This Week in Israeli History: Jabotinsky, Michael Levin and the Founding of Rishon LeZion

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Ze'ev Jabotinsky
Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was born in Odessa in 1880. Already at a young age he made a name for himself by writing for several well-known Russian newspapers under the pen name “Altalena.”
Following a pogrom against the Jews in Kishinev in 1903, he founded the Jewish Self-Defense Organization in Odessa, an organization whose goal was to protect Jewish communities throughout the Russian Empire ("Jewish youth, learn to shoot!").
He soon left the world of journalism and traveled throughout Russia, spreading the ideas of Zionism and pleading with Jews to learn self-defense. In the same year he was elected Russia's delegate for the Sixth Zionist Congress.
Upon the outbreak of WWI, Jabotinsky met Joseph Trumpledor and together proposed the idea to create a Jewish faction in the British Army. The Jewish Legion was officially established in 1917 and fought with General Allenby at the Jordan River crossing, where Jabotinsky was decorated for his bravery.
In 1920, he was elected to the first Assembly of Representatives in Mandatory Palestine and helped establish Keren Hayesod, the financial arm of the Zionist movement. Disagreeing with the moderate policies of the Zionist movement, Jabotinsky split from the mainstream and created the revisionist movement, a movement calling for the immediate establishment of the Jewish State on both sides of the Jordan River.
In 1923 he established Betar, the revisionist youth movement whose goal was to educate its members with ideals of nationalism, self-defense and education. In 1937 he became the Supreme Commander of the Irgun (Etzel), the military wing of the revisionist movement.
During the 1930's, Jabotinsky grew uneasy about the anti-Semitic tendencies in Europe and proposed an evacuation plan of all Jewish residents. He met with leaders from Poland, Hungary, and Romania, who all accepted his proposal, but unfortunately, the British government vetoed the plan, rendering it obsolete.
Nonetheless, Jabotinsky continued to travel around Europe, begging Jews to immigrate to the Land of Israel. When the WWII broke out, he was active in England and America in trying to establish a Jewish army to fight alongside the Allies against the Nazis.
On August 4, 1940, while visiting a Betar camp in America, Jabotinsky had a heart attack and died. His legacy as one of the greatest Zionist leaders lives on to this day, so much so that there are more streets, parks and squares named after him in Israel than any other figure in Jewish or Israeli history.
Michael Levin
Michael Levin was a lone soldier in the IDF that was killed during the Second Lebanon War. Levin was born in Philadelphia, and at age 19, decided to leave all his friends and family behind and make Aliyah to enlist as a lone soldier in Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers Brigade.
Michael got special permission during the summer of 2006 to fly back to America and visit his family, but while he was in America he heard of the outbreak of the war and flew straight back to Israel to join his friends in combat. On August 1, his battalion came under direct fire and Michael was shot along with two other soldiers. He was 21 years old.
When Michael was in the army, he often expressed his dream that one day lone soldiers would have a place where they could go and receive help, support, meals and advice. In 2009, the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin was founded and has since helped thousands of lone soldiers throughout the country.
The Founding of Rishon LeZion
Rishon LeZion was one of the first modern Jewish settlements established in the Land of Israel. The name Rishon LeZion, literally meaning “First to Zion,” was taken from a passage in the Book of Isaiah: “We are the first to Zion and will bring good tidings to Jerusalem.”
Pioneers from Ukraine founded Rishon LeZion on July 31, 1882, and hoped to earn a livelihood by working the land and growing crops. However, the inexperienced pioneers met hardships and were unable to overcome the rough conditions.
The settlers decided to reach out to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who answered their pleas by sending money and experts who helped the people find water and cultivate the land.
Backed by Baron Rothschild, Rishon LeZion flourished and attracted many notable Zionist pioneers: David Ben-Gurion worked at the Carmel Winery (one of the first modern wineries in the Land of Israel) and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda taught Hebrew in the first modern Hebrew school.
Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, was written by Naftali Tzvi Imber while visiting Rishon LeZion, and the first Israeli flag was unfurled in a procession marking the settlement's third anniversary.
With a population of over 230,000, Rishon LeZion is currently Israel’s fourth largest city and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.