An incredible event transpired at the end of August 1897: Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, and the World Zionist Organization and Zionism were born - an important occurrence in the history of the people of Israel and peoples in general.
But Zionism did not rise of its own accord. For many generations, and especially throughout the 19th century, there were those known as the "heralders of Zionism" - individuals and small groups that called on the Jewish people to return to Zion, to the soil and to working the land. There are many names and legends that had a role in this undertaking, and they will be introduced in due course. It is enough to say that most of the "heralders of Zionism" were Jews who believed that just as the Greeks and Italians were relieved of the yoke of ancient foreign peoples, so too would they enjoy a "return to days" in their ancient homeland.
A significant number of non-Jewish "heralders," mostly English, wished to help the Jewish people be redeemed for humane, religious or political reasons and so also joined the ranks. Most of these "heralders," both Jewish and non-Jewish, were met with bewilderment and even contempt. The days were ones of enlightenment and of securing the provision of citizens' rights for Jews in Western European countries. A considerable number of Jewish leaders in Germany, France and even in Eastern Europe believed that assimilation was the solution to one of the greatest evils that had blossomed throughout the 19th century - hatred of Jews. Accordingly, the Jews were expected to fit in the countries where they lived, and talk of returning to Eretz Israel, which was being ruled by the disintegrating Turkish Empire, was considered dangerous to Jews, who might be suspected of disloyalty to their countries.
Throughout the 19th century, significant changes in Eretz Israel were taking place. No longer closed hermetically to strangers, it was gradually opening up. The Jewish population was rapidly increasing, especially in Jerusalem, and grew from some 2,000 at the beginning of the century to 35,000 by the end of it. This constituted a majority of 60% of the entire population. The idea of settling the land grew simultaneously in Israel and abroad, and in the last quarter of the 19th century was, in fact, realized. The settlers - founders of the first agricultural moshavot - were native-born Jews and new immigrants who arrived in Palestine in the framework of what was called the First Aliyah: the direct result of the work of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) societies (established with the aim of furthering Jewish settlement, particularly agricultural settlement in Eretz Israel) that emerged in Russia and Romania in the last two decades of the century. Immigrants also streamed to Eretz Israel from all over the East - from Morocco to Persia and from Yemen to Buchara.
When Herzl founded the World Zionist Organization, Eretz Israel consisted of 50,000 souls, some 20 agricultural settlements and the first of the country's institutions. The Hovevei Zion infrastructure in Eastern Europe and the French Jewish baron, Edmond de Rothschild, stood steadfastly behind the tiny Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. Herzl was dissatisfied with the situation and believed that the solution was political and involved turning Eretz Israel into a Jewish state. To this end he invested every waking moment, doing everything in his power to turn his dream into a reality.
There are some 3,750,000 Jews in the world - 2,750,000 in Europe, 300,000 in Asia, some 250,000 in North Africa and tens of thousands in America.
The number of Jews in Eretz Israel stands at some 7,000, approximately a third of them in Jerusalem.
An American Jew by the name of Mordechai Emanuel Noach suggests establishing a Jewish state by the name of Ararat in the northeastern United States as a stage in returning the Jewish people to their historic homeland - Eretz Israel.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer from Germany suggests to Moses Montefiore (the British philanthropist and supporter of settlement in Eretz Israel) and to the Rothschild family of bankers, that Palestine be bought from the present ruler of Eretz Israel, Mehemet Ali (who conquered Palestine from the Turks in 1831 and ruled it from Egypt for the next nine years).
Moses Montefiore arrives in Eretz Israel on the second of seven visits. He musters the members of the Jewish community and explores with them the possibility of Jewish settlement.
The beginning of the Damascus affair. A Christian monk and his servant go missing from Damascus and the Jews are accused of abducting them for religious ritual (use of their blood for the preparation of matza for Pesach). One of the Jews "admits" to this act after being tortured. A number of Jewish dignitaries are arrested and tortured, two of whom die.
