Museum of the First Aliyah

February 2nd 2014

A tribute to the region’s earliest Zionist settler, the First Aliyah Museum is dedicated to the story of approximately 25,000 immigrants, mostly traditional Orthodox families, who came to Ottoman-era Palestine between 1882 and 1903, in order to escape pogroms and anti-Semitism. The museum, which opened in 1999, is housed in a historic 120-year-old building that once served as Zichron Yaakov’s original Administration House. The structure is located at the end of the charming, cobblestone pedestrian mall of the town, about 22 miles south of Haifa on Israeli’s Mediterranean coast.

Visitors today walk through three levels of the museum as the story of the first Jewish nationalist immigrants of the modern era unfolds. At the core of the museum experience are six short movies that dramatize the typical experiences of these early Zionists, including the terrible struggles and very real hardships they faced in the first years. Disease and poor understanding of agricultural skills caused entire families and communities to be wiped out.

The turning point came in 1884, when French banker Baron Edmond James de Rothschild poured significant financial resources into 28 fledgling Jewish agricultural settlements. Rothschild also sent a contingent of French professionals, including agronomists, pharmacists, doctors and teachers, to offer hands-on help to the struggling immigrants. In its multimedia presentations, the museum doesn’t shy away from dramatizing the very real tensions that existed between the immigrants and the French experts.

At the museum, the sculptures of Ora Rozenzweig bring daily scenes of life in the early Jewish settlements to life, and English explanations are available for all the exhibits. The museum was established in memory of two early settlers of Zichron Yaakov, Moshe and Sara Arisohn, by their grandson Ted Arison, one of Israel’s most successful international businessmen.

Although Jewish people have been living in the Land of Israel continuously since biblical times, prior to 1948, the land was ruled by a series of non-Jewish nations and the Jewish population was, at times, quite small. That began to change in 1882 when the very first wave of modern immigrants came to Israel.

When picturing Modern Israel’s earliest pioneers, many imagine groups of young, secular, Eastern European Jews working in the fields and dancing joyfully in hora circles in the evenings. In truth, these pioneers were part of the Second and Third waves of aliyah. The story of modern aliyah, of the earliest Jewish return to the Land of Israel, is the story that is told in the First Aliyah Museum.