Jews FROM YEMEN TO ZION, 1881
For hundreds of years the Jews of Yemen maintained contact with the Land of Israel, and individuals with their families settled there at various times. In 1881 a movement of immigration commenced, which was temporarily halted during 1914-1920 because of World War I. Up until the war close to 5,000 people immigrated to Palestine, around 8% of the total Jewish population of Yemen, a figure unmatched by any other community. In 1914 Yemeni Jews constituted 6% of the entire Jewish population in Palestine. The immigration process culminated in 1950 when most came to Israel through the "On Eagles Wings" Operation.
Contrary to the first wave of immigration from Eastern Europe in 1882, which was associated with the persecution of and rioting against Jews in Russia, the Yemeni Jewish immigration was not the result of persecution by the local government or population. In 1881 the motives for the immigration of Yemeni Jews were imbedded in messianic expectation and deep religious belief. They regarded, as did Jews in other traditional communities, existence in the Diaspora as being temporary, and that they would return to the Land of Israel in the messianic age. These expectations were expressed in their spiritual lives as well as in their literary works, such as the poems of Rabbi Shalom Shabazi of the 17th century, which tied them to the Land of Israel. Realization of this process depended on political changes and their implications. In 1872 the Ottoman Turks conquered Yemen and annexed it to the Ottoman Empire. The Land of Israel was also under Ottoman sovereignty and this made travel from Yemen easier than in the past. Tradesmen and travelers, mail and books arrived in Yemen and provided information on the developments in the Holy Land and in the Jewish world such as the reinforcement of the Jewish settlement in Jerusalem, the establishment of agricultural settlements and the ideas of enlightenment.
Political instability in central Yemen at the end of the 19th century and during the first decade of the 20th century, caused by rebellion against the Ottomans, as well as natural disaster, drove the Jews from central Yemen to other settlements in the country. Some of this internal migration was converted into immigration to Palestine.
The Jewish Yemeni immigrants interpreted the verse "I thought I would climb a palm tree" (Song of Solomon, Chap. 7 vs. 8) as meaning them. The words "palm tree" they interpreted through a play of letters in Hebrew as the year 5642 (1882). The first Yemeni Jewish immigrants arrived in Jerusalem from Sam’a’, the capital of Yemen on New Year's eve of the year 5642. Toward the end of October 1885 the first residential neighborhood of Yemeni Jewish immigrants was established in Kfar Hashiloah, Jerusalem. In 1886 the Mishkenot Israel neighborhood was established followed by others. The Yemeni Jewish immigrants made a living from manual labor and crafts, and with the establishment of the Bezalel Academy of Art in 1906, joined as silversmiths.
1906 saw a wave of immigration from North Yemen, and then from other areas in Yemen. These immigrants joined settlements such as Rehovot, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Hadera and Zikhron Yaakov. Despite their desire to join the pioneering agricultural settlements, they were driven toward the role of agricultural laborers and made a living as guards, in service jobs, crafts and petty trade. The agricultural settlement of Eliashiv was established in 1933 and, after the establishment of the State of Israel, other agricultural settlements were established for Yemeni Jews. These included Ora and Eshtaol in the Jerusalem hills, Givat Yearim in the Judean Mountains, Yachini in the Negev, Sha’ar Ephraim in the Shfela and others. The town of Rosh Ha'ayin is a prominent Yemeni Jewish community, and Tel-Aviv-Jaffa has well known neighborhoods that were established at the beginning of the 20thcentury - Mahane Yehuda (near Neve Zedek), Mahane Yosef, the Kerem Hatemanim and the Hatikva neighborhood.
The Jewish settlement in the Palestine regarded Yemeni Jews as the extension of an ancient Jewish tradition that has maintained its vitality. This percept assisted in the embracing of foundations of their culture, such as the silver filigree artwork, embroidery, song, music and dance, into Israeli culture
Dr. Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman.
The Stamp and First Day Cover
The photographs on the stamp: early Yemeni Jewish immigrants reading from the Holy Scriptures and a Yemenite guard at Ben Shemen. These images symbolize the perception of Yemeni Jews as belonging to both worlds, the one that presents the continuation of the Jewish religious tradition, and the other that shows their integration into the Zionist ethos. The tab shows a photograph of the first sixty houses built in Kfar Hashiloach on the slope of the Mount of Olives outside the Jerusalem gates. The first day cover shows an illustration of a shofar and a part of the front page of the Havazelet newspaper announcing the inauguration of the Yemeni Jewish homes in Kfar Hashiloah.
Immigration to Israel:
The First Aliyah
(1882 - 1903)
Immigration: Table of Contents | Law of Return | Immigration Statistics
The First Aliyah followed pogroms in Russia in 1881-1882, with most of the olim (immigrants) coming from Eastern Europe; a small number also arrived from Yemen. Members of Hibbat Zion and Bilu, two early Zionist movements that were the mainstays of the First Aliyah, defined their goal as "the political, national, and spiritual resurrection of the Jewish people in Palestine."
