The Passionate Rise



The particulars of the story are not common to most of us. The general flow of major events at the turn of the past century in Eastern Europe, British Mandated Palestine, and the birth of the State of Israel, sparkling with their illustrious leading figures is a matter of historical record and general knowledge. But the intricacies of the time and the people who lived through them, the minute details in the lives of ordinary people moved upon by a centuries old irresistible longing for the return to their ancient homeland has yet to be fully accounted for. The unearthing of countless episodes unique to the Israeli experience of national dispersal and long awaited renewal adds to this phenomenal story the unmistakable touch of frail human reality.

The rising from centuries of restless misery into an overpowering, irresistible force, both mystical and political within a single generation, resulting in the most horrific struggle and its ultimate climax at the creation of the Jewish State can hardly be fathomed nor fully appreciated by the outsider. Numberless untold stories of personal sacrifice, ingenuity, and courage lie at the heart of such an extraordinary era. Daring, intriguing, and peppered with the spice of Israeli humor that can only arise from a history of profound suffering, the events surrounding the simple lives of the early Jewish pioneers returning home to recreate their nation are incomparable by any standard.

With a grain of modest appreciation we will glean from the stories of these extraordinary people, a hint, a flavor of the time, a fraction of heretofore-unknown exploits of audacity and skill; stories that can scarcely be grasped in their entirety nor given the full justice they deserve.

The early Zionist pioneers with all their vast diversity, complexities, successes and failures; stand among the most remarkable people the world has yet witnessed. How they did it seems to be of the most miraculous nature. The why, unmistakably obvious.

Strangely, the appalling Jewish expulsion from their homeland at the hands of brutal Roman authorities, the subsequent ceaseless migrations among the nations, culminating with their sudden, dramatic reappearance on the stage of world history within the past century goes largely disregarded, even hotly contested. Where exists a brave heart the story is brought forward, inevitably meeting with fierce debate and defiant opposition. Nevertheless it must be told. We are all incomplete without it.

In The Passionate Rise, author Ami Orr draws upon a wealth of experience and background, to bring these simple yet legendary people with their remarkable achievements to the light of public recognition.

Digging the well for the Village of Nahalal 1934
The fathers of both the Author and Moshe Dayan are shown above digging the well.


The Passionate Rise


Ami Orr


For Hadassah, born in Kamai Lithuania, and Grisha, born in Botoshan Rumania, those who rose in the passion, dedicating their lives to recreate the land and people of Israel in their ancestral land. Having been born to parents of daring dreams and spirit, the author, like all first generation Israelis, is forever grateful.


The Passionate Rise. The Zionist Movement Is Born 

After Two Millennia The House of Israel Once Again Takes Center Stage In World Events

Ezekiel 37:9-14 

Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.

 Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.

 And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people.

 And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.


The Early Zionists; Their Vision, Their Dream,

Their Contribution 

The latter decades of the 19th century and the first phase of the 20th marked a specific, critical era in European and Middle Eastern history, as if a Divine clock ticking away unnoticed for centuries had suddenly struck the appointed moment. From that instant, everything within the sphere of Jewish communities scattered about the globe would undergo dramatic and sweeping changes. The world itself would never again be the same.

Never again.



The Passionate Rise aims at the heart of the extraordinary accomplishment of Eastern European Jewry’s 20th century migration back to their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel. For nearly two thousand years the ancient Jewish prayer echoing throughout the ghettos of Europe, the dark slums of foreign lands and the scattered cultures of the world had been faithfully recited yet seldom realized; “Next year in Jerusalem.” For millions that year never came.

Suddenly, as if on prearranged schedule and much to the astonishment of the world, the time had suddenly come. Leaving behind all that was familiar, in addition to the bitter memories of malicious cruelty imposed upon them for millennia, Jewish young people all across Eastern Europe unexpectedly, as if on cue, left home in an inexplicable urgency for the adventure of their lives. Driven by exigency of survival and the demands of human dignity, young pioneers forged in the fires of fanatical idealism for the creation of a free and just society in their own land, set out from the cold confines of former degradation, fashioning for themselves and their children a new society founded on a basis of impartial equality and liberty.

