{4F805597-AC32-42F4-9EE2-BAD88CE3B8B2} The Haskala Movement
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The Haskala Movement

Concomitant with the growing Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century, blossomed the desire on the part of many Jews to taste the world of Western culture. France granted civil rights to Jews in 1807, and other European countries followed. As Jews began to partake more fully in the life of their host societies, complicated issues of Jewish identity evolved. These questions fertilized and begot the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment, a Jewish ideological movement that aimed at modernizing Jewish life and thought.

One of the early features of the Haskala was the embracement of the Hebrew language. Just as literature was pouring out of the printing presses in English, French and German, so the Jews longed to express their own literary creativity in Hebrew, the medium of a flowering national culture.

Early Zionism and a return to the land

Growing out of the Haskala, while remaining rooted in traditional Jewish yearning for the Land of Israel, were movements encouraging a return to the Land of Israel. Calls were made from religious and non-religious Jews for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael. The Hibat Zion and Bilu organizations dreamed of reconnecting to the agricultural traditions of the ancient Jewish people, and reinvigorating the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. Jewish philanthropists funded extensive land purchases and in the early 1880s, Hibat Zion and Bilu pioneers, primarily from Romania and Russia, began to establish agriculture-based towns, as well as administrative and cultural institutions.

During the same period, Jews from Muslim lands also arrived in the Land of Israel, some joining the already established Sephardic communities, others creating their own enterprises. The Chelouche family, originally from Algeria, had lived in Jaffa since the early part of the 19th century. They opened a factory and established the Jewish neighborhoods north of Jaffa three decades before the establishment of nearby Tel Aviv. Yemenite Jews made the arduous trek across the Saudi desert and established one of the first Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Likewise North African Jews established the Nachlaot neighborhood and large groups of Bukharan Jews built  what was considered for a long period to be the most magnificent quarter of the city.

Herzl and The Zionist Congress

Back in Europe, Theodore Herzl, an assimilated Austrian journalist published Der Judenstaat The Jewish State, calling for the establishment of a Jewish state.  The misery of Eastern European Jewry was appalling - a people trampled by poverty and pogroms. The delusion of successful assimilation into Western European society materialized in repeated public and private outbursts of anti-semitism. The "Jewish Problem," as he called it, could not be solved by ghettoization; it could not be solved by assimilation; it could be solved only by the Jews realizing their peoplehood in their own country. Traipsing from leader to leader, from Jewish community to Jewish community, Herzl began to gain support for his idea, while laying an organizational network throughout the Jewish world. Herzl is credited with formulating the hopes and dreams of many disparate groups and channeling them into the movement known as Zionism - Jewish nationalism. The first Zionist Congress was held in 1897 in Basel Switzerland and the representatives founded the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency with Herzl as its president. Soon after, Herzl made the seemingly untenable prediction that a Jewish State would be established within fifty years.

The purchase of land in Eretz Yisrael had been funded by isolated philanthropists. The practice was institutionalized at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901 with the founding of the Jewish National Fund, heretofore responsible for the purchase of land in the name of the Jewish People. The JNF reached out around the world bringing the message of reclaiming the land to the Jewish masses. In addition to accelerated purchases, the JNF began reforesting the ravaged land. Israel was the only country in the world to begin the 21st century with more trees than which it began the 20th. Most of the land was purchased from absentee landowners who did not take into consideration the Arab peasants living there, who with the change of ownership were forced to move.

World Jewry and the Growth of the Yishuv

During the early part of the twentieth century, much of the Muslim world experienced a similar nationalist awakening, and in many places Jews, although facing constant persecution, were pivotally placed. Baghdad’s Jews, one-fifth of the city's population, were vital to regional commerce, politics and culture.  The first Iraqi Minister of Finance was a Jew, Yehezkel Sasson. Persian Jews were granted citizenship in 1906. Many Jews supported Arab nationalist aspirations and believed that they could be reconciled with Zionism.

Immigration to the Land of Israel increased as the march of the twentieth century began. Young socialists from Eastern Europe established communal agricultural settlements known as kibbutzim. New and ancient cities flourished. The Jewish community in the Land of Israel, known as the Yishuv, was creating a sophisticated economic, medical and educational infrastructure. There was emigration to the Land of Israel from Persia, and the Zionist movement spread throughout that community as it did throughout the Jewish world.

During this period in both Muslim and Christian societies, Jews were targeted for persecutions. Religion served as a negative rallying force and as a convenient rationale for the elimination of economic competition. Persian authorities, for instance, unleashed murderous edicts against religious minorities during the period of World War I. Many Persian Jews emigrated, some to the Caucus region, some to the West and some to the Land of Israel.

The British and The Yishuv

As the British itched to shore up their foothold in the doomed Ottoman Empire, it roused the hearts of the Yishuv and World Jewry by declaring its sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations. The famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 favored "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." This statement was reiterated by the League of Nations in 1922. Not long after, the British desired to appease the Arabs who were garnering opposition to the Jewish presence under the rabidly anti-Jewish leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem. The Lloyd George Government issued the first "White Paper" in 1922 limiting Jewish immigration.

During the first decade of the British Mandate, Jewish immigration increased engendering a burgeoning of agricultural settlements. The Histadrut or trade union, covering most aspects of life in the Yishuv, was founded, small businesses were established, and the Haganah, or the Jewish defense underground, was consolidated. There were sporadic Arab attacks on Jews, but in 1929, the inciteful Haj Amin al-Husseini fomented Arab hatred and pushed for conflagration by accusing the Jews of endangering Muslim holy sites. While the attacks on Jews in Tel Aviv, Haifa and rural settlements were thwarted by Jewish defense, many innocent Jews were killed and wounded. In Hebron, a city where Jews and Arabs had lived peacefully for decades, 67 Jewish men and women were slaughtered and Jewish homes and businesses were plundered. The British did nothing to protect the Jews.

In an economically depressed Europe, nationalism was taking an ugly turn towards fascism.  Growing restrictions were placed on Jewish activity in Europe. The demands to enter British Mandated Palestine far outweighed the permits allowed under the White Paper.  Yet many tens of thousands of new immigrants arrived. These professionals -  doctors, lawyers, architects, scientists, most from Germany, created a whole new class of professionals which bolstered the economic, academic and cultural status, particularly of the young cities.

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Friday 22 May, 2015 (c) All rights reserved to the Jewish Agency יום שישי ד' סיון תשע"ה