Though they were inexperienced idealists, most chose agricultural settlement as their way of life and founded moshavot — farm holders' villages based on the principle of private property. Three early villages of this type were Rishon Lezion, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya'akov.
The First Aliyah settlers encountered many difficulties, including an inclement climate, disease, crippling Turkish taxation and Arab opposition. They required assistance and received scanty aid from Hibbat Zion, and more substantial aid from Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He provided the moshavot with his patronage and the settlers with economic assistance, thereby averting the collapse of the settlement enterprise. The Yemenite olim, most of whom settled in Jerusalem, were first employed as construction workers and later in the citrus plantations of the moshavot.
In all, nearly 35,000 Jews came to Palestine during the First Aliyah. Almost half of them left the country within several years of their arrival, some 15,000 established new rural settlements, and the rest moved to the towns.
See Also: Second Aliyah | Third Aliyah | Fourth Aliyah | Fifth Aliyah | Aliyah Bet
Aliyah from Yemen
The first group of immigrants from Yemen came approximately seven months before most of the Eastern European Jews who arrived in Palestine.
The First Aliyah laid the cornerstone for Jewish settlement in Israel and created several settlements - Rishon LeZion, Rosh Pinna, Zikhron Ya'akov, Gedera etc.
Most settlements met with financial difficulties and most of the settlers were not proficient in farming. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild took several of the settlements under his wing, which helped them survive until more settlers with farming experience arrived in subsequent aliyot.
Immigrants of the First Aliyah also contributed to existing towns and settlements, notably Petah Tikva. The first neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv (Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom) were also built by members of the aliyah, although it was not until the Second Aliyah that Tel Aviv was officially founded.
Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote:
Morris provides excerpts from three letters written in 1882 by these first arrivals:
- Vladimir (Ze'ev) Dubnow, one of the Biluim wrote to his brother, the historian Simon Dubnow, in October 1882: "The ultimate goal ... is, in time, to take over the Land of Israel and to restore to the Jews the political independence they have been deprived of for these two thousand years .... The Jews will yet arise and, arms in hand (if need be), declare that they are the masters of their ancient homeland."(Dubnow himself shortly afterward returned to Russia.)
- Ben-Yehuda, who settled in Jerusalem in September 1881, wrote in July 1882 to Peretz Smolenskin in Vienna: "The thing we must do now is to become as strong as we can, to conquer the country, covertly, bit by bit ... We will not set up committees so that the Arabs will know what we are after, we shall act like silent spies, we shall buy, buy, buy."
- In October 1882 Ben-Yehuda and Yehiel Michael Pines, who had arrived in Palestine in 1878, wrote to Rashi Pin, in Vilna: "We have made it a rule not to say too much, except to those ... we trust ... the goal is to revive our nation on its land ... if only we succeed in increasing our numbers here until we are the majority [Emphasis in original] .... There are now only five hundred [thousand] Arabs, who are not very strong, and from whom we shall easily take away the country if only we do it through stratagems [and] without drawing upon us their hostility before we become the strong and populous ones."
The Jewish Virtual Library says of the First Aliyah that nearly half the settlers did not stay in Palestine.
Relationship with the Old Yishuv
The relationship of the members of the First Aliyah with the Old Yishuv was strained. The First Aliyah's settlement efforts were opposed not only by the Old Yishuv's traditionalists, but also by their own settlers. The First Aliyah's people, on their part, viewed the Old Yishuv as a foreign agency. There were additional disagreements about economic and ideological issues. Only a few groups from the Old Yishuv sought to take part in the First Aliyah's settlement effort, one such group being the Peace of Jerusalem (Shlom Yerushalayim).
The 28 colonies established by the First Aliyah
The colonies established by the First Aliyah are known in Hebrew as moshavot. These are:
Rishon LeZion (1882)
Rosh Pinna (1882, taking over and renaming the colony of Gei Oni established in 1878 and down to three families by 1882)
Zikhron Ya'akov (1882)
Petah Tikva (1882; reestablished after first attempt in 1878)
Mazkeret Batya (1883 established as "Ekron")
Ness Ziona (1883; began as "Nahalat Reuven")
Yesud HaMa'ala (1883)
Bat Shlomo (1889)
Meir Shfeya (1889)
Mishmar HaYarden (1890)
Ein Zeitim (1892)
Be'er Tuvia (1896 reestablished and renamed by Hovevei Zion; first settled in 1887 under the name Castina)
Bnei Yehuda (1898; not identical with the new Bnei Yehuda)
Mas'ha (1901), renamed Kfar Tavor in 1903
Giv'at Ada (1903)
Kfar Saba (1904)
Not included here: the five ephemeral colonies of the First Aliyah in the Hauran.