Arriving with nothing but the dream to re-establish a home where safety and security awaited them, as if by instinct Jewish young adults from all across Eastern Europe made their way to their long abandoned destination, welcomed by poverty, disease, extremely hard work and hostile neighbors. To those outside there seemed little reason for such joyous celebrations and fervency of spirit as that which characterized the pioneers of those days, working the land feverishly, dancing, singing, and dreaming all night of the life to come and the world they were creating for themselves. The arduous difficulties, overshadowed by an unquenchable faith merely aided them in the struggle, adding fuel to the most passionate of visions. Nevertheless, however inevitable the return, it was not without the most colossal of trials.


Elements and Characteristics of Pioneer Israeli Persona

Israel willed against all odds

Throughout history Israel has survived (and at times been conquered), standing alone, clinging to her ancient faith and promised destiny. In the tumultuous years of the early 20th century the climax of a two thousand year old dream of Jewish restoration to the Land of Israel was about to be birthed. Sustained by an unswerving devotion, and the maxim, “If you will it, it is no myth,” Jewish refugees and immigrants from Eastern Europe and in time, from a variety of nations, defied the world and returned home. In spite of fierce international opposition, within a single generation these same homeless refugees had accomplished the unattainable. They had built a strong, modern nation.

Surrounded by intense pressures, both internal and external, contemporary Israel is highly respected for its ingenuity, courage, and expertise in many fields. The most effective human component for its many outstanding successes witnessed in recent history, was and remains a fiercely determined will, a do or die iron resolve to accomplish the most impossible of tasks regardless of the risk or potential high cost.

The long anticipated return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel at the turn of the 20th century, with all the vast complexities, interwoven complications and dangers involved was in large measure due to a strength of will of those original settlers; the tough, uncompromising nature of true, well-founded ideological and spiritual conviction.


Israel as woven tapestry

By territorial margins, the State of Israel is terribly small. Its entire length could be driven in a matter of hours, its width in far less than that. Yet within such a tiny space a tapestry of the most diverse and fascinating character is created. From every corner of the globe, Jews gathered from the assorted cultures of numerous nations have made the homecoming, each adding their own unique tradition, custom, language, religious principle, politics, and historic folklore, blending together to make a most intriguing and exceptionally distinctive contemporary society.

Unknown to the outsider, Israel is a tapestry of silent, unspoken episodes, a Joseph’s coat of many colors infinitely multiplied, a gigantic conglomeration of assorted cultures and histories; an all-encompassing phenomenon; a wonder of biblical scale all nestled within such close quarters that at times to cross the street is to enter into another world, another time.

Deeply woven into this mass gathering of accumulated peoples is the ever-present burden of human imperfections. Even the most intense devotion to the highest notions of the original Zionist ideal could not protect those who bore it from the weaknesses of human character. As a result, the lofty principles of the Zionist cause were susceptible to and capable of distortion and manipulation, at times becoming tragically misdirected, warped, and abusive.

As is much the human drama of past histories in all lands, the return to Zion is a legendary, intensely passionate, and regrettably at times, a harsh, disturbing story.


Israel in black and white

Unfortunately, due to external hostility, Israel was, and continues to be birthed and bred in the furnace of the unforgiving realities of war. The rigor of Israeli life where there has not been a single day of peace for over fifty years has produced a rugged practicality where common choice, discrimination, and decisions are made in the most clear and direct of terms. These traits most certainly date back to its modern beginnings in the rough, bleak life of the original pioneers. In them the stage was set; the succeeding generations of Israelis would doubtless be called upon in their own day to stand where they stood, to rebuild the ancient homeland in spite of all the conflict raging around them.

In order to stay alive, the children and grandchildren of the early Zionists would learn the lessons of not only mere survival, but an understanding of how to create and hopefully maintain a just, decent society, where the dignity of life would finally succeed over superstition, bigotry, and ignorance. All of this, done in defiance of world indifference would tax the nation to its limit. Little doubt, those early settlers envisioned a far less painful undertaking than what has transpired over the decades since they first set their blistered feet on the soil that was soon to become home once more.

With all their original, brilliant, political insight and initiative in their flawed transactions with colonialism and world powers, the early European Zionist leadership had seriously erred in not attributing enough consideration in an effort to truly understand and deal with the diverse local Arab populations. The eventual cycle of violence and terrorism, the intractable difficulties associated with Arab population displacement, and the refugee problems within the territory all went unforeseen. How could they have known?

