As early as the eighteenth century, Jews in Eastern Europe constituted the largest Jewish community in the world. By the early twentieth century, they were the absolute majority, and 90 percent lived in regions that had been part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth several generations earlier, or were among communities of immigrants created elsewhere by Jews from those regions. At the same time, only 0.3 percent of Jews worldwide lived in the Land of Israel (ca. 26,000 in 1881), though Jews of the Diaspora mentioned the Land daily in prayers and commemorated it in festivals and fasts.
Gederah, established in the late nineteenth century by members of the BILU movement from Russia. Postcard printed by H. Krugliakov, Jaffa, Palestine, ca. 1910. (YIVO)
The small community in the Land of Israel lived mainly in the four “Holy Cities” (Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias); half of these Jews were of European origin in 1881. On the eve of World War I, after waves of immigration gave rise to a social and cultural entity unprecedented in Jewish history, the Yishuv (as it was called) numbered about 86,000 persons. A significant change took place in the ratio between the size of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel and the demographic dimensions of East European Jewry in the period between the two world wars. Restrictions placed by the U.S. government on the entry of immigrants from Russia and Poland, and policies of the independent Polish regime, which undermined the foundations of Jewish economic existence, significantly increased the numbers of immigrants to the Land of Israel in the second half of the 1920s. Within a few years, Tel Aviv, a small garden suburb north of Jaffa, became a city, most of whose residents came from Eastern Europe.
Merchants, storekeepers, and artisans who reached the cities of Palestine during the Fourth Aliyah were known as the Grabski Aliyah, after the Polish minister responsible for his country’s policies toward Jews. In 1929, the Yishuv numbered slightly more than 190,000, most of whom came from regions that had been part of Poland–Lithuania until 1772. In the 1930s, this demographic trend grew stronger because in many of the independent states that had arisen at the end of World War I the relations of governments toward Jewish minorities deteriorated. In 1936, there were already 450,000 Jews in the Land of Israel. Although this wave of immigration, known in Zionist parlance as “the Fifth Aliyah,” is fixed in Israel’s collective memory as the Aliyah of “Yekim” (German Jews), in fact most of the immigrants in the 1930s came from the countries of Eastern Europe.
Additional waves of immigration, which continued even during World War II and during the struggle of the Yishuv against restrictions imposed by the British regime on Jewish immigration, brought tens of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe to Palestine by 1948. After its establishment, the fledgling State of Israel absorbed many residents of displaced persons camps in Europe as well as those detained in camps in Cyprus, where the British navy had sent immigrants after intercepting their ships. In the 1950s, mass immigration from Poland continued, reaching its peak in 1956–1957, with the departure of tens of thousands of Jewish citizens, who had survived the war in the USSR. A mass departure of Soviet Jews, which began in the late 1960s, added a significant demographic stratum to the East European population of Israel. In the 1990s, immigration from the former Soviet Union grew to a mighty torrent of hundreds of thousands. The arrival of these diverse groups in the twentieth century closed a historical–demographic circle that had opened at the time of the Polish partitions: Russian-speaking Jews who came to Israel at the end of the second millennium now live together in the same political unit with the descendants of immigrants from what had been the Pale of Settlement and Galicia. All of them, in fact, belonged to the same ethnic group that had lived in Polish–Lithuanian lands before 1772.
The connection between communities of origin in Eastern Europe and the colonies of immigrants in the Land of Israel was significant. In the Land of Israel, as in all countries where East European emigrants settled, new immigrants tended to preserve a connection to their language, costume, foods, and religious customs for a rather long time. In Palestine, family and community connections were also preserved, with synagogues as well as educational, welfare, and charity organizations established on the basis of common origins. People from a certain community sometimes lived together in neighborhoods or even in the same dwelling unit (court; Yid., hoyf). In Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron, cities where as early as the second half of the eighteenth century considerable concentrations of East European Jews formed branches of communities from Lithuania, Ukraine, or Great Poland, particular cultural characteristics brought from abroad persisted for a long time.
Nonetheless, the special status of the Land of Israel in traditional Jewish society gave rise to phenomena that were peculiar to connections with “the Land of the Fathers.” The Land of Israel existed in the consciousness and collective memory of Jews of Eastern Europe both as supertemporal destination, where past and future, halakhah and agadah, prayer and custom were mingled, and also as a real place, where relatives and friends from original cities and districts lived.
