I. 7. Zionism in Practice – The Aliyot
In Eretz Yisrael, following waves of Aliyah and the Yishuv’s natural growth, the Jewish population increased from about 50,000 in 1882 to around 650,000 at the time of Israel’s Independence in 1948.
Each wave of Aliyah was characterised by different traits that distinguished it from its predecessors. For example, whilst the first wave of immigration originated mainly from Russia and Rumania, the Fifth Aliyah was predominantly from Germany and Austria.
Each wave of immigration was also propelled by a specific set of circumstances and ideas regarding the sort of society its “members” wished to create. If the dominant character of the first wave of Aliyah (1881-1903) was traditionally religious, the Second Aliyah (1904-14) was popularly considered to have been influenced by the socialist and pioneering ethos. The Third Aliyah (1919-1923) was composed in the main of those committed to the building of a Hebrew workers' economy, whilst most of those who came in the Fourth Aliyah (1924-1929) were petit-bourgeois Jews from Poland.
There were many differences and tensions between the waves of immigration - relations were far from simple. Even between groups who had ostensibly a great deal in common, the differences were often overwhelming.
- Although the First Aliyah, as we have said, was primarily traditional they found themselves in great tension with many of the Jews of the “Old Yishuv” (pre-Zionist community in Eretz Yisrael) because of their “laxity” and pragmatism in dealing with matters of Halachah (Jewish law).
- Both the second and the Third Aliyah (1919-23) involved socialistic pioneers, but they saw the world in very different terms, the Third Aliyah being a product of the First World War which led them to perceive their reality in more radical terms.
It should not be thought that all of the “members” of a particular wave of Aliyah - as judged by the time period - were the same, or even similar in outlook. For example, during the Fourth Aliyah there were many immigrants who were members of pioneering youth movements.
Nevertheless, whatever their differences, the majority of the immigrants represented a new nationally conscious type of Jew who understood that in one way or another, the nation needed a real living homeland, and that they had to assume responsibility for building it. It was these Olim who would, with the help of both Jews and Gentiles outside the country, in due course transform the small community into a thriving state.