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What is Aliyah and why its understanding is crucial for Jewish genealogy?


What is Aliyah?

In Hebrew, the word aliyah means ascension; therefore to "make Aliyah" literally means to ascend. Leaving Israel is referred to as a yerida, which means a descent. Traditionally, the process of Aliyah singularly refers to Jewish diaspora immigration into Israel including, of course, the modern State of Israel.


Why is it important in Jewish genealogical research?

Understanding the trends of Jewish migration allows for having an advantage in performing Jewish genealogical research.


Since for almost two thousand years the Jews lived in the diaspora following the destruction of the Second Temple and they have been often subjected to less than decent treatment, having a country to call a home that they can go back to is a big deal. Hence, with the development of the Zionist Movement in the late nineteenth century a significant increase in Jewish immigration into the Land of Israel had been noted. The immigration started roughly around 1882 and it's still in the process; more and more Jews keep choosing Israel to be their home, often leaving everything behind and moving permanently to Israel. Percentagewise, more than half of the known world population of Jews currently lives in Israel. The second largest population of Jews lives in Northern America.


There were several big Aliyot recorded in the modern Jewish history. The First and the Second Aliyah happened during time when the Ottoman Empire still exercised control over the land. The Third, Fourth and Fifth Aliyah happened when the land was controlled by the British. This includes the Aliyah process called Aliyah Bet, the purpose of which was to move Jews into the Land despite the British immigration restrictions. This particular Aliyah took place between 1934 and 1948, which also included the Holocaust survivors. Another one brought Jews from the Middle East and North Africa as well as from Western and Communist countries following the Six Day War. The latter also included the Polish 1968 crisis and the expulsion of Jews. In the 1990s following the collapse of the USSR Jews from the post-Soviet countries came to Israel. The 1990s have also seen a big Aliyah from Ethiopia.


The First Aliyah (1882-1903)

During those years approximately 35,000 Jews immigrated to the Land, then called the Ottoman Palestine, and joined the already existing Jewish population which consisted of circa 25,000 people. The groups of Jews who were brought over were mostly from Romania and Russia. This migration correlated with the end of Russian pogroms where around 3 percent of Jews immigrated to the Land. Many Jews who survived the pogroms and had other places to go, e.g. had closer or more distant family members living in the Western countries, made their way there. Israel was known to be less than inhabitable in comparison to the more developed West hence very often the people who often came at that time had either nowhere else to go or were strong Zionists. There were called Hovevei Tzion which means "enthusiasts for Zion". Though most of the Jews within that Aliyah came from Russia and Romania, there was a smaller number that came from Yemen. The towns which were established by this Aliyah group are Petach Tikvah (1878), Rishon LeTziyon, Rosh Pina and Zicharon Yaakov.


The Second Aliyah 1904-1914

At that time around 40,000 Jews immigrated to the Land, then still called the Ottoman Palestine. The vast majority were again the expats from the Russian Empire, Romania and Bulgaria. The deciding factors behind this immigration were again pogroms and antisemitism. Other groups such as the Jews from Caucasus, Yemen, Iran and Argentina also arrived at this time. With a large number of Eastern European and Russian Jews the ruling school of thought was that of socialism. This was still before socialism turned to communism and the idea of living in a utopian country was very appealing. The first kibbutz which was established was D'gania Alef, southbound from the Lake of Kinneret, in 1909. The kibbutz formed self-defense organisations such as Hashomer in order to counter the increasingly prominent Arab opposition to the influx of Jewish immigration. At that time, great efforts were made to resurrect, so to speak, the Jewish people in the Jewish land by reestablishing Hebrew to be the national language; newspapers and books were published in Hebrew. Unions and political parties were established. The Second Aliyah came to a halt along with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Picture of some members of Hashomer.

The Third Aliyah 1919-1923

Under the rule of the British Mandate around 40,000 Jews immigrated mostly from Eastern Europe. Even though the establishment of the British mandate was, inter alia, to ensure the implementation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, soon the British became dependent on remaining in the region and limited the Jewish immigration to ensure a prolonged rule. During these years many ideologically-driven Jews, the pioneers, who were well-versed in agriculture and the establishment of self-sufficient local economies came to Israel in order to rebuild the Land. Regardless having cupped the immigration, by the end of that period it is estimated that more than 90,000 Jews have successfully immigrated into the Land. The Jezreel Valley, which was originally a swamp, was drained and turned into an agricultural land. At that time Histadrut, the elected assembly, the national council and the Haganah were created.