“The heavenly Land of Israel” lived in the thought of the Jews of Poland–Lithuania among men who belonged to the scholarly elite, among artisans without knowledge of Torah, and among women who knew neither Hebrew nor Aramaic. The cycle of the Jewish year was laden with countless references to the supertemporal connection between the “nation” and the “land.” The seasons of the year in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean determined the wording of the prayers (such as for the blessing for rain), and Jews knew the order of sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. Students of the Talmud, the principal text in the intellectual discourse of the traditional Jew of Eastern Europe, read about the landscapes of Judea and the Galilee in their tractates. Jews delved deeply into the nature of the produce of the land, puzzled over ancient measures and weights, and sought to calculate the distance between cities and villages.
Traditional discourse about the Land of Israel was not historical. On the contrary, early and late were combined in a single extension, in which the past of the Jews in the Land of Israel was not connected to palpable reality or to the dates of concrete events. Even those who arrived from Poland–Lithuania in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not connect the real land in which they dwelt with the abundant information about that land in texts that they studied. Only the new trends, born in the modern age, primarily the Haskalah, challenged the ahistorical character that the Land of Israel bore in the consciousness of the Jews from Eastern Europe. The historicization of the Land of Israel was one of the outstanding signs of the change that later took place in modern Jewish nationalism regarding the connection between Eastern Europe and the Land of Israel.
The actual connection with the historical land, subject to time and place, existed in parallel with the religious and spiritual, supertemporal connection. It was built first of all on real channels of communication that linked Jews of the kingdom of Poland–Lithuania to the actual Land of Israel and its communities. One real connection involved financial assistance. Various systems for collecting money to support the Jews in the Land of Israel functioned throughout Eastern Europe, sometimes in competition with efforts to raise funds for local Jews. Emissaries were sent out from the land. These were called shadarim, an acronym for the Hebrew sheluḥim de-rabanan (emissaries of the rabbis) or sheluḥim de-raḥmana’ (emissaries of the Merciful One). They circulated among Jewish communities, bringing letters, books, and manuscripts from the land. The emissaries gave sermons, told stories, and sometimes even instituted rules and issued halakhic decisions for the communities they were visiting.
Stylized map of ancient Israel. From Yosef da‘at by Yosef ben Yisakhar Ber of Prague (Prague: Gershom ben Betsal’el Katz, 1609). This critical supercommentary on the medieval Pentateuch commentary by Rashi was supposedly composed by the author with the help of a manuscript of Rashi’s commentary dating from 1300. (Library and Archives Canada/Jacob M. Lowy Collection)
The image and impact of emissaries from the Land of Israel were preserved for future generations in memoirs and fiction. Although in Yiddish literature they were sometimes depicted as charlatans, the figure of the shadar underwent a nationalist, romantic incarnation and became part of socialist and nationalist thinking in the early twentieth century. Shadarim were sometimes sent in partnership by various groups of Jews—Sephardim, Misnagdim, and Hasidim—who made detailed financial agreements about the division of the contributions. Thus it would happen that a Sephardic emissary, dressed in Mediterranean clothes and speaking Hebrew with a Sephardic accent, might arrive in a city in Eastern Europe, bringing an oriental flavor and sound to it.
Indeed, such emissaries knew the routes of Poland very well. They planned their money-raising itineraries carefully, and were aware of the religious, political, and economic changes that took place at the time of the partitions of Poland and in succeeding years. Thus, for example, in the first half of the nineteenth century detailed agreements regarding the division of contributions were made between Misnagdim and the Hasidim of the Land of Israel, agreements that took into account the expansion of Hasidism into Congress Poland, and the increase in the number and proportion of Hasidim. These agreements clearly show, in contrast to the image of enmity and struggle between Hasidim and Misnagdim, that in fact there was coordination and cooperation over many decades between the two camps in the Land of Israel. In 1815, after the Napoleonic wars and the establishment of an autonomous Polish political entity in what had been the Duchy of Warsaw, emissaries of the two communities signed the following agreement for the division of contributions from the Kalisz district of Congress Poland: “After we the undersigned on this letter of compromise arrived, we were informed that the Department of Kalisz also belongs under the government of Poland. We therefore compromised . . . to divide this department between the Misnaged and the Hasidic religious communities . . . that is to say four parts of this department belong to the kolel of Hasidim, may the Lord preserve them and give them life, and three parts to the kolel of Perushim [Misnagdim], may the Lord preserve them and give them life” (Tizkor zot le-dor aḥaron; 1844/45). This document served as a basis for revised agreements that were in force until the mid-nineteenth century.
