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The Heralders of Zionism 

Part I

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.


September 15
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.

August 3

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.


January 11
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.


April 5
Charles Netter's relentless efforts result in the Turkish government giving him a license to open a Jewish agricultural school near Jaffa.

June 15
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.


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