Moses Montefiore from England and Adolphe Cremieux from France, two Jewish notables with outstanding wealth and influence, successfully intervene on behalf of the Jews of Damascus. I his is considered the beginning of international Jewish activity in the new era.
In the Jewish paper "Der Orient", published in Leipzig in German, an article appears without a by-line calling the Jews of Europe to leave their countries and return to Eretz Israel. Lord Shaftsbury, an English nobleman who introduced far-reaching social programs in his day, suggests to the British foreign secretary Henry Palmerston that Jews be allowed to settle in Eretz Israel in the framework of the development of Eastern countries.
Rabbi Yehuda Hai Alkalai, a rabbi from Serbia, publishes his book "Minhat Yehuda" (The Offering of Yehuda). In it he invites Jews to take advantage of the awakening in the Jewish world in light of the Damascus affair for a Return to Zion and settlement of Eretz Israel.
Colonel George Gawler, formerly the governor of South Australia, writes a book in which he suggests that Jews be allowed to establish Jewish agricultural settlements in Eretz Israel as compensation for their suffering in Europe and under Turkish rule. Seven years later (in 1852), he establishes an association for the colonization of Palestine.
Rabbi Yehuda Hai Alkalai establishes in London the Society for the Settlement of Eretz Israel, which is disbanded after a short time. He tours Europe and advocates settlement in Eretz Israel.
The British Consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, sends a memorandum to the foreign secretary in London, in which he suggests settling Jews in Eretz Israel as farmers to nurture the land.
The Mortara affair in Italy: a Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, is abducted from his parents home in Bolonia by messengers of the Catholic Church, following his secret baptism by a Christian servant during an illness. The Jewish world is outraged. Jewish leaders and scholars approach Pope Pious IX and ask him to return the boy to his parents. There is no response. The incident emphasizes the need for international Jewish organization and constitutes one of the reasons for expediting establishment of the Alliance Israelite Universelle - a Jewish charitable, educational and defense organization.
Alliance Israelite Universelle is established in Paris and awakens hope among supporters of settlement in Eretz Israel. Disappointment sets in, however, when the organization focuses more on Jewish education outside of Eretz Israel.
In Frankfurt, Germany, the social activist Dr. Chaim Luria establishes the Settlement Society for Eretz Israel, which in the years to come works in coordination with the likes of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Rabbi Yehuda Hai Alkalai, Moses Hess, Rabbi Elijah Guttmacher and David Gordon. The company boasts no real achievements.
Mishkenot Sha'ananim is founded in Jerusalem at the initiative of Moses Montefiore; the first neighborhood built out side the walls of the Old City. This signifies the beginning of the New City.
Rabbi Joseph Natonek from Hungary publishes, anonymously, a booklet (in Hungarian) called "Messiah – An Essay on Jewish Emancipation of Equal Advantage for Jews and Christians". In it he calls for Jews everywhere "to fulfill our national independence in the land of our forefathers."
Moses Hess, a German-Jewish socialist, publishes his book, "Rome and Jerusalem", in which he advocates the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel. In the same year, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer writes a booklet called "Derishat Zion" (Seeking Zion) in which eh too calls for Jews to return to the Land of Israel. It is surprising that rather than tell Jews to wait for the Messiah, the ultra-Orthodox Kalischer tells them to act for their own redemption.
David Gordon, a fournalist (later editor) at the Hebrew weekly "HaMagid" from East Prussia, publishes a series of articles based on the idea of a Return to Zion (issues 14-18)
Rabbi Natonek visits the Jewish communities in Germany and meets with the heads of Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris in order to promote the idea of a Return to Zion. The following year he travels to Istanbul and meets with Turkish leaders with the same aim.
Charles Netter, one of the heads of Alliance, arrives in Eretz Israel in order to observe the situation in the tiny Jewish community and examine the possibility of settling additional Jews on the land.
Netter appears before a large crowd in Jerusalem's Old City, and is moved and uplifted by the cry: "Give us land!"
