From its inception, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was charged with the task of fundraising in Jewish communities for the purpose of purchasing land in Eretz Yisrael to create a homeland for the Jewish people. JNF’s signature Blue Boxes, which were used to collect the necessary funds, are now known worldwide as a symbol of Zionism. JNF’s work is evident in every facet of life in Israel, from beautiful forests to vital reservoirs to the innovative farming techniques being used on kibbutzim throughout the nation. This exhibit traced the development of the Jewish state in the art of the JNF during the 1950s and 60s-an art meant to document the progress of the JNF’s project as well as aid fundraising efforts worldwide.
What is the Jewish National Fund?
It is the dream fulfilled of a group of people who were delegates to the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1901. Previous congresses debated over purchasing land for Jewish settlement in Ottoman Empire-controlled Palestine, but no practical steps had been taken. Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist, was determined to take action to establish a national fund. He gave a speech at the Fifth Congress that inspired the delegates, who passed a motion that created the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) (JNF-KKL). The Fund was “the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” The JNF’s first undertaking was to collect £200,000 to be used to build the foundations of a Jewish state. Headquarters were moved to Jerusalem, and the task of raising awareness and funds for land purchases began.
The JNF created the Golden Book, which records special moments in the lives of inscribers with paid inscriptions, which to this day remain an honored tradition throughout the Jewish world. This item was not greatly successful, and Yona Krementzky, head of the JNF, adopted the “Blue Box” idea. The idea came from a small-town bank clerk, Haim Kleinman, who suggested that a collection box be placed in every Jewish home so that contributions could be made to JNF at every opportunity.
Over the next 50 years, the Jewish National Fund would purchase land throughout Palestine, land that would one day become the State of Israel. Jews from around the world collected spare change in tin “Blue Boxes” so that one day a return to the Homeland would be possible. The “Blue Box” itself came to be seen as a symbol of Zionism, and it was distributed in Jewish communities everywhere.
How was the dream of the JNF realized?
The JNF made its first purchases from 1903-1905, and spent its first decade involved in land purchases, establishing the first modern Jewish city, Tel Aviv, acquiring land for the first collective community (known today as kibbutzim), and pioneering education programs for European immigrants.
In 1927, the JNF’s purchases totaled 50,000 acres of land on which 50 communities stood, which increased to 89,500 acres and 108 communities by 1935. Planting began for Balfour Forest near Kibbutz Ginegar, and for Mishmar HaEmek Forest.
Throughout the three years between the end of World War II and the proclamation of the Jewish State, the JNF continued its remarkable activities: afforestation, land reclamation, and assistance to communities.
On May 14, 1948, with the withdrawal of the British forces ending the League of Nations-United Nations Mandate, the decision was made to proclaim Israel’s independence. The Jewish population of the State of Israel numbered 650,000, in 305 towns. Two hundred and thirty-three of these towns stood on JNF land.
After statehood, the JNF continued to build and enlarge communities and plant new forests, were which eventually opened as parks for public use. Water conservation and irrigation projects became an important focus during the 1980s, along with building infrastructure for growing tourism.
Since its founding in 1901, the JNF has been committed to building for Israel’s future as well as responding in times of crisis and need. A vital part of Zionist history, the JNF achieved its goal of purchasing the land that would become the State of Israel, then helped to develop that land into a thriving nation.