As early as the second half of the eighteenth century, with the establishment in the Land of Israel of groups of Hasidic immigrants and later of Lithuanian scholars, special systems of support were established for the various groups. Tsadikim extended their support to the mechanisms providing assistance to their Hasidism, and great Lithuanian scholars were mobilized to organize broad networks of support for immigrants who came from their circles. The institution of the shadarim and these new systems of collection overlapped. Another support system, which was actually administered from Western Europe, played a highly significant role in providing financial support for East European immigrants.
In the early nineteenth century, a society of pekidim and amarkalim (clerks and administrators), based in Amsterdam, was organized for the purpose of concentrating the collection of funds for supporting Jews in the Land of Israel throughout the Ashkenazic Diaspora. The guiding spirit of this organization was a Dutch Jewish banker named Tsevi Hirsh Lehren (1784–1853), who sought to make the method for collecting funds and transferring them to the Land of Israel more efficient. To that end he worked to eliminate emissaries, an institution that he regarded as wasteful and unsuited for the goal of raising the most money possible. This organization eventually found itself at the center of the struggle to preserve the traditional character of the Yishuv, and it determined many of the questions related to the sustenance of immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Letters sent abroad from the Land of Israel also maintained direct connections between settlers from Eastern Europe and their communities of origin. This medium of communication, which disseminated current information about the situation of the Yishuv throughout Eastern Europe, was part of a widespread system of correspondence, ranging from personal letters to family members, as well as letters to leaders, public figures, and organizations. It also included open letters that were circulated throughout Eastern Europe for propaganda purposes and to raise funds. In 1778, Rabbi Yisra’el ben Perets of Polotsk, in Belorussia, announced to the heads of the community in Vitebsk that the group of immigrants led by Menaḥem Mendel of Vitebsk, which numbered 300, had safely reached Safed. He finished that letter, which to this day is our main historical source of information about the immigration of the Hasidim:
Therefore, brethren, Children of Israel, merciful children of charitable people, is it not up to you and to us to build the house of our Lord, and all of Israel must gather strength in settling the holy land. Please let the souls of your miserable brethren be precious in your eyes . . . arouse and awaken to the great commandment of giving sustenance to a multitude of Israel, to feed them and give them drink and to clothe the naked, so that they may settle in the holy land to arouse the mercy of heaven and to pray for all of the house of Israel.
Letters sent from the Land of Israel thus provided current information about security, economic conditions, and the character of religious activity there. The letters documented natural disasters that struck the communities of immigrants from Eastern Europe (thus, for example, the letters provide detailed information about earthquakes that destroyed Safed in 1759 and 1837) as well as political and military events that influenced the immigrants’ lives (especially prominent in letters from the early nineteenth century is the account of the tragic fate of Ḥayim Farḥi, who supported Ashkenazic immigrants in Tiberias and Safed and was murdered by order of the district governor Aḥmad Pasha [referred to as al-Jazzar, “the butcher”] in 1821). Letters from Hasidic immigrants beginning in the late eighteenth century were widely circulated, and some were collected in anthologies that were frequently reprinted.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish press began to replace the role of the letter from the Land of Israel. Newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian played a central role in consolidating national consciousness in Eastern Europe and in the circulation of nontraditional attitudes toward the Land of Israel. Some of the most vehement polemics about the future of the gradually developing Yishuv, on the place of halakhah in the lives of residents of the new villages, and on the economic infrastructure appropriate for maintaining the communities of the Old Yishuv (the traditional religious communities in the cities) and the New (modern, though not necessarily secular, dwelling in agricultural settlements) took place on the pages of the newspapers.
Jews from Eastern Europe settled in the Land of Israel at the beginning of the modern period; however, only with reference to the mid-eighteenth century can one find distinct details about the organizations and cultures of communities from Poland–Lithuania. Two groups from the religious elites of East European Jewish society—groups of Hasidim from Belorussia and Lithuania, and groups of Lithuanian scholars—laid the foundations of such communities. The intention of the members of these groups was to maintain societies of scholars whose financial existence would be based on contributions from abroad. They regarded the relations between settlers in the Land of Israel and the donors as an arrangement, in which each party did its part: the scholars were a kind of vanguard whose intense occupation with study and prayer was for the sake of the collective, while those who supported them financially received a reward for their good deed.
