- Aliya to America? A Comparative Look at Jewish Mass Migration, 1881–1914
Introduction: Can Aliya Only be to Israel?
If we examine the motivations of the pioneers of the First Aliya (1881–1903) and Second Aliya (1904–1914), we find that the yearning for the Land of Israel after so many years of exile and the desire to create a new generation of Jews working the land were their main considerations. For many of them, the move to Palestine was perceived as a return to their old homeland from which they had only recently been expelled; their arrival was the realization of an old dream. Chayuta Busel, one of the leading figures of the Second Aliya period, wrote in her memoirs that she “longed to express my love for the dust and stones of the Land of Israel, where our forefathers shed their blood on the altar of freedom.” She considered herself “disgraced and abased” in the Diaspora and longed to live among nature.1 Sarah Azaryahu wrote that when she moved to Palestine she joined that small group “of fervid, bold revolutionaries who were already dwelling and working” in the ancient homeland, and that by coming she was burning all the bridges that had once tied her to her native land.2 Abraham Krinizi wrote in his memoirs that when he arrived in Palestine on Hanukkah 1905, he was reborn “afresh on the shores of the homeland” nineteen years after having been born in Grodno on Hanukkah 1886.3 A literary illustration of how the Second Aliya pioneers imagined life in Palestine can be found in Agnon’s novel Only Yesterday. With his rare literary talent, Agnon—who himself was part of the Second Aliya—described how Yitzhak Kumer imagined the land and its inhabitants. “A blessed dwelling place was his image of the whole Land of Israel and its inhabitants blessed by God” Agnon wrote in the first chapter of Only Yesterday.” Its villages hidden in the shade of vineyards and olive groves, the fields enveloped in grains and the orchard trees crowned [End Page 109] with fruit, the valleys yielding flowers and the forest trees swaying; the whole firmament is sky blue and all the houses are filled with rejoicing.”4
The stories of Chayuta Busel, Sarah Azaryahu, Abraham Krinizi, and even Yitzhak Kumer represent the experiences of many pioneers who moved to Palestine “to build it from its destruction and to rebuilt by it,” as Agnon put it. Although this was a small, unrepresentative portion of the immigrants to Palestine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, their collective story overshadowed that of the “ordinary” eastern European immigrants who went to Palestine for other reasons. The contrast between the oleh and the immigrant, who may have arrived on the same ship, was so salient that Zionist historiography defined the term Second Aliya in two ways: One definition was chronological, i.e., encompassing all immigrants to Palestine between 1904 and 1914. The second was sociological and ideological, referring to a particular segment of newcomers who held specific national and social views.5 Moreover, if we compare aliya to Palestine as a unique phenomenon with the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews to various other countries, the contrast between the olim and the immigrants is even more noticeable. The ideological fervor of the pioneers who sought to create a new society in Palestine ex nihilo stands out against the immigrants’ more modest aspiration to improve their material living conditions. This sort of comparison not only distinguishes the Zionist enterprise and aliya to Palestine from the mass migration to countries overseas, but also portrays the pioneers as more principled than the immigrants.
The present article contrasts the pioneers of the First Aliya and the Second Aliya not with the non-ideological Jewish immigrants but with other Jews who were motivated to leave eastern Europe by the same inner force and ideological awareness as the olim to Palestine. The comparison of ideological immigration to Palestine with ideological immigration elsewhere raises the question of whether there can be aliya to some place other than Palestine/Israel. Was the aliya of Busel, Azaryahu, Krinizi, and many other...