destruction of the Solomon’s Temple in the 6th century BC, the
majority of the Jewish people live outside the land of Israel. Since then, “Aliyah,”
the return to the land of Israel, is the longing that unites Jews worldwide.
The Hebrew word “Aliyah” literally means “ascending.” To the land of Israel and
especially to its center, Jerusalem, one always goes up. This also applies to
people who come to Israel from higher areas, such as the Alps or the Himalayas.
leaving the Holy Land is always a descent. Thus it is written already about Abram
in Genesis 12, verse 10: “Abram went down to Egypt…” His return to the
Promised Land is described at the beginning of the following chapter: “And
Abram went up out of Egypt” (Genesis 13:1). The Hebrew Bible, as well as
modern Hebrew, is consistent in that usage.
waters of Babylon we sat and cried, when we thought of Zion,” complained the
psalmist (Psalm 137:1). “If I forget you, Jerusalem, my right hand shall
wither. My tongue shall stick to my palate if I do not remember, if I do not
raise Jerusalem above the peak of my joys,” says each groom after the pledge to
his bride and crushes a glass in memory of the ruined Jerusalem.
In the year
70 AD, the temple, which had been re-built by some returnees from Babylon
and magnificently restored by Herod the Great, was razed to the ground. After
the Second Jewish War in 135, the Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade Jews access to
Jerusalem on penalty of death. Judea was renamed “Palestine,” Shekhem became Neapolis
(nowadays “Nablus”) and Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina.” Any Jewish connection to
the Promised Land and its holy places should be made impossible.
yearning remained. After every meal, Jews have prayed through the millennia: “Have
mercy on us, O Lord our God, on your people Israel, on Jerusalem, your city, on
Zion, the abode of your glory.” The festival of Passover begins with the Seder
Evening, in which the Jewish people recall the salvation from Egypt year by
year. At the end of each Seder, they promise one another: “Next year in
The lowest point
to the hope of “Aliyah” when Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, “Ramban” for short, found
only two Jews in Jerusalem in the middle of the thirteenth century, but no
synagogue and no Torah scroll. In the city from which the Torah was supposed to
come out (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:2) was not even a single Torah scroll.
There was no longer any hope left that a Jew might lose, Nachmanides noted in
this period between the 6th and 7th crusades.
of Israel clang to the goal of returning home, even as Martin Luther mocked them
in the 16th century: “So let them go to the land and to
Jerusalem, let them build a temple, establish the priesthood, principality and
Moses with his law so that they themselves become Jews again and own the land.”
Sarcastic, the German reformer added: “When this has happened, they will soon
be able to see us come on their heels and become Jews ourselves” (WA 50.323:36-324:8).
Lutherans took the words of the eloquent reformer seriously, they would have to
report to the next rabbi today, 500 years after the 95 theses had been posted
at the castle church in Wittenberg, for circumcision. For “the Jews go to the
land and towards Jerusalem.” In 2017, the largest Jewish community in the world
lived again in the land of Israel. For two and a half millennia not so many
Jews have lived in the land of Israel.
The cry for redemption
“Out of the
depths I call, Lord, unto you” (Psalm 130:1) – that is the proper attitude
for prayer, one Orthodox Jew explains and points out, that this is the reason why
many synagogues are built in such a way that one has to descend some steps in
order to actually be able to call “from the depths.” Above all, however, this “Song
of Ascension,” as Psalm 130 is titled, is a cry for redemption from the diaspora.
If the Apostle Paul promised that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26),
then, in Jewish thinking, this automatically implies what God predicted through
the prophet Ezekiel (39:28), not only the return of the people to the land, but
also the promise: “I shall not leave one of them behind.”
The God of
Israel has heard the cry of His people. Since the absolute low point of
Jerusalem in the time of Rabbi Moses Nachmanides and the construction of the “Ramban
synagogue” named after him, a constant stream of Jews began to move up into the
land of Israel. In 1483 Rabbi Elijah arrived from Ferrara in Jerusalem, 1579
120 new immigrants from Damascus, in 1700 Judah the pious with 1,000 of his
followers. The so-called Hurva Synagogue still reminds of him today. In 1721
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz arrived. In the 18th century, nineteen Talmud
schools were founded in Jerusalem by Jews from Italy, Constantinople, Amsterdam
and Aleppo. In 1760 Rabbi Shalom Sharabi arrives from Yemen in Jerusalem and in
1771 Rabbi Menachem Mendel from Vitebsk founded a Hasidic settlement with 300
the Holy Land, with Napoleon’s Orient campaign, became the focal point of
international interest. Before the French Emperor fails at the gates of Acre,
he announces that Palestine and Jerusalem should be returned to their
legitimate heirs, the Jewish people.
Jew hatred as engine
In the 19th century, this trend continued. Anti-Semitic
outbreaks reinforced it. For
example, in 1840, when the Jews of Damascus were accused of murdering the Christian
priest Toma and his Muslim servant in order to use their blood for the matzot (unleavened bread) at Passover,
Rabbi Juda Alkalai, born in Sarajevo, urges his people to Aliyah. In 1881, pogroms in Russia and Romania triggered
the so-called “First Aliyah.” 40,000
Jews are on their way to Palestine.
Early secular Zionism
While first Jewish settlements are being built around the old city of
Jerusalem – Mishkenot Sha‘ananim (1860), Meah Shearim (1873), Machaneh Yehudah
(1887) – Jewish petitioners campaign for the establishment of a Jewish state in
Palestine before the Berlin Congress (1878). Prince
Otto von Bismarck declares them to be mad. Nevertheless, Zionism is forming a secular political movement in Europe.
