What Does Aliyah Mean?

aliyah israel plane

Aliyah is a Hebrew word literally meaning “ascent” or “spiritual elevation”. This term refers to the act of immigration to the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel, in Hebrew) by a Jew. Jewish immigrants are called olim. In contrast, the act of a Jew emigrating outside of Israel is called yeridah which means “descent” and Jewish emigrants are called “yordim”.

Religious Aliyah

aliyah israel jerusalem

Over the centuries, there have been occasional small aliyot, individual or in small groups. This was mainly a religious immigration, aiming to live in the Holy Land, near the holy places of Judaism. In 1881, there were 25,000 religious Jews, living mainly in the following four cities: Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron. Henry Laurens, relying on Ottoman statistics analyzed by the demographer McCarthy, gives a very precise figure of 15,599 for the year 1883-84 for the whole of Palestine, but adds that this number is probably underestimated because of the non-registration of Jews.

In 1882, the aliyah of the Lovers of Zion marked the beginning of the Zionist aliyah, with a political aim.

Secular Aliyah

From 1881 onwards, a new immigration appeared: that of secular nationalist Jews (the term “Zionist” appeared in the second half of the 1880s), whose aim was to create a state for the Jewish people in Israel.

Secular aliyas have several characteristics that distinguish them from religious aliyas:

they are political: they aim to create or strengthen the Jewish state (which did not interest the haredim);

they were mostly made up of refugees driven out by anti-Jewish hostility in their countries of origin (there was, however, an element of choice: some chose to remain in their countries of origin against all odds, others emigrated to directions other than Israel). Religious aliyahs were only voluntary.

first aliyah

They may have economic reasons, Israel being a more prosperous country than the country of origin (at least since the 1960s).

History of Zionism

This Zionist aliyah can be divided into two main waves: before the creation of the State of Israel (1948) and after.

Before the creation of the State of Israel: 1881-1948

This aliyah had to be accepted by the Ottoman government (until 1918), and then by the British government (until 1948), which was not without difficulty. The reaction of the local Jewish and Arab populations was mixed, the Arabs who felt dispossessed were often hostile (especially after 1918). However, the immigrants bought back the land, for example with the Jewish National Fund, or settled on uninhabitable land (swamps that were to be drained, rocky areas, etc.). Indeed, the Ottoman Turks would never have allowed an appropriation without redemption, nor would the British (1917 declaration).

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The Ottoman period in Israel

The first Aliyah (1881-1890)

first aliyah israel

Mostly active after the Russian pogroms of 1881, it took place in two main waves: that of the period 1881-1884 and that of the period 1890-1891. There were about 10,000 people from the Russian Empire who established small agricultural settlements, especially in the coastal strip. Some of these settlements became Israeli cities in the 20th century. A member of this first aliyah (Eliezer Ben-Yehudah) was also responsible for the creation of modern Hebrew.

The second aliyah (1903-1914)

It began after the pogroms of Kishinev (Russian Empire) in 1903 and lasted until 1914 (World War I). Between 30,000 and 40,000 immigrants, mostly socialist Zionists from the Russian Empire. David Ben Gurion was part of this aliyah. Many of the founding fathers of Israel came at this time. Tel Aviv (founded in 1909) and the first kibbutz (also founded in 1909) date from this second Aliyah. The left-wing Zionist political parties (Poale Zion and Hachomer Hatzair), which would lead the state when it was established in 1948, were also created by these immigrants. The photographer and filmmaker Yaakov Ben-Dov, who arrived at the time of the second Aliyah, filmed the images of this period.

aliyah israel kibbutz

The British period in Israel

The Third Aliyah (1919-1923)

This period followed the Balfour Declaration and the establishment by Great Britain and the international community (League of Nations) of a “Jewish national home” in Mandatory Palestine. It also followed the political unrest in Eastern Europe after the First World War: the Bolshevik Revolution, the Hungarian Civil War, etc. There were about 35,000 immigrants, mostly Eastern Europeans and Zionist-Socialists.

aliyah israel camp

The Fourth Aliyah (1924-1928)

It brought to Israel 80,000 immigrants of various kinds. They were mainly Poles from the middle classes, driven out by the anti-Jewish economic measures of the Warsaw government. Although many of them supported the left, others were more conservative and went over to the general Zionists, the right-wing revisionists led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, and even the religious Zionists. The fourth Aliyah brought about urban development (these immigrants were not interested in the rural communities of the Zionist-socialist pioneers), commerce, and crafts. But this wave of immigration also brought about an imbalance between the country’s economic capacities and the influx of new populations. This imbalance led to high unemployment. The crisis was severe and lasted from 1926 to 1929, leading to the departure of some of the new immigrants.