The first edition of "HaShachar" (The Dawn) appears in Vienna, a Hebrew publication edited by Peretz Smolenskin which maintains that the Jews are entitled to be considered a nation worthy of national independence.
Netter appears before the management of Alliance Israelite Universelle, reads out his report on his visit to Eretz Israel and suggests establishing, in the first stage, an agricultural school. He expresses his willingness to head such a project and spends the rest of the year taking steps to implement the plan.
Charles Netter's relentless efforts result in the Turkish government giving him a license to open a Jewish agricultural school near Jaffa.
Netter settles in a cave south of Jaffa and lays the cornerstone of the new school, which constitutes the beginning of new Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. A well is dug, after which the first students are welcomed. Netter heads the school till September 1873.
For the first time since 1800 there is a Jewish majority in the city (11,000 souls). Although an historic event, it isn't greatly emphasized at the time.
Shabbat - the "Bechukotai" portion. The Jerusalem tailor R. Gershon, who makes clothes for the agricultural school students, suggests to Netter that he draw from the weekly Torah portion, Jeremiah 17:13: "O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame," and call the school Mikve Israel (Hebrew for "Hope of Israel.") Netter adopts the idea.
The Society for Working and Redemption of the Land is established in Jerusalem, which aims to establish the first agricultural settlement
- Petah Tikva. Preparations are made to acquire land near Jericho, and, soon after, south of Jaffa (later to become Rehovot). The Turks prevent the acquisition and the company disbands.
The Moses Montefiore Testimonial Fund (Mazkeret Moshe) is founded in London following Montefiore's 90th birthday. its aim is to aid Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel.
Moses Montefiore, aged 91, makes his seventh and final visit to Eretz Israel.
The Society for Working and Redemption of the Land is again established in Jerusalem, and calls for the establishment of an agricultural settlement. Among its founders are David Guttman and Eliezer Raab, later co-founders of Petah Tikva.
One of its slogans is: "lf there is no country in the world - there is no Israel in the world."
It is possible that the establishment of the association is influenced by a proposal made by Haim Gedalia, a close acquaintance of Moses Montefiore, which he published in 1875. The proposal suggests acquiring all the Sultan's lands in Eretz Israel from the Turks and establishing on them extensive Jewish settlement.
The book "Daniel Deronda" appears in England by the author George Eliot (the literary name of Mary Ann Owens). The book's heroes are English Jews with a national conscience, who aspire to establish a Jewish state in Eretz Israel. The book has enormous influence on generations of young Jews.
Within two months the first two agricultural settlements are established. In the north, Jews from Safed establish Gai Oni (Valley of My Strength) to the east of the city. In the south, Petah Tikva is founded by Jerusalemites among whom are Yoel Moshe Salomon, David Guttman, Joshua Stampfer, Zerach Barnett and Eliezer and Yehuda Raab. Gai Oni is abandoned after a short time and Petah Tikva after three years. The first seeds, however, have been sown.
Laurence Oliphant, an English member of Hovevei Zion (The Lovers of Zion), suggests establishing agricultural Jewish settlements in Eretz Israel. He contacts the Turkish authorities and in 1880 publishes his book, "Eretz HaGilad" (The Land of Gilead), in which he calls for the establishment of a Jewish region in the north of Transjordan. The Turks have reservations.
Yehiel Michel Pines, a representative of the Mazkeret Moshe fund, arrives in Eretz Israel -an important figure during the impending First Aliyah period.
Eliezer Peariman (better known as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda), aged 21, publishes an article called "A Dignified Question" in the fifth edition of "HaShachar" (April 1879). He calls for the return of his people to its land, determining of Jewish policy and renewal of the ancient language - Hebrew. The article is considered an important milestone in the annals of Zionism.
Edward Cazalet proposes that England help Jews immigrate to Syria and to Palestine in order to participate in large development projects in these countries.