A street named after Zionist ideologue Leon Pinsker in Aḥuzat Bayit, the first Jewish residential area established in Tel Aviv, ca. 1910. (YIVO)
The special nature of the East European settlement in the Land of Israel was thus connected to the central place occupied by study in the hierarchy of values of Ashkenazic society in the early modern period. However, in the early nineteenth century, with the increased threat of modernity to the institutions and values of that society abroad, the Yishuv took on entirely new significance: it became an outpost of conservatism in the struggle against innovation and reform. The strongest influence on the character of Ashkenazic society in the Land of Israel was that of Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe, primarily in Lithuania. Beginning in the 1840s, religious elites confronted the tendency of the tsarist government to institute comprehensive reform in traditional life. In 1844, the Russian regime abolished the autonomy that the kahal (Jewish community) had enjoyed and began to establish government schools for Jewish children.
At the very time that the Russian government was creating a state education system, which was intended to bring about the acculturation of the Jewish population in the Pale of Settlement, leaders of the Lithuanian immigrants in Jerusalem came out strongly against efforts to establish modern educational and medical institutions in the Holy Land. They regarded their struggle against innovations to be part of the general battle against what was happening at the same time in their countries of origin in Eastern Europe. Among other things, they spoke and wrote against the establishment of shkoles (their term for government schools in the Russian Empire in the 1840s), and they compared the program of Jewish philanthropists to improve the cultural and economic situation of the Yishuv to the educational project that the government sought to establish in Russia.
The leadership of the Misnagdim in Jerusalem continued this struggle against establishing modern educational institutions during the following decades and acted resolutely to ward off changes in the traditional way of life. Opposition was directed as well against the new Ḥibat Tsiyon movement. In a pamphlet titled Kol mi-hekhal (Voice from the Temple), published in 1885, the young national movement took the place of Jewish philanthropists as the prime enemy of the conservative society of Torah scholars.
The radical change in patterns of migration to the Land of Israel that occurred with the beginning of the new national movement in East European countries indeed offered an absolutely new alternative for Jewish existence in the Land of Israel. Members of the first associations of Ḥibat Tsiyon and, after them, members of Zionist movements, parties, and associations, tied the solution of the economic, social, and political distress of East European Jews to the vision of establishing a new society in the Land of Israel. Unlike earlier immigrants, the members of religious elites from Lithuanian scholars or Hasidim who laid the foundations of the Old Ashkenazic Yishuv in the cities of the Land of Israel, the new immigrants were motivated by a powerful desire to change the ways of life they had known in Europe. However, opposition to the “Diaspora” (that is, East European) way of life also took shape around a set of values that was Eastern European. Thus, the desire to change Jewish professions in the new land was influenced by ideas of the Haskalah movement, and it bore many marks of Russian agrarian socialism. The new culture developed by Jewish nationalists in the Land of Israel was influenced decisively by the culture the immigrants had brought with them from Eastern Europe, which combined with influences of local culture and traditions brought with them by immigrants from the Mediterranean basin and from countries of Central Europe.
Store selling esrogim (citrons) from Palestine for use during Sukkot, Warsaw, ca. 1929. The Yiddish sign reads: “To get back at the Arabs who destroy Jewish orchards, this year all Jews should buy esrogim only from the land of Israel.” (YIVO)
Still, Hasidim from Podolia, Volhynia, Belorussia, Galicia, and Poland; and Misnagdim from Lithuania retained the spoken languages they had brought with them (various dialects of Yiddish) and their particular religious customs. The main causes for the preservation of East European traditions in Mediterranean surroundings included the division of immigrants from Eastern Europe into subgroups (kolelim), each of which clung to its own customs and maintained direct contact with their home communities abroad; opposition on the part of some immigrants to the educational, economic, and cultural reforms initiated by philanthropists and international Jewish organizations, which strengthened loyalty to the old way of life; and the lack of a strong central regime and of interest on the part of Ottoman authorities in initiating state-sponsored cultural change among the religious and ethnic minorities of the empire.
During the period in which authorities in the Habsburg and Russian Empires were introducing far-reaching changes in the patterns of community organization and seeking to expose the Jewish population to the influence of state educational systems, the Land of Israel seemed a safe refuge for the values, traditions, and customs whose maintenance was jeopardized in Eastern Europe. At the same time, immigrants wished to continue to marry within the circles of people from their communities. They did this also not as groups of immigrants seeking to strengthen their identity in the new land, but for economic reasons connected with the right to receive support money sent from abroad. The social, economic, and family connections that were maintained by the members of various kolelim among themselves and at the same time with their communities of origin therefore perpetuated for generations the cultural life imported from Eastern Europe. The kolelim were in effect branches of ethnic and religious groups overseas.
