As an oppressed minority and rootless for centuries, Jews went from place to place seeking temporary refuge until living conditions became intolerable.
Intolerance and indifference catalyzed Zionism into a national movement. In the 19th and 20th centuries anti-Semitism reached historic levels in Europe and in Middle Eastern Muslim lands, further propelling the Jewish quest for a state. Jews repeatedly asked the question, “Do we go or do we stay?” It became as common a refrain as observing the Jewish calendar. For Zionism to succeed, it required an educated population capable of building and sustaining a state.
Most Jews did not choose Zionism, so the state evolved slowly during the first half of the 20th century. Waves of immigrants came in bursts from eastern and western Europe, Middle Eastern countries, Russia, and Ethiopia. Absorbing immigrants to shape a national center was always a national chore as the state became a haven for Jews in need and in crisis. In 1882, there were barely 24,000 Jews in Palestine. By 1948 when the state was established, there were 650,000 Jews. In 2019, there are more than nice million Israelis—including the Israeli-Arab population—comprising more than half of the world’s Jewish population.