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The fifth Aliyah (1929-1939)

It saw the immigration of 180,000 Jews. They came from Eastern Central Europe, where authoritarian nationalist regimes of varying degrees of anti-Semitism were emerging. 40,000 came from Germany and Austria, where the Nazis had just taken power. There was even a so-called “Haavara” (“transfer”) agreement concluded between the World Zionist Organization and the Third Reich in 1933, which remained in force until 1938. This agreement was intended to facilitate the transfer of immigrant funds.

aliyah israel history

In a new development, 15,000 of the 180,000 immigrants of the period were illegal immigrants, as the British did not grant enough visas for the huge increase in emigration demands of the period. The sociology and political makeup of this aliyah is similar to that of the fourth aliyah.

The Second World War Aliyah (1939-1948)

Approximately 80,000 immigrants, mostly illegal (the British now forbid immigration), of whom 20,000 came during the war and 60,000 afterwards. These were mainly (but not exclusively) refugees fleeing Nazism and the Shoah (during the war) or their consequences (between 1945 and 1948). Over the period, emigration practically ceased between 1942 and 1944 due to the paroxysm of the war in Europe.

In 1939, the “Mossad l’Aliyah Beth“, or “Mossad Le Aliyah Beth”, “Organization for Emigration ‘B'” (Beth, in Hebrew), in charge of clandestine emigration, appeared. This organization armed the 1947 Exodus, which was a key event in post-war migration.

From 1946 to 1948: the British authorities carried out attacks on ships carrying Jews immigrating to Palestine and interned the Jewish passengers in refugee camps in Cyprus. A bogus group called “Defenders of Arab Palestine” claimed responsibility for the attacks.

After the creation of Israel, Jewish immigration to Israel from 1948 to 2007.

1948 à 1952

Nearly 700,000 Jews arrived. The population of the state doubles. There are two origins to this immigration: about half are survivors of the Jewish genocide in Europe. They are almost all Ashkenazi (there are Sephardim in the Balkans and Western Europe, however). Another half came from Arab countries, sometimes as part of mass transfers, such as during Operation Magic Carpet in Yemen or Operation Ezra and Nehemiah in Iraq.

1956 à 1966

A second wave of 500,000 people arrived. It consisted of a minority of Jews leaving communist Eastern Europe and a majority of Oriental Jews. The latter were fleeing a new anti-Jewish wave linked to the Arab-Israeli war of 1956. 250,000 North African Jews (about half of the Jews in this region) also arrived from the French Maghreb after the independence of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The most French-speaking Jews (generally the most educated) came to France. The less French-speaking Jews (generally poorer and less educated) chose Israel. Among them, Moroccans are particularly numerous.

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A small wave of immigration of 50,000 people as a result of the 1967 Six Day War: the last “Arab Jews”, as well as Western Jews galvanized by the Israeli victory, and Eastern European Jews (especially Polish) repulsed by the “anti-Zionist” campaign that followed the defeat of the Arab armies allied with the Soviet Union.


Just under 400,000 people: mostly Soviet Jews, but also Westerners. Among the latter were ultra-Orthodox (haredim) and religious Zionists.


First wave of immigration of Jews from Ethiopia, or Beta Israel. A limited immigration of Western Jews (mostly American, but also French), many of them religious, continues.


About 1,000,000 people: mostly ex-Soviet Jews (and their not always Jewish families), but also the rest of the Ethiopian Beta Israel. And still a small, now well established and numerically significant (often over 10,000 immigrants per year), rather religious, Western immigration.

2016 : The slowdown in aliyah of Jews from France

In 2016, there was a “dramatic slowdown in the aliyah of the Jews of France”. The reasons are:


Manuel Valls‘ reassuring speech,

“the end of the tax haven in effect “The years 2014 and 2015 saw the application of the law on bank accounts imposed by the OECD. Israeli banks were required to inform the French tax authorities about accounts held by French nationals. (…) Between 2014 and 2015, many French nationals thus obtained Israeli nationality without a residency obligation, which artificially distorted immigration statistics in Israel. ” ;


fear of terrorism,

difficulty in learning Hebrew, in finding a job,

difficulties for French teenagers to succeed in the radically different Israeli school system: “The playgrounds are also more violent […] French children […] are pushed around and bullied by Israeli children […] here we can do more stupid things than in France, we are on first-name terms with the teachers and they leave us alone. “The cost of living in Israel has risen considerably and is increasingly in line with that of Europe, while salaries are half as high and social benefits are negligible. “Finally, professional integration is compromised since the diplomas from French universities, renowned for the quality of their teaching, are not recognized unless you have to repeat two or three years of training to validate them.

Source: Wikipedia

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