What is Aliyah?

Aliyah in Hebrew means: Ascent, progress, advance and immigration to Israel as a symbol of taking ones Jewish life to higher level. Aliyah refers to the history of Zionist immigration to Israel and it also refers to the continuing move to Israel by Jews from across the world. While the Zionists of the 19th century came to a raw land to establish farms and nurture the distant dream of a Jewish homeland, today Aliyah is more likely to be by a high-tech Jewish professional drawn to the world-class Israeli industries.

The First Aliyah was by anonymous pioneers, usually families, who came to Eretz Yisrael between 1882 and 1903/4, primarily to escape persecution in Europe. This group of pioneers paid the highest price, in terms of both hardship and actual loss of life. They succeeded in starting some poor settlements with the help of Baron de Rothschild, privately-owned farms inside a village framework (moshavot), but they were nowhere near establishing a community that could seriously be considered a Jewish homeland. They did, however, set the foundation principle of land ownership and self-reliance, a bold departure from the precarious existence in Europe where private land was forbidden to Jews.

The Second Aliyah (1904-1914) immigration began with severe pogroms in Russia in 1903 and 1904 that led many Jews to flee. Although the majority headed for the United States, about 40,000 arrived in Palestine between 1904 and 1914. The vast majority of them came illegally, because Turkey had forbidden Jewish immigration. Jews were permitted to stay only three months in the Land of Israel, but bribes kept the Turkish officials in Palestine silent.

The Second Aliyah immigrants initially attempted to find a place in the moshavot of the first Aliyah, but they had to compete with the Arab labor force already established there. The resulting stress between the First Aliyah settlers and the newcomers, led to new settlements on land acquired by the Zionist Movement. A network of workers’ settlements emerged — notably in the Kinneret — founded on socialist ideas of collective ownership and management (Kevutzot).

After World War I came the Third Aliyah (1919-1923), continuing the older types of settlements and innovating too, with new ideas including the radical “intimate kevutzot” (small groups which stressed absolute openness and intimacy), the large Kibbutz and the workers’ settlement (Moshav Ovdim).


The Fourth Aliyah (1924-1929) was a direct result of the economic crisis and anti-Jewish policies in Poland, along with the introduction of stiff immigration quotas by the United States. Most of these immigrants belonged to the middle class and brought modest sums of capital with which they established small businesses and workshops. Tel Aviv grew. Notwithstanding the yishuv’s economic woes, with an economic crisis in 1926-1928, the Fourth Aliyah did much to strengthen the towns, further industrial development and reinstate Jewish labor in the villages. In all, the Fourth Aliyah brought 82,000 Jews to Palestine, of whom 23,000 later left.

The Fifth Aliyah (1929-1939) was motivated by the Nazi rise to power in Germany (1933). Persecution and the Jews’ worsening situation caused aliyah from Germany to increase, and aliyah from Eastern Europe to resume. Many of the immigrants from Germany were professionals; their impact was to be felt in many fields of endeavor. Within a four-year period (1933­1936), 174,000 Jews settled in the country. The towns flourished as new industrial enterprises were founded and construction of the Haifa port and the oil refineries was completed. Throughout the country, “stockade and tower” settlements were established. During this period ­ in 1929 and again in 1936-39 ­ violent Arab attacks on the Jewish population took place and British opposition to Jewish immigration grew. By 1940, nearly 250,000 Jews had arrived during the Fifth Aliyah (20,000 of them left later) and the yishuv’s population reached 450,000.

Aliyah Bet was established to continue Jewish immigration through clandestine, illegal methods after the British imposed quotas. This continued until the State of Israel was established in 1948.

Aliyah continues. In the 1990’s over 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union went to Israel and were quickly absorbed into the economy. In July of 2002, a planeload of Jewish families from the United States, more 400 people, arrived in Israel — immigrants intending to make their homes in Eretz Yisrael.

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