Beyond being confined to the Middle East, the dark hand of terror is no longer limited to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arab terror in various forms has in the past years extended deep into the world on an international level. Surely the founders of Zionism had not the slightest realization of how widespread and deadly the evil course of terror and intimidation would run.  

As they failed to foresee the spread of terror and bloodshed, so also have the modern nations. Having decades of examples to draw from, they should have known better and prepared themselves.  

The Arab world also shares the same unvarnished manner of seeing the world in the light of two extremes. The ancient unwritten Arab code, “the law of the desert” dominates the Arab life in daily intercourse as well as on the political level. For both peoples, one a giant conglomerate of many nations, the other rooted in millennia of tribal desert existence; life is clearly perceived and understood in terms of black and white. 

In the ongoing act of maintaining Israel’s national existence, there can be no imprecision in political or moral judgment, ambiguity in communication, nor delay in execution of policy. All of necessity must be viewed in the uncompromised light of raw essentials and trusted, reliable information. Life must be approached with facts; no wishful thinking or pompous platitudes can be indulged in; no external assistance can be implicitly relied on. Life in Israel, as on a battlefield, is a sharp, and often blunt contrast of black and white. It must be so, for the alternative to hesitation and indecision cannot be borne. 

Israel, from the days of its raw beginning, cannot afford the luxury of a blissfully ignorant, lavish state of mind. While not so for her enemies, the loss of one war could prove catastrophic. Constant diligence and preparedness is not optional. It is absolutely essential.

For Israel, ambiguity was and is a most deadly preference. Even in the realm of casual discussion, preemptive thought carries the day. Accordingly, the tough Israeli character was forged, energized into common, everyday experience.


Israel eclectics in harmony

Modern Israel is undeniably the most uniquely diverse society on earth, composed of inhabitants as varied and distinct as one could possibly imagine. Here, in the geographical center of the earth, East truly meets West on many levels. Past meets present, ancient traditions jostle and collide in the marketplace, the home, the synagogue, and the halls of government. Languages as varied and remote from one another as night and day somehow intermingle and come to brief understandings, hurdling cultural differences within seconds. A complex, multifaceted, yet thoroughly integrated society; Israel possesses the characteristic features of a curious, distinctive blend of European and Middle Eastern customs, manners, and tastes.

It was so from the first days of its modern infancy, where enlightened Jews enamored with the promises and ideals of European socialism met with the ancient descendants of wandering Jews gathered from Arab lands whose ancient cultures and societies had undergone minimal change, untouched for centuries. Somehow, in all this maze of language and culture, (with excruciating, and at times irreconcilable difficulties), a tenuous harmony threads its way through Israeli society; a fragile blending together despite the efforts of her avowed enemies to wreak as much havoc and sorrow as possible. The agonizing contrast of a state of unrelenting turmoil both within and without the country while engaged in the process of seeking viable solutions and a just peace in a sea of hostility has characterized Israeli life from the first days of its renewal and doubtless will continue for many years.


Israel a mosaic in progress

The sudden birth of the Zionist movement began in small backroom, clandestine meetings throughout Eastern Europe and Russia during the last decades of the 19th century, and the rapid succession of astounding events that followed in its wake could not rule out the fact that no political system or army existed among the Jewish people for nearly 2000 years of its historic dispersal among the nations. To their credit, the original Israeli settlers, although greatly impeded by centuries of degradation and encumbered by an obvious and painful lack of experience in politics, government, and warfare, at once arose to the task of mastering them on the spot. Facing enormous difficulties, both internal and peripheral, the early Zionist immigrant pioneers at the turn of the century, in time, aside from many unpredictable blunders and setbacks, out of nowhere burst into view, ultimately triumphing over their deficiencies and shortcomings.  

The ever changing, fluid nature of present Israeli society designed to effectively accommodate the needs of modern civilization points to a complex medley of growth and change, accompanied by an inflexible stability that has characterized the land from its earliest beginnings to its recent history.


Israel the phenomenon

The passionate rise of dispersed Jews throughout Europe and the Middle East to restore and rebuild the Land of Israel is an enormously multifaceted, complex phenomenon, unequaled in history; a sudden, powerful, pure, driving force compelling Jewish youths by the thousands to leave everything at once; the past, ancient tradition, home and family, to dedicate and sacrifice their lives for the rebuilding of the ancient homeland.

