Despite these hardships, the first pioneers cleared out the rocks and dried the swamps. Many times these came at a horrible price of the loss of life due to disease. The agricultural work was trial by error, or sometimes the local Arab population helped to teach the inexperienced Jews how to work the land.
Some of the first towns that were built in the 1880’s and 90’s have turned into well known cities or towns in Israel today. Reshon Letzion, Holon, Rehovot, Zichron Yaakov, Petach Tikva, Rosh Pina and many more. 32 towns were built during the 1st Aliya years of 1882-1904.
A lot of the financial support for all of this was done by the Baron Edmond Benjamin Rothschild. He supported the infrostructure for many of these towns, and built factories. Wine & silk were just some of the factories that he created in order to support these new towns.
The number of Jews who made Aliya to the land of Israel in this wave of immigration numbered 25,000-35,000. Their work on the ground was what got the things rolling, at the begining, that will eventualy lead to Israel’s independence in 1948.
On the political level, Theodore Herzl, a journalist in Vienna, will start talking about creating a Jewish State. In 1895 he was witness to the French yelling “death to the Jews” in the streets of Paris when Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer, was wrongly accused of spying. Within the next few months he writes a pamphlet called “The Jewish State”, in which he describes his vision of a future Jewish state. Herzl will organize the first Jewish Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Over the next few years he will turn to various world leaders in order to get support for the creation of his vision. The leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany & Great Britain were who he turned to, but all disappointed him by not helping his cause.
Herzl died in 1904 before he could see his dream come true. Herzl’s political activities will compliment the members of the 1st Aliya’s activities in turning their dream into a reality.