The Fourth Aliyah 1924-1929

Between these years more than 80,000 Jews arrived mostly from Poland and Europe as a result of increasing antisemitism. Along with the Polish Jews other groups included the USSR, Romanian and Lithuanian Jews with 12% immigrating from Asia (mostly Yemen and Iraq) made aliyah. During this Aliyah, there was a significant cupping of Jewish immigration into the US, which culminated during the Second World War and, what is now known, the Holocaust. The Fourth Aliyah consisted mostly of middle-class families who moved into the growing towns contributing to the development of the infrastructure and light industry. 23,000 left the country in pursuit of a better life.

First ever photo of Yemenite Jews. Haaretz.
The Fifth Aliyah 1929-1939

With rise of Nazism in Nazi Germany 250,000 Jews came to Israel. 174,000 of these came between 1929 and 1936. Afterwards, as a result of the British cupping of Jewish immigration, another program - Aliyah Bet - was born. The Aliyah Bet searched for ways to save as many Jews as possible through simple smuggling. Most of the Jews came from Central Europe, but some also came from Greece, Turkey, Iran and Yemen. Because this Aliyah was more "forced" than others the majority of people who came were highly educated professionals such as doctors and lawyers. Bauhaus style of the White City of Tel Aviv was introduced by then arriving architects and the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra was established. The Haifa port was completed along with its oil refineries. The Jewish population reached 450,000 by 1940.

Naturally with such increased Jewish immigration the tensions increased between the Jews and the Arabs. In 1929 a massacre of Hebron took place and those that weren't dead left. Today, Hebron holds a very small Jewish population living on one street. There is virtually no infrastructure and the quarter is heavily protected by the IDF.

More violence happened during the Great Uprising of 1936-1939. Along with the outbreak of the Second World War and increasing tensions in the Mandate, the British issued the White Paper of 1939 which limited the Jewish immigration even more down to 75,000 over five years.

The negotiated Nazi Agreement Ha'avara, or Transfer, under which 50,000 German Jews along with their $100 million worth assets were to be moved to the Mandate never happened and the program was ended in 1939 along with the German-Soviet invasion of Poland.

Aliyah - Bet: Illegal Immigration 1933-1948

Since Jewish immigration was limited under the White Paper from 1939, illegal immigration began. This immigration was organised by Mossad Le'Aliyah Bet and the Irgun. The immigration, i.e. the smuggling, was mostly done by the sea, less so by the land route through Iraq and Syria. During the Second World War until 1948 this type of immigration became dominant.

After the war, the B'richa (an organisation which consisted of former ghetto fighters and

Escape from Europe - the "Bericha". Yad Vashem.

partisans) became responsible for smuggling Jews from Eastern Europe through Poland. In 1946 Poland was the only country of the Eastern Bloc, which allowed and did not infringe on the free Jewish aliyah to the Mandate - without exist visas or permits. By contrast, Stalin forcibly returned the Jews back to the USSR as agreed by the Allies during the Yalta Conference.


The refugees from Europe came to Israel through Italy, where they boarded boats. More than 4,000 survivors left the French port of Sete on President Warfield (which was renamed Exodus). The ship was forcibly turned away by the British and disembarked in Hamburg. Despite the general efforts to curb the immigration, more than 110,000 Jews immigrated over this 14 year period. With the world learning about the horrors of Holocaust, the Jews living in the Mandate turned against the British openly and the illegal immigration escalated dramatically.

Independence and the establishment of the State 1948-1990s

The main post-war wave of immigration happened between 1948-1951. In just over three years, the Jewish population of Israel more than doubled and reached around a million and a half citizens.


Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Following the Declaration of Independence of May 1948, the Aliyah became steadier and more varied. At the beginning the majority of immigrants were, of course, Holocaust survivors from Europe including many who had until then lived in the displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, Italy and the British detention camp in Cyprus. Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian and Yugoslavian Jews also joined this wave of immigration. The States' then primary objective was to bring as many Jews as it could from all known places in the world, especially if the Jewish communities were in danger because they were no longer welcome. Many operations such as Operation Magic Carpet, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, Operation Goshen took place bringing the Jews from Yemen, Iraq and Egypt. The entire Jewish population from Libya moved to Israel. Some Jews from Syria moved to Israel, but generally the Syrian government then prohibited the Jewish exodus. An increased immigration from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan also took place.

In mid-1950s a smaller immigration from North Africa took place bringing the Jews from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt; between 1952-1964 around 240000 North African Jews came to Israel. Lower, but notable numbers came from Europe, Iran, India and

Example of a Polish identification document from 1957: pictured Regina Kupperman (Grunbaum). She was born in Auschwitz in 1916 before the town housed the death camp.

Latin America. A "Gomulka Aliyah" came from Poland; until 1960 Poland allowed free emigration for Jews and as a result around 50,000 Jews left and came to Israel.

Between 1948-1970 around 900,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries.

