The First Aliyah

palestine, 1882-1903

We talk about Jewish immigration to Palestine starting with the appropriately-named First Aliyah. In Hebrew the word “aliyah” means “to ascend,” to “go up”. Today Aliyah has come to symbolize the idea that immigrating to Eretz Yisrael is an act of raising up one’s soul, of fulfilling a spiritual need.

The First Aliyah period ran from 1882 to around 1903, and somewhere around 25,000-35,000 Jews arrived, mostly from Eastern Europe. By the end of that period only about half or less ended up staying, because life was really hard. They were largely unable to build a functioning agricultural economy. They farmed individual plots of land, and sometimes tried grouping them together in small communities called moshavot. But these private farms weren’t viable, they weren’t really able to turn a profit to sustain an economy, and They had to be supported by Jewish philanthropic funds from abroad, most famously from Baron Edmond de Rothschild.