At the beginning of September 1897,
the Austrian journalist Theodore Herzl writes in his diary immediately after the
first Zionist Congress: “Let me summarize the Basel Congress in a word – that I
will be careful not to speak in public – then it is this: In Basel I
founded the Jewish state. If I said
that out loud today, a universal laugh would answer me. Maybe in five years, at least in fifty, everyone
immense resistance, the movement continues. Herzl tirelessly works with the
powerful of his time, asks the German Kaiser for a protectorate on the Jewish
state and hears from Pope Pius X in Rome in January 1904: “The Jews
did not recognize our Lord, so we cannot recognize the Jewish people.”
Early settlement efforts
in the land
In 1899 the Pasha of Damascus expelled the Jews from a settlement on the
Golan Heights. In April 1909, the first Jewish city was founded
in the Land of Israel: Tel Aviv. In
December of the same year, the first kibbutz: Deganiah at the southern end of
the Sea of Galilee. In March 1917,
the Turks expel all Jews from Haifa and Tel Aviv.
In November 1917, the British government declared its support for a
Jewish homeland in Palestine in the so-called “Balfour Declaration.” On
July 24, 1922, the League of Nations in San Remo explicitly mandated the
British Government in the Palestine Mandate to promote Aliyah and the
settlement of the country by the Jewish people. Between 1919 and 1924, 35,000 idealistic pioneers with “certificates”
from the British government came to the Mandate of Palestine. From 1924 to 1931, Polish economic sanctions
drove many Jewish members of lower-middle-class strata “up to Zion.” Between 1929 and 1939, a quarter of a million
Jews flee from the Nazis from Germany to Palestine.
Resistance to Aliyah
Jewish immigration waves to Palestine provoked resistance from parts of the
Arab population. Extremist leaders such as the Grand Mufti and friend of Adolf
Hitler, Haj Amin el-Husseini, gained the upper hand and repeatedly incited
their supporters to bloody rebellions, as, for example, in 1929 and in 1936.
The British government responded to Arab violence with restrictions and
sometimes massive obstruction of Jewish immigration to Palestine, which was a
clear violation of the League of Nations mandate. David Ben-Gurion, who became
the first Prime Minister of Israel a few years later, issued the directive
during this difficult time: “Together with England we will fight Hitler as if
there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were
no war.” Hundreds of desperate Holocaust survivors lost their lives fighting
England before the state of Israel was finally proclaimed on May 14, 1948.
Finally a state
d’être of the Jewish state of Israel is to offer refuge to persecuted Jews from
all over the world. The young state was flooded by a wave of immigration, so
that in the years 1948-1951 alone the Jewish population in Israel doubled. The
first immigrants came not only as Holocaust survivors from Europe. About one
million Jews had to leave their homes in Arab countries during this period
because their lives there were made impossible. Most fled to Israel.
nearly seven decades of its existence, the state of Israel has coped with several
major waves of immigration, so that today more than six million Jews live in
the “land of their fathers.” In recent years, tens of thousands of Jews from
France and Ukraine moved to Israel.
Facts on the ground
HaEtzni has been living in Kiryat Arba near Hebron for 44 years. The almost
90-year-old lawyer and former Knesset member defends tirelessly the right of
his people to live in the land of Israel. He recalls how his family was
expelled from northern Germany in 1938 with the words: “Jews to Palestine!” –“Now
we are here and still you are not content!,” he reproaches his German
listeners. The years of struggle have led him to believe that only “facts on
the ground” guarantee the rooting of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. The
old settler leader does not really count much on the benevolence of the world’s
nations, international law or international guarantees.
presents himself as non-Orthodox, secular Jew. Nevertheless he knows: “We are
here by virtue of the Bible.” He does not believe in a God who cares about the
fate of individuals. But he is fascinated by the fact that the Bible predicted
2,500 years ago that the people of Israel would disobey the commandments of
their God; that it will therefore have to leave its land and be scattered
throughout the world; that it cannot assimilate there but will return to its
land after millennia of diaspora. “That’s not rationally explainable!,” the elderly
gentleman knows and is pleased that his garden in Hebron, the city of the
fathers, is lush after an exceptionally rainy winter.
Immigration Waves Before the Foundation
of the State
(1882-1903): 20,000 to 30,000 Jews are immigrating to Palestine from Eastern
Europe, Russia, Romania and Yemen.
(1904-1914): 35,000 to 40,000 Jews come from Russia and Poland.
(1919-1923): 35,000 immigrants come from Russia and Romania.
(1924-1931): 80,000 mainly middle-class Jews are moving from Poland and the
Soviet Union into the British Mandate of Palestine.
(1932-1938): After the takeover of Hitler about a quarter of a million German
Beit” (1934-1948): Illegal immigration of about 90,000 Jews persecuted by the
Immigration Waves into the State
1949/1950: Operation Flying Carpet – 49,000 Jews from Yemen.
Ezra and Nehemiah – 110,000 Jews from Iraq.
between 1948 and 1951, there are approximately 690,000 immigrants from Egypt,
Iraq, Yemen, Poland and Romania.
the end of French colonial rule, about 100,000 Jews from Morocco, Algeria,
Tunisia and Libya come to Israel.
immigrants come from the Soviet Union.
Moses rescues 8,000 Jews from the Ethiopian Civil War.
the fall of the Iron Curtain, the exodus of Soviet Jewry begins. From 1989 to
1995, 600,000 immigrants come from the CIS.
1991: Operation Salomon saves more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews from civil
war in 33 hours.
On March 30, 1992, TIME Magazine states: “to settle the 1 million Jews
expected to arrive from the former Soviet Union in the next five years — a task
comparable to the U.S. absorbing all of France.”
Pigeonwings brings nearly 8 000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.