RISHON LE-ZION (Heb. רִאשׁוֹן לְצִיּוֹן, "First in Zion"), city in central Israel, 7 mi. (12 km.) S.E. of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, founded in 1882 by ten pioneers from Russia headed by Z.D. *Levontin. The name Rishon le-Zion is based on Isaiah 41:27.
In acquiring the first 835 acres (3,340 dunams) of land for their village, the settlers were aided by Ḥayyim *Amzalak, then the British vice consul in Jaffa. It was the first settlement established by pioneers from outside Ereẓ Israel. In the first year of its existence, the population grew to 100 when *Bilu pioneers joined the village after receiving some agricultural training at *Mikveh Israel. Their experience, however, was still insufficient and their sparse means were almost totally spent on the cost of the land and on primary investments. They soon faced a grave crisis. A particular difficulty was the lack of water, as attempts to find water in shallow wells had failed and drinking water had to be hauled from Mikveh Israel in a camel-drawn carriage. As a last resource, the settlers in 1883 sent an emissary, Yosef *Feinberg, to enlist the aid of Jewish communities in Europe. He met Baron Edmond de *Rothschild, whose first contribution, F25,000 (francs), was utilized to drill a deep well. Subsequently, Baron Rothschild maintained the settler families and after a review of the village's farming program, introduced fruit growing, especially wine grapes, instead of grain cultivation. He sent agronomists and administrators to Rishon le-Zion, but a fresh crisis arose when the administrators regarded the settlers as hired workers and stifled their initiative. The vine strains brought from southern France proved unsuitable and the grapes had no market. Part of the vineyards were therefore replaced by almond plantations. The situation gradually improved after 1889, when the large Carmel Oriental wine cellars were installed by Baron Rothschild. The world's first Hebrew kindergarten and elementary school were opened here in the 1880s. The moshavah's holdings gradually expanded to 3,225 acres (12,900 dunams) in 1907 with a population of 500 in 1897, and 2,130 in 1917. Immigration from Eastern Europe and *Yemen brought additional Jewish laborers. Citrus groves became the principal farming branch. During World War I, the Turkish governor, in appreciation of the village's achievements in reclaiming formerly barren terrain, ordered an area of 5,000 acres (20,000 dunams) of sand dunes stretching from Rishon le-Zion west to the seashore to be annexed to its boundaries. This transfer was endorsed by the British administration in 1921. Aside from the dunes, the village area grew to 4,250 acres (17,000 dunams) in 1932. In 1922 the moshavah received municipal council status. In the 1930s, industrial enterprises (silicate bricks, beer, and razor blades) were set up. By 1948 Rishon le-Zion had 10,500 inhabitants. Considerable land reserves, a rich groundwater table and the nearby Tel Aviv conurbation favorably influenced Rishon le-Zion's further expansion. In 1950, it was given city status, and its population continued to increase rapidly, attaining 46,500 by 1970. By that time it had one of the country's largest municipal terrains with a total of 17 sq. mi. (44 sq. km.). Industry expanded while farming still played a role in the city's economy. By the mid-1990s, the population of Rishon le-Zion was approximately 154,300 and in 2002 it was 211,600, making it the fourth largest city in Israel, with its land area now increased to 23 sq. mi. (60 sq. km.) as the city expanded to the west and many business areas spread throughout. Most residents found work in the Tel Aviv conurbation. Rishon le-Zion is considered one of the most congested cities in Israel.