The BILU (Hebrew acryonym) were a Proto-Zionist organization for immigration to
the land of Israel (Aliya), part of the
First Aliya. The name consists of initials of the words in
verse in Isaiah II:5, "House of Jacob, come, let us go." (Beyt Yaakov Lechu Ve -Nelcha). This movement grew out of the
Chovevei Tziyon movement in Kharkov Russia following
pogroms in that country. The Bilu arrived in Turkey, where tried unsuccessfully to enlist the help of Robert Oliphant, a
Christian supporter of Zionism.
The Bilu issued a manifesto in Constantinople
calling on Jews to emigrate to the land of Israel, and announced their intent to ask the Sultan for national rights.
Nothing came of that project, but they proceeded to Yaffo nonetheless.
They were backed by Karl Netter when they arrived in the land of Israel. They trained for
a brief period at the Miqveh Yisrael
agricultural school, then worked in
Rishon Letziyon, and eventually founded settlements in the center of Israel, especially Gedera.
The ideological history of the Bilu was a microcosm of conflicts in Zionism and Judaism,
as they were perpetually torn between their own secular enlightenment ideology on the one hand, and the demands of
rabbis who wanted to bring Zionists back to the fold of religion on the other. A crucial juncture was the debate over
observance of the first sabbatical year (1890) for Jewish agriculture in the holy land. Biblical law dictated that the
fields must lie fallow, which would have meant starvation for the subsistence farmers of the Bilu.
The Bilu served as a model
for later pioneering immigrants, living communally while working at Miqveh Yisrael and Rishon Letziyon, but they were
generally unable to overcome harsh conditions. At their peak, they numbered no more than 60 members. Only one of the
BILU settlers lived to see the foundation of the State of Israel
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