Tsar Alexander 11 is murdered in Russia. This signals the beginning of Jewish pogroms, especially in the south of the country. Jewish emigration from Russia increases, especially to America. At the same time, the first associations of Hovevei Zion are established, which aim to settle Jews in settlements in Eretz Israel.
September - December
Towards the end of the year Jewish aliyah to Eretz Israel increases and among the new arrivals are Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, his wife Dvora and a group of olim from Yemen.
The pogroms in Russia continue. Hovevei Zion emissaries arrive in Palestine and go in search of suitable land for establishing settlements. A few thousand Jews arrive in the country in 1882 alone in what will later be called the First Aliyah. At the same time, Laurence Oliphant renews his efforts to settle Jews in Palestine.
The booklet "Auto-Emancipation" appears in Berlin, written by an unidentified author. He is, in fact, none other than Dr. Yehuda Leib Pinsker, a Jewish doctor from Russia. It is a fundamental publication in the annals of Hibbat Zion (The Lovers of Zion movement) and Zionism (see the chapter entitled Glossary of Terms).
BILU is established in Kharkov, southern Russia - an association founded by Jewish students who advocate aliyah to Eretz Israel, the establishment of communal settlements and revival of the Hebrew language. Within a few months, similar groups begin to organize throughout Russia.
Zalman David Levontin, an immigrant from Russia, establishes the Yesud haMa'ala Pioneers Committee in Jaffa, whose objective is to help acquire land and establish Jewish settlements in Palestine. This constitutes the beginning of the establishment of the moshava (village based on private ownership) Rishon leZion.
The Turks are concerned about increased Jewish aliyah and implement a ban on the immigration of Russian Jews to Palestine. The ban limits some members of Hovevei Zion, but the majority continue to operate.
The first group of BILU members arrive in Israel -13 young men and one woman. They live in Jaffa and work in Mikve Israel.
The first moshava, comprising members of the First Aliyah, is established - Rishon leZion (Petah Tikva and Gai Oni, established some four years before, no longer exist). By the end of the year, two additional moshavot are established: Zamarin (later to become Zichron Ya'akov) and Rosh Pina, where Gai Oni once stood.
Joseph Feinberg from Rishon leZion meets with Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Paris and recruits him to help the new settlement. This is the beginning of Baron Rothschild's involvement with settlement in Eretz Israel. A little later Rabbi Samuel Mohilever meets with the Baron and persuades him to help settle a group of Jewish farmers from Poland in Ekron (later renamed Mazkeret Batia).
Settlers from Petah Tikva evacuate their village temporarily because of the danger of malaria, and move to Yehud for a number of years before returning home. The moshava of Ekron is established. The Lerer family settles in Wadi Hanin (later Nes Ziona) and the Felman family settles to the north of Jaffa and plants a citrus orchard. All are members of the Hovevei Zion association.
A second moshava is established in the Galilee - Yesud haMa'ala - and towards the end of the year the BILU establishes its moshava - Gedera. The moshava of Bnei Yehuda, founded by people from Safed, is the first attempt to establish a foothold in the southern Golan.
The first committee meeting of the Hovevei Zion movement, which unionizes the Hovevei Zion association, takes place in Katovich in Poland. Yehuda Leib Pinsker is voted movement head.
The establishment of the first wave of Jewish moshavot in Eretz Israel comes ot an end. Without the help of Baron Rothschild it is doubtful they would have survived the harsh living conditions. The Turks hinder Jewish Aliyah and the establishment of moshavot.
June 28 - July 1
There is a second meeting of the Hibbat Zion movement in Druzgnik, Russia in which religious and secular members seriously disagree on the character of the movement. The members resolve to strengthen the moshavot in Eretz Israel and acquire additional land.
An article, "That Isn't the Way," appears in the Hebrew paper "HaMelitz", which is published in St. Petersburg. It is written by an unknown author calling himself Ahad HaAm. He is in fact none other than Asher Zvi Ginzberg, the Hebrew essayist and thinker and one of the first spiritual Zionists. He attacks the settlement work being done in Eretz Israel, claiming it should have been preceded by the spiritual and cultural regeneration of the Jewish people. At the same time, in Odessa, south Russia, the secret association Bnei Moshe is established, under the leadership of Ahad HaAm, who aspires to realize the ideas presented in his article.
