The History of Aliyah from the Land of the North

By Howard Flower, ICEJ Aliyah Director

In those days, the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel,
and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers. (Jeremiah 3:18)

The earliest and most significant waves of Aliyah emerged from the Russian Empire, a direct consequence of the deep-seated antisemitic sentiments and violent pogroms that intensified following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by anarchists in 1881. These pogroms, which were either perpetrated or condoned by the Russian authorities, led to widespread violence against Jewish communities, prompting a significant number of Jews to seek refuge and a new beginning in the Land of Israel.

Kindergarten at Rishon-Le’zion, Education in Israel, one of the first settlements in Israel founded by Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire, c. 1898 (source:

According to the official 1887 census of the Russian Empire, 5,215,805 Jews lived there at the time. Today the Jewish Agency estimates that about 600,000 are eligible for Aliyah to Israel.

The initial wave of Aliyah, often referred to as the “First Aliyah,” was followed by subsequent waves, each reflecting the changing tides of Jewish history and the geopolitical landscape of the time. The Second Aliyah (1904–1914) was fueled by further pogroms in the Russian Empire and the ideals of socialist Zionism, bringing a younger, more ideologically driven cohort of immigrants. These Olim (immigrants) were instrumental in establishing communal farms, known as kibbutzim, and developing the Hebrew language and culture in the then Ottoman Palestine.

Russian Aliyah workers eating lunch in the fields of Kibbutz Migdal, 1912 (source:

The end of World War I and the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which supported the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, encouraged the Third Aliyah (1919–1923). This wave was characterized by the arrival of Eastern European Jews who, motivated by Zionist ideology, were fleeing the aftermath of the war and the subsequent pogroms in the region.

The rise of Nazism and the onset of World War II catalyzed the Fifth Aliyah (1929–1939), bringing a substantial influx of Jews seeking refuge from the horrors of the Holocaust. This period saw the British Mandate imposing restrictions on Jewish immigration, leading to the covert immigration efforts known as Aliyah Bet.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 marked a new chapter in the history of Aliyah, with the Law of Return granting all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel. This led to mass immigration from war-torn Europe and Jewish communities in Arab and Muslim countries, many of whom faced persecution and expulsion.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s unleashed one of the largest waves of Aliyah, with over a million Jews from the former Soviet republics immigrating to Israel. This wave significantly altered the demographic and cultural fabric of Israeli society, bringing a diverse blend of cultural heritage, languages, and traditions.


Most recently, the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has triggered yet another wave of Aliyah, as Jewish individuals and families seek safety and stability amid the turmoil. This ongoing movement underscores the enduring significance of Aliyah as a cornerstone of Jewish identity and the important nature of the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and the State of Israel. Aliyah began to increase when the war broke out in 2014, and since then, the wave has brought nearly 240,000 Russian-speaking immigrants home to Israel, a huge Aliyah wave.

Through each wave, Aliyah has contributed to the growth and development of the State of Israel but has also reflected the persistent challenges and aspirations of the Jewish people. From fleeing persecution to seeking a shared homeland, the history of Aliyah from the Russian Empires to the present day encapsulates a profound narrative of resilience, unity, and hope—and the triumph of Aliyah.

Be part of this modern-day miracle of Aliyah.