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Acronym: Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Venelkha

Translation: "House of Jacob, come, let us walk"

Biblical Source: Isaiah 2:5.

In the early 1880s, Jews in the Russian Empire experienced harsh antisemitism, violence, and persecution. In response to that, and in opposition to assimilation, some Jews suggested settling a home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, the only place Jews could become a nation.

Indeed, the Bilu Movement was founded in 1882 in the Russian Empire (in Kharkiv) by Israel Belkind. It was the first Jewish movement actively supporting the idea of settling in the Land of Israel, created 15 years before Herzl organized the First Zionist Congress in 1897!

In a short period, Bilu groups emerged in the Russian Empire and reached 500 members. However, due to internal disagreements, only a few made the step to settle in Israel.

The first trip to the Land of Israel was made up of 14 people, with Israel Belkind as their leader. They called themselves "Habiluim" (Bilu, in plural).

The group arrived in Jaffa on July 6th, 1882, and laid the groundwork for the First Aliyah to the Land of Israel. Ya'akov Shertok (father of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett) arrived a few weeks before them.

Most of its first members were students inspired by socialist ideas, making them the first socialist-Zionist group.

They aimed to work in agriculture and integrated the Mikve Israel School (founded in 1870) to work as laborers right after their arrival. They rented a house in the area, today called "Beit Ha'Biluim" - the Biluim house - located at that place (Google Map Location).

The group lived in difficult conditions. Indeed, most of them never worked the land and had no experience in agriculture (forbidden for Jews in Russia), which led them to near starvation on some occasions.

It was Charles Netter, the founder of Mikve Israel, who helped them establish and mentored them. At his death that same year, the group split up due to disagreements.

A part of the group (including Israel Belkind) started working in Rishon Lezion as laborers. Another part was sent by their new leader Rabbi Yechiel Michel Pines to Jerusalem to work as artisans.

Bilu members from Rishon Lezion and Jerusalem meeting in 1898 in Rishon Lezion. Source: Public Domain, wikipedia.

Pines was among the leaders of the Hovevei Zion association, a Rabbi, a journalist, businessman, and writer in the early days of the First Alya Period. He saw them as "The New Jews", who would bring Israel's revival.

In June 1883, Bilu had 28 members in Israel, including:

  • 13 in Rishon LeZion,

  • 7 in Mikveh Israel,

  • 3 in Jerusalem.

In this YouTube video, you can hear and learn about the Bilu anthem (starting at 01:02) called "Hushu, Achim, Hushu" ("Hurry, brothers, hurry"). This song was written in 1882/1883 and is considered by many as the first Zionist song. It became very popular in the Yishuv.

The story of that song, as described in the video:

During Pessah, the Biluim walked to Jerusalem to celebrate at Pines' house. Together with Pines, they sang Russian songs, including a student's revolutionary song in Russia. Pines stood up from his chair and translated this song into Hebrew. That same day they walked through Jerusalem streets singing one of the first Zionist songs in Hebrew.

In 1884, 9 Bilu members settled in Gedera, after their leader Pines purchased 3300 Dunam through the Hovevei Zion Association, by acquiring the land of the Arab village of Qatra. The Bilu settlement became known historically as Gedera even though there were a few Bilu'im in Rishon LeZeion and elsewhere as well.

By the end of the year, there were 48 Bilu members in Israel, while the Russian group ceased to exist. Also in 1884, they organized with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda a Passover trip, spoke Hebrew among themselves and sang Hebrew songs.

Despite many difficulties, those who remained proved to be a model of exemplarity for future generations settling in the Land of Israel, despite the ups and downs. It is estimated that 60 Bilu members left the Russian Empire for the Land of Israel during the early 1880s and only 20 stayed. Later, some of them became public figures.

Only one Bilu member, Menashe Meirowitz (1860-1949), lived long enough to see the Declaration of Independence in 1948.



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