The History of the Jewish People
Ever since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Jews dispersed throughout the world had never given up hope of returning to their homeland. The hope was really messianic; they were waiting for God to bring His people back to their land. Their daily prayers expressed this wish, and poets such as Judah Halevi wrote songs of yearning. Like countless others before and after him, he attempted in 1140 to reach the Promised Land.
There were men, however, such as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795 - 1874) and Rabbi Judah Alkalai (1798 - 1878), who devised practical schemes for the return and tried to raise the support needed to implement them. Another such pioneer, albeit for secular reasons was Moses Hess (1812 - 75). Towards the end of the 19th century, Jewish intellectuals, particularly in Russia, became intensely interested in the idea of the return, and in 1882 there began a wave of immigration, known as the first Aliyah or 'ascent'. Pamphlets and booklets were written on the subject, and both the nature of the Jewish State and the ways to achieve it were subjects of serious discussion.
Several societies and movement emerged to propagate the return to Eretz Israel. Among the foremost was the Hibbat Zion (Hebrew for Love of Zion) movement which flourished in the 19th century. Another group, called Bilu (made up of the Hebrew initial of the Biblical verse 'House of Jacob, come ye and let us go') pioneered the modern return to Zion.
Events took a political turn with the appearance on the scene of Theodore Herzl (1860 - 1904). Under the influence of the trend of national emancipation current in Europe, and understanding the nature of Antisemitism which reached its peak in the Dreyfus Affair in France (1894 - 1906) Herzl saw the solution of the Jewish problem only in the creation of a separate Jewish State in the Land of Israel. In 1897 he convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle. Delegates of Jewish communities around the globe began the practical work of urging the Jewish masses to emigrate. Attempts were made to persuade the European powers to support the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, which was then under Turkish rule. Aid was extended to the existing Jewish farming settlements in the Land and further immigration was encouraged.
Mainly because of the efforts of Chaim Weizman (1874 - 1952), the British government, in the historic Balfour Declaration (1917), announced its support of 'the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.' When after World War I, Britain was given the mandate for Palestine, the way was open for the Jewish people to begin the rebuilding of their national home.
Next Step: Between the World Wars
Index to Footsteps through Jewish History