Unlike the members of the modern waves of immigration in the late nineteenth century, the immigrants of the Old Yishuv had no desire to amalgamate or to create a new shared culture. They tended to lead the old way of life in the new land, to speak Yiddish, and to read what the people of their cities abroad read. Hence, Jews who grew up in Jerusalem from childhood, among them the socialist Avrom Frumkin, the son of Yisra’el Dov Frumkin, a prominent Jerusalem journalist and community activist in the second half of the nineteenth century, could see themselves as an integral part of the masses of the Jewish people in Russia and Galicia whose language was Yiddish (Avrom Frumkin, In friling fun yidishn sotsyalism; 1940).
Spontaneous cultural processes nevertheless gave rise to change. Marriages between Jewish families from Eastern Europe and from the Mediterranean elites produced intercultural encounters and a fusion of languages and customs. Thus, for example, members of the Yelin family, who came from Łomża in Poland, married their son to the daughter of a Jewish family from Baghdad; the memoirs of the Yelin family contain rich material about this (Yehoshu‘a Yelin, Zikhronot le-ven Yerushalayim; 1924). Over the years, Hasidim and Misnagdim absorbed considerable influences from their Sephardic and Middle Eastern oriental neighbors as well as from the Arab surroundings. The language of Yiddish speakers was enriched by the influence of Judezmo and Arabic, and local customs were added to traditions brought from abroad.
Modern waves of immigration added groups that brought with them a culture entirely different from that of the Old Yishuv. Quite a few of the first settlers in the agricultural villages that were established in the last two decades of the nineteenth century had already been exposed to processes of acculturation in the Russian Empire. They or their children had been educated in school in the Russian language and had absorbed the ideas, patterns of behavior, and lifestyle of the bourgeoisie at the time of Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III. Members of the BILU movement also brought with them to the Land of Israel something of the Russian oppositional culture of the 1860s and 1870s: agrarian socialism, plans for cooperative settlement, and, above all, devotion to self-fulfillment in belief and opinion. The ideal of the ḥaluts (pioneer) of the First Aliyah period, which those who established the settlement of Gederah in 1884 wanted to embody, took shape to no small degree under the influence of radical Russian literature and drew upon the writings of Dmitrii Pisarev and Nikolai Chernyshevskii.
“Lecture by president of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization Naḥum Sokolow on the topic, ‘The Revival of the Land of Israel,’” Polish/Yiddish poster. Printed by Vilner Produtsir Kooperativ, Vilna, ca. 1920s. (YIVO)
The radical Russian influence on the consolidation of new Hebrew culture in the Land of Israel increased during the Second (1904–1914) and Third (1919–1924) Aliyot. Groups of young people arrived, bringing with them political and cultural attitudes that had taken shape in the Pale of Settlement and in Galicia under Austrian rule between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and in the early days of Soviet rule. Members of these groups occupied leadership positions in the Yishuv during the first half of the twentieth century and played a decisive role in expanding the Zionist enterprise and in establishing the State of Israel. Patterns of political organization were transferred from Eastern Europe. Most of the Israeli political parties in the first years of the state had roots in the Russian or Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The two prominent workers’ parties during the Second Aliyah period, Po‘ale Tsiyon (Workers of Zion) and Ha-Po‘el ha-Tsa‘ir (The Young Worker), which eventually united in 1930 to form Mifleget Po‘ale Erets Yisra’el (or Mapai; Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel), remained the dominant faction until 1977 in the Israeli political arena. These parties drew inspiration from Marxism in the spirit of the Russian theorist Georgii Plekhanov, one of the fathers of the Russian Social Democratic party (SD), in a Jewish national version devised by the leader of Po‘ale Tsiyon, Ber Borokhov; as well as neoromantic populism in the spirit of Tolstoy and the ideas of agrarian socialism in the version of the Social Revolutionary Party (SR). Members of Po‘ale Tsiyon read the reality of the Ottoman Empire through decidedly Russian spectacles. They identified elements of a proletariat in members of the Old Yishuv and sought to arouse class-consciousness among printers in Jerusalem. They also tried to develop connections with social democratic parties among other ethnic groups in the empire. On the eve of World War I, they conceived of a program for autonomous Jewish existence within the multinational Ottoman kingdom. Their first newspaper in the Land of Israel was in Yiddish (Der onfang).