These were teenage revolutionaries of the first order, revolting from not only political pressure in their adopted lands, but also from millennia of harsh, religious practices that governed the totality of Jewish life in the Diaspora throughout its long exile. Forsaking religious tradition, synagogue attendance, and all that pertained to Jewish religious heritage, the young pioneers became in effect, atheists in order to free themselves from the confinement of a religious life that ruled out any and all possibility of free and creative thought. Essentially, they were forced to abandon religious thought and practice in order to assume the position of political and mystical dreamers who could wait no longer for someone to come and save them. Setting it all aside, they arose to the task themselves.

Recognizing what Israel is in its utter uniqueness is to understand it’s evolving. Israel is not static, not locked in a prison where change and adaptability is forbidden. If what is offered in private or public discussion cannot effectively be translated into positive action, it is useless. Time is precious in the land, and cannot be frittered away by paying heed to worthless babble. To survive Israel must steadily progress on all fronts, regardless of the intensity of opposition.

From its formation to its recent national rise Israel has been characterized to a great extent by extreme difficulty and hardship, confronted by enormous impossibilities. In those early years of return, the numerically scant presence of adventurous Jewish teenagers arriving from Eastern Europe were hardly seen as the rare breed they are now known to be. For the most part they were average, common people living very ordinary lives, hip deep in the most extraordinary set of circumstances. Engrossed on one hand in common labor and self-defense, and living the life of visionary dreamers on the other, the common person at times simply couldn’t comprehend what incredible things were happening around him. A people crippled with the wretchedness of millennial oppression had suddenly been released into a freedom that their ancestors could hardly have imagined. A huge, human dam had burst. From that moment there would be nothing to stop the overflowing flood of returning exiles.

The phenomenon of Israel, with its vast and rapid achievements in the modern world, is an extraordinary account of endurance and triumph, centering far beyond a few select well-known individuals. Its restoration is rather a hundred year episode of vast complexity, with millions of ordinary people in a continual state of growth, a nation of intense and fiercely impassioned idealism hammering out the fulfillment of an age-old dream.


Israel, a kaleidoscope in motion

From Russia, Eastern Europe, and eventually well over a hundred nations they came, an army of dreamers, a mass exodus from the nations, all hearing the same call at the same moment.

“Get thee out of thy country, . . . unto a land that I will show thee.”

As idealistic pioneers who knew no impossibilities, they came to an old new land, instinctively aware of the tremendous, fateful potential in the making. Though greatly diverse in language and culture all were consciously aware of their universal belonging, the tattered, ragged ends of a unique tapestry held together by a common heritage. An uncommon union but for one all-encompassing bond; “We are Jews.”  

The pervasive indispensable quality, nurtured in the soil of those early days and continuing into these is the element of a constant shifting. Israel, in continuous absorption of a vast array of cultural complexity yet retains a state of forward motion, an eye to the future. As the kaleidoscopes revolves, the pieces crowd and bump each other, creating new and fascinating designs. Yet in the end, always with an eye to moving forward, the broken fragments merge into a new, innovative oneness. Out of a disparate, traumatized, and scattered Diaspora covering two millennia, emerge a whole people. 



The author in his father's arms at the door of their home, 1934, a Nahalal pioneers one room shack of packed mud floor and corrugated tin roof with Jafa orange crates for furniture and animal feed bag jute embroidered curtains and tablecloth.

Israel by a passionate rise

Much is known about how the early Jewish settlers left their homes and families, journeyed to the homeland, overcame the difficulties and re-established their native land. A most incredible feat. But why did they do it? What motivated these young idealists to brave such insurmountable obstacles? What fired them with such passion? 

From a very practical, down-to-earth perspective, one clear motive stands forth. The early Zionists, united in their aspirations for a Jewish home but differing in their course of action as to where and how it should be obtained, were yet of one mind as regards their ever-present dilemma; the brutality of their Gentile neighbors had not ceased for nearly twenty centuries and there was no reason to think that things would change.  

Dreaded indications of renewed acts of anti-Semitism among the “enlightened” European nations were visibly portrayed on the horizon in the mid 19th century. The overwhelming tide of hatred was soon to return, with a force none of them would have thought possible. With all its past horrid memories surely on the minds of the European Jewish community, a decision to act had to be made at once. No more waiting for better days could be tolerated. No more subjection to perpetual disgrace could be endured. The time had come to make the break with the humiliating past and its persecutors. A question of utter survival hung in the air. A Jewish home, a free state where they could live in peace, was the one solution to the elimination of past horrors and the securing of a relatively safe future.  

