1881– Jerusalem and Rishon

In the year 1516 the Ottoman Turks captured Mamluk-ruled Palestine and held it for 402 years until 1918 when it became the League of Nations decision to defeat the Turks and to award Palestine to the newly-appointed British Mandate.

According to the 1880 Ottoman Turkish survey of Palestine, the total population of the country was 411,000, 94% Arabs. Only a few Orthodox Jews and a handful of Zionists lived in Jerusalem in 1880

By the year 1884 the population of Jerusalem was mainly Jewish and the city has remained a largely Jewish majority ever since

In 1881 a group of religious Jews from Yemen, the First Aliyah, settled in Jerusalem and built a synagogue and a school. The population of Jerusalem at that time was 21,000 consisting of 9,000 Jews, 7,000 Muslims and 5,000 Christians.

By the year 2017 the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics revealed 63% of Jerusalem’s residents were Jews.

Further south, in 1882 a group of 10 Zionist Jews from Kharkov, Ukraine immigrated to Palestine and sought land upon which to settle and to build a town.

At that time, the area was Arab-inhabited in a village called Ayun Kara and the new Zionists purchased 836 acres of wasteland from the Arabs and began to build.

By 1885, the new settlement of Rishon Lezion had increased from 10 to 300 residents. Most of them had soon abandoned the Yiddish and Russian languages and began to speak the new modernized Hebrew language created by the linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.

Soon, Rishon Lezion like Petach Tikva became the first new Jewish settlements in Ottoman Palestine whose spoken language was ivrit.. Hebrew.

From its 300 population, the small town grew and increased in size and in population. By 2015 the city became the fourth largest city in the State of Israel after Jerusalem, TelAviv and Haifa, with a population of 250,000 Jews. (I, proudly, am one of that population

The name Rishon Lezion was taken from the Hebrew Bible (Book of Isaiah 41:27). It means “The First of Zion”.

And my city is renowned for many “firsts”.

In Rishon Lezion, the first all-Hebrew speaking school in the world, Haviv, was opened in 1882 and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was one of its first Hebrew-language teachers.

The first flag of Zion which became the official flag of the State of Israel was created in Rishon Lezion in 1883.

Shortly thereafter, Naftali Herz Imber created a poem, set to the music of Smetana’s “Moldau”. It was called HaTikvah…the Hope.. and became and remains Israel’s national anthem.

In 1885 the first symphony orchestra in Palestine performed in its home city, Rishon Lezion. It remains one of Israel’s finest symphony orchestras.

Rishon was Palestine’s first city to develop a magnificent central park which flourishes to this day . It is a place where I can sit daily under the trees watching children play, birds chirping, cats strolling and Russian-speaking grandmothers rocking baby carriages and feeding the birds and the hundreds of cats.

From 1882 to approximately 1915, travel to Jaffa (Tel-Aviv had not been built until the early 1900’s) to buy food and supplies was almost a two hour trip by horse and carriage for a distance of about 12 miles.

The first automobile appeared on the yet unpaved streets of the city in 1912.

It was in the central park of Rishon Lezion where Theodor Herzl, father of Zionism, officially met with Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany, on October 18, 1898 and requested him to intervene with the Turkish Sultan regarding Zionist requests for further development in Turkish Palestine.

A marker on a wall of the central park indicates the spot where the two met.

Now, on the eve of our 71st anniversary…our rebirth as an independent Jewish nation… Jerusalem remains our undivided eternal capitol and tiny Rishon Lezion has grown from 10 founders to 250,000 residents.

We pray for the peace of beloved mother Jerusalem and for increased security and tranquility among the entire population of the State of Israel… Jews, Muslims, Christians and others alike.

Happy Anniversary Israel. And many, many more !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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