By contrast, members of Ha-Po‘el ha-Tsa‘ir wanted to establish small communal settlements in the country and to create a new type of Jew, one who cultivated the soil and was close to nature. The encounter with the particular conditions of the country, which were entirely different from those they had known in Eastern Europe, brought members of these two streams together and gave rise to ideological compromise and joint political and organizational activity. The Zionist left in the Land of Israel was in doubt for decades regarding the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The question of the attitude toward what they had called “the world of tomorrow” (that is to say, the political, social, and economic reality in Soviet Russia) in the political jargon of the Land of Israel was a part of Israeli political culture from the beginning of the Third Aliyah until after the death of Stalin in 1953. Soviet presence and influence was very notable in the Land of Israel between 1917 and 1948 on various levels, among other things in the youth movement culture. To this day, Hebrew versions of Russian songs are common in Israel, most of which were the products of Soviet culture in the first years of the Soviet Union.
Along with the Zionist social democratic parties, in the early 1920s a pro-Soviet Communist party arose in the Land of Israel (PKP), and many members of the Third and Fourth Aliyot maintained complex relations with it. A prominent case of crossing of borders between Zionist pioneering and anti-Zionist communism took place in the second half of the 1920s, when a fairly large group of members left the social democratic Zionist Gedud ha-‘Avodah (The Labor Brigade) and returned to Russia in an organized manner. There they settled in an agricultural commune on the Crimean peninsula.
It would be an error, however, to think that the influence of the intellectual heritage of East European Jews on the formation of political culture in the Land of Israel was limited solely to the left wing of the New Yishuv, both Zionist and anti-Zionist. At the time of the Fourth Aliyah, a new factor gained strength in the Yishuv, one that also drew inspiration from its East European heritage: Revisionist Zionism. Antisocialist, liberal nationalism in the spirit of Vladimir Jabotinsky, who was born in Odessa, merged with the integral nationalism that drew quite a bit from Polish sources of inspiration. Among other things, the idea of a “legion” or “Hebrew army” was prominent. Jabotinsky wished to establish such a force in cooperation with the British regime in Palestine. Revisionist Zionism found supporters in the expanding urban sector and served as a counterweight to the growing power of the Zionist left. The Zionist right was torn from the first between secular national liberalism, which is how Jabotinsky interpreted Herzl’s doctrine, and organic nationalism with messianic overtones (and a certain connection with fascism in its Italian version from the 1920s). Aba Aḥime’ir, an intellectual who brought with him to the Land of Israel extensive knowledge of Russian culture, and Uri Tsevi Grinberg, a poet with a prophetic-political vision rooted in Polish neoromanticism and in Warsaw modernism after World War I, had significant influence on the nationalist wing of the Revisionist movement.
The Polish nationalist neoromantic spirit throbbed within the members of the ‘Etsel and Loḥame Ḥerut Yisra’el (later known as Leḥi), organizations that were established in response to political events in the Land of Israel, but were also profoundly linked to the context of the Polish Republic of the mid-1930s. Avraham Stern (Ya’ir), an intellectual and poet who devised a national–political theory of a great kingdom of Israel, was a commander of ‘Etsel and later the leader of Loḥame Ḥerut Yisra’el, an extremist organization that split from it. He was deeply influenced by Polish romantic nationalist poetry. Two Israeli political leaders in the fourth and fifth decade of the state’s existence, Menaḥem Begin (commander of ‘Etsel) and Yitsḥak Shamir (a commander of Leḥi) were in spirit, in political style, and in their ways of action decidedly the products of the Zionist right in Poland between the two world wars. The face of Israeli political culture, in its various hues, was therefore shaped to a large degree from the meeting of various influences that grew up, each in its own time and place, in a decidedly East European context.
There appears to be an unbridgeable cultural gap in contemporary Israeli society between ḥaredim, who preserve what appears to them to be an ancient tradition imported from the eastern branch of the Ashkenzic Diaspora, and secular Jews, who advocate innovative Jewish culture, and whose roots also lie in the cities of Eastern Europe, whether in the Haskalah (as was the case with Mosheh Leib Lilienblum and Yehudah Leib Pinsker), in social radicalism (Aharon Shemu’el Lieberman and Ber Borokhov), or secular nationalism (David Ben-Gurion; Vladimir Jabotinsky). One factor must be remembered: that gap was not born in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. It was imported to the blue shores of the Mediterranean from the streets of Warsaw, Vilna, and Odessa.