While Zionist idealism could not protect them from violent aggression or bloodshed, by means of the re-creation of a Jewish state with secure and defensible borders at least self-defense was a possibility. And if there existed at the time a top priority, it was self-defense, the legitimate right of free people. 

Another major inspirational factor played into this remarkable event, that of a mystical longing of return to a country most had never seen. This soul stirring spiritual force, a dynamic power that had gripped and sustained them since their dispersal, however incredible, was suddenly in their lifetime and within their grasp, as a distinct, workable, undeniable possibility. The prospect of fulfilling the ancient dream of creating a Jewish home in their native land was of incalculable influence in the early days of the return, bearing them along those critical, definitive years of migration, cultivation, birth and statehood. 

An irresistible, supernatural power of immense proportions carried thousands on its great waves, landing them along the homeland shore. Its surge, still felt today is clear evidence of its power. Zionism in its essence was and continues to be the shedding of the shackles of past humiliations and the inauguration of a new creation; a new people, healthy and free, a new life with personal dignity, a new country, a safe haven. 

The concept of Zionist ideology was not primarily based upon the enormous influence ancient Israel had attained in the earliest periods of its origins as a model for a renewed Jewish homeland, but upon an espousal of Western styled political principles and systems well known and popular among its founders.  

Unrealized however, by the early designers of Zionism, the introduction of European ideals into the traditional lands of the Arabic world of the Middle East rapidly exacerbated the issue into the fiery conflict that has since engulfed the world. 

Although the stirring presence of a mystical Zionism, a Messianic dream, a spiritual longing for the fulfillment of a return to the land of their forefathers played an immensely important role in forming the character of the new state, the concept of Jewish Nationalism as the solution to its unremitting troubles was not based on the glories of the past. It was introduced to the Jewish people through European thought and culture by the early pioneers and has continued so ever since. 

While intricate to the extreme, from an ideological perspective the existence of modern Israel, both in its early Zionist phase and in its modern equivalent is due to the tremendous influence of enlightened 19th century Eastern Europe culture and thought. 

The state of emergency among the Jewish people existing in Eastern Europe and particularly in Czarist Russia for generations provided the catalyst for immediate and comprehensive changes to be put into operation at all costs.

With the implementation of political Zionism drastic changes occurred on every level, spiritual, geographical, and political. Characteristic of these changes incorporate a disdain for commercial profit, (the welfare of society overshadowed the tendency to greed or individual prosperity); a devotion to hard labor and the simple, rustic, peasant life; a revolt against the imposition of religious tradition which had not only held them together as a distinct people but had also restricted them in relation to progress, as religious orthodoxy strongly opposed the Zionist political agenda.  

A final realization embraced the recognition that the solution to anti-Semitism was not to be found in an “enlightened” world society. They could only depend on themselves. No one was coming to their aid. The re-creation of a Jewish homeland, free from the oppressive forces of tyranny and religious regulation was their only hope.

The catastrophe of European Jewish civilization during the Second World War confirmed forever that belief. 

Political Zionism, formed and fashioned in the cold, hidden secrecy of poverty stricken European Jewish life, was born out of a state of desperation, an intense desire for a better and just society, a utopia of their own making, the fulfilling of ancient dreams, free from every oppressive restraint. 

The key to a proper understanding of contemporary Israeli society, particularly its political life, (which plays a highly visible, major role in the affairs of modern everyday Israeli society), is to recognize and appreciate the tremendous persuasive influence of Eastern European thought and political action taking place during the mid to late 19th century which ultimately played the key role in laying the cornerstone of the modern state. From a purely realistic sense, political Zionism was formed and conceptualized more from European political traditions than from strictly Jewish thought. At its core it was a practical expression of European nationalism, extending beyond the borders of Europe into the strange, foreign lands of the Middle East. 

One does not travel to Jerusalem but rises to it, as a spiritual longing and destiny, the common bond and forever present dream of dispersed Jewry throughout the ages. Likewise no immigrant Jew merely comes to Israel, but in the Hebrew idiom rises to it. It was, and remains, a passionate rise.


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