Israel Belkind was born in Byelorussia near Minsk. He received a Hebrew
education from his father, who was a leader in the movement promoting
Hebrew education in Russia. Belkind also attended a Russian gymnasium
and intended to go on to university, but instead became involved in Zionist
activities, which were intensified in the wake of the 1881 pogroms in
On the first of Shvat (January 21, 1882) Belkind invited a group of young
Jews to his home and together they formed the first organized group
promoting settlement in Eretz Yisrael. Originally called Davio, an
acronym for the Hebrew words from Exodus, Speak unto the children of
Israel that they will go forward, Belkind changed the name to Bilu, an
acronym for the words from Isaiah (2:5), Beit Yaakov Lechu V'nelcha,
House of Jacob, come and we will go. He explained the significance of
the change in name: Rather than persuade others to go to Eretz Yisrael, we
have decided to move there ourselves. Shunning diplomatic or political
channels, the group's goal was a practical one: to settle in Eretz Yisrael.
Belkind was the head of the first group of Bilu pioneers, which reached
Eretz Yisrael in July, 1882. He worked first in Mikveh Yisrael and Rishon
LeTzion, and then moved to Gedera, the first official Bilu community.
Belkind, however, did not succeed in adjusting to agricultural labor, and
instead devoted himself to education. He taught first at a private school
in Jaffa, and then moved to Jerusalem to teach at the Alliance Israelite
Universelle. His goals as a teacher were to fuse Jewish values with
practical labor. In 1903 Belkind founded an agricultural school in Shfeya,
near Zikhron Yaakov, for youths orphaned in the Kishinev pogrom, but the
school failed three years later for lack of money.
After 1906, Belkind wandered around Eretz Yisrael and countries abroad,
never really finding a permanent home. He had published several textbooks
while teaching, and continued his work as a writer. He contributed many
articles to contemporary journals and wrote popular articles on history.
He was an editor of HaMeir, a monthly publication on settlement and the
Yishuv, and in the United States during World War I, he published his
memoirs, The First Steps of the Jewish Settlement in Palestine (1918).
In 1928 he published a geographical work in Russian, The Land of Israel
Today. Belkind died in Berlin in 1929 where he had gone to seek medical
treatment, and was later buried in Rishon LeTzion.