Jewish immigration from Iran had been quite steady, albeit modest in comparison to other Aliyot. Between 1948-1978 around 70,000 Jews immigrated to Israel. As a result of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 most of the Jewish community left; some it (20,000) immigrated to Israel and many moved to the US (mostly New York and Los Angeles). Some of the Jewish community stayed behind in Iran and they are mostly left unmolested as long as they do not have any ties to the State of Israel.

The first Jewish Ethiopian wave of immigration happened in the mid-70s. Under the operation called "Operation Moses" the State of Israel brought the Ethiopian Jews to Israel between 18th November 1984 and 5th January 1985. Around 8,000 Jews were flown from Sudan to Israel. An estimated 2,000 – 4,000 Jews died on their way to Sudan in order to escape Ethiopia. In 1991 Operation Solomon was launched to bring more Ethiopian Jews. Since then, Ethiopian Jews continue to immigrate to Israel. There are also some to emigrate back to Ethiopia mostly for economic reasons.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Russian Aliyah

Between 1948 - 1967 the Jewish USSR immigration to Israel was minimal, mostly under family reunification reasons. Following the Six Days War all diplomatic ties between USSR and Israel were broken off and no Jewish emigration was allowed. As a result of anti-Zionist propaganda, USSR Jews faced serious discrimination. Practicing Judaism became impossible hence the majority of Russian Jews have assimilated or became non-religious.

There was a minimal immigration until the Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair

The Leningrad hijacking plot: When Russian Jews tried to steal a plane to reach Israel. YnetNews.

where only 4,000 Jews were allowed to leave between 1960-1970; 250,000 were allowed to leave starting from 1968. Between 1968-1973 an increased Jewish emigration started from the USSR with some Jews coming to Israel and some moving to the West. In 1989 out of 71,000 Jews who were granted exit visas only 12,117 came to Israel.

Following ending the emigration restrictions in 1989 by Mikhail Gorbachev more than a million of Russians who were eligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return immigrated to Israel.

As a result of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine in 2014 around 5,840 Ukrainian Jews came to Israel.

South American Aliyah

As a result of the 1999-2002 Argentinian political and economic crisis more than 10,000 Argentinian Jews immigrated to Israel since 2000. Because the Argentinian crisis affected Uruguay as well around 40,000 Uruguayan Jews came to Israel as well. The Jewish Agency for Israel had since launched an aggressive campaign to convince more Jews to come to Israel and as a result of it more than 70,000 Argentinian Jews immigrated to Israel since then.

Due to the growing antisemitism in Venezuela, most of the Venezuelan Jews have left.

French Aliyah

Along with the changing multicultural tapestry in France between 2000-2009 around 13,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel; then in 2005 2,951 Jews came as well. Around 30% of those who immigrated to Israel eventually left and returned to France following the election of Nikolas Sarkozy. Since things had re-stabilised themselves in France the French Jews stayed in France and only around 1,000 made Aliyah in 2010.


Attack at French gas factory kills one through beheding, injures several others, ISIS flag found. Daily Sabah.

Following the election of Francois Hollande and the shooting in Toulouse 3,120 Jews moved to Israel in 2013 with a 312% immigration in 2014. The Jewish Agency for Israel continued encouraging the French Jews to make aliyah and along with a combination of factors including the rise in antisemitism around 6,000 French Jews made aliyah between 2013 and 2014.


Following the "ISIS flag attack" near Lyon where a severed head of a local Jewish businessman was pinned to the gates on 26th June 2015, Immigration and Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin urged the French Jews to make aliyah making it a national priority to welcome French Jews in Israel. More than 5,100 French Jews made aliyah in 2015. There is a constant French Aliyah to Israel since then.


Northern American Aliyah

Most of the North American Aliyah is ideologically oriented. There have not been pogroms or uprisings against the American Jews and life is generally more comfortable in North America than it is in Israel. Between 1948 until the Six Day War the North American Aliyah was minimal. Following 1967 until 1973 60,000 North American Jews made aliyah, but it is estimated that half of them ended up returning to the US.

In 2005 3,052 North American Jews made aliyah following the First and Second Intifada. Again, this was ideologically motivated.


The organisation Nefesh B'Nefesh was founded in 2002 by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and

Tony Gelbart and its purpose has been since to encourage aliyot from Northern America and the UK by providing additional assistance to make the transition smoother.

The North American Jewish immigration increased following the economic crisis of 2007-2008, then in 2009. There has been a reasonably steady immigration since.

Since 1990s until now

There has been a steady immigration of Jews from South Africa as well. Since the recognition of the Indian Jews as Bnei Menashe (one of the lost tribes) there has been a slow but steady Aliyah of Indian Jews since early 1990.

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