Aliyah to Palestine once again increases. Delegations and individuals stream into Palestine, buy land and plan the establishment of new settlements. Within two years the moshavot of Rehovot, Hadera, Mishmar Hayarden and Ein Zeitim are established.
A new term -"Zionism"- is born, created by Nathan Birenbaum in an article in his paper "Shichrur Atzmi" (Auto-Emancipation) in Germany.
The first General Assembly of the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Eretz Israel, the nickname given the Hovevei Zion in the framework of the Russian government license, takes place in Odessa. The more accepted name is the Odessa Committee. Among its resolutions is the opening of an office in Jaffa, headed by the engineer Vladimir (Zev) Tiomkin, for promoting the subject of settlement.
Jews continue to arrive in Eretz Israel until the middle of the year. In July the Turkish authorities declare a halt to aliyah and cancel all land acquisition deals. This heralds the beginning of a protracted crisis.
Theodor Herzl, a 31 year-old assimilated Jewish journalist and playwright, is chosen by the Viennese paper "Neue Freie Presse" as its Paris correspondent. This is a turning point in his life, which brings him to the pinnacle of Zionist accomplishment in a few short years.
Over 400 individuals, both Jewish and gentile, sign a petition sent by the religious American William E. Blackstone (once dubbed the American Christian "Father of Zionism,") to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, in which he calls on the President to help the Jews return to their historic homeland.
The beginning of the Dreyfus affair in France. Herzl is shocked by the anti-Semitism rampant in all layers of French society and comes to the conclusion that if such a thing can happen in enlightened France, there is only one solution to the Jewish question: mass exodus from Europe and their concentration in their own territory. He decides to act on behalf of the suffering Jews by meeting, as a first step, with wealthy Jews in order to acquire financial backing for his plans.
Herzl meets with Baron Maurice de Hirsch, one of the wealthiest magnates of his generation, and fervently explains his plans. The meeting, which constitutes the beginning of Herzl's Zionist activity, does not go well and Hirsch stops him in mid-sentence.
Herzl puts his ideas down in writing day and night for two weeks. This constitutes the first draft of "Der Judenstaat" (The Jewish State).
In the second half of 1895, Herzl, who had left Paris and returned to Vienna, travels throughout Europe, arranges meetings and gives lectures outlining his plan. Most greet him with indifference and even ridicule. Only the philosopher and writer Max Nordau supports him.
In Vienna, "The Jewish State" appears in German as a booklet, with a sub-title reading: A Political Solution to the Jewish Question. In the same year it is translated into Hebrew, English and other languages. Most reactions are negative but Herzl is not concerned.
Herzl makes his first trip to Turkey, where he is granted an audience with the Great Vizier (prime minister). He offers to cover Turkey's national debt if the Sultan relinquishes Palestine in favor of the Jews.
Herzl travels to Paris to meet with Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the well-known benefactor and patron of the new settlement in Palestine, to raise money for the realization of his plan. The meeting fails and Herzl decides to act alone without the help of wealthy Jews.
Herzl assembles representatives from the Hovevei Zion societies in Germany, Austria and Galicia to discuss his plans. He suggests convening a Zionist Congress as soon as possible with the participation of representatives from the entire Jewish world. The plan meets with strong resistance in many circles, among them rabbis, community heads and even Hovevei Zion activists.
The first edition of the weekly "Die Welt" (The World) appears, edited and partly financed by Herzl. It is the mouthpiece of the new movement he is establishing.
Preparations for the First Zionist Congress are complete. When Jewish leaders and rabbis foil Herzl's plans to hold the Congress in Munich, Germany, he moves the meeting to Basle, Switzerland. The Congress is set to take place during the last days of August 1897.