'First aliyah' pioneers from BILU land in Jaffa in July 1882 (Photo: Israel Archives)

On January 21st, 1882, the blueprint for the “First Aliyah”, the immigration of Diaspora Jews back to the Holy Land,  is laid out along with the formation of the BILU group during a meeting at the home of Israel Belkind in Kharkiv, Ukraine. BILU, from the biblical verse “Beit Yaakov Lechu VenilCha or “House of Jacob Let Us Go” is a  group founded by a few dozen students who were responding to the violent nonstop pogroms that swept through Czarist Russia. 

The founders of the organization set their goals as the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel along with the rejection of the Zionist spiritual revival in favor of actual physical settlement in Ottoman Palestine.

One founding member, Ze’ev Dubnow, the brother of noted historian Simon Dubnow is credited for saying, “The aim of our journey is rich in plans. We want to conquer Palestine and return to the Jews the political independence stolen from them two thousand years ago. And if it is willed, it is no dream. We must establish agricultural settlements, factories, and industry. We must develop industry and put it into Jewish hands. And above all, we must give young people military training and provide them with weapons. 

“Then will the glorious day come, as prophesied by Isaiah in his promise of the restoration of Israel.  With their weapons in their hands, the Jews will declare that they are the masters of their ancient homeland.” He would later be recorded saying that: “instead of advising the people to go to Eretz Israel, we decided to go there ourselves.”

In the Spring of 1882, BILU members went to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire,  where they set the preparation for gaining Ottoman support for the establishment of Jewish settlements on Ottoman-owned lands. Initially, this effort failed but fourteen members led by Belkind left for Palestine anyway, arriving in Jaffa on July 6, 1882.  By 1884 their number increased to 48 with the movement completely relocating to modern-day Israel.  Within a short time, three Jewish communities were created, Rishon Le'Tzion, Rosh Pina, and Zichron Yaakov.

They experienced economic hardships,  along with many confrontations with Baron Edmond Rothschild’s clerks who were working with the Ottomans to create an orderly plan, they were also subjected to Arab hostilities. Some of the group left the country and returned to Russia due to the struggles. Of all the original members of the movement, only one remained alive to witness the establishment of the State of Israel.


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