April 28, 2010
In the past, there had been a modest sign on this building about an event connected to the birth of the Zionist movement that said, “Dr. Binyamin Zeev Herzl lived in this building when he visited the land of Israel in 1898.
150 Years after Herzl's Birth KKL-JNF Continues to Realize his Vision
There is one small thing that Dr. Theodore Herzl, who is rightly called the father of the modern state of Israel, did not envision. On the strip of luxury shops known today as Alrov Avenue, which was built on the ruins of Mamilla in Jerusalem, there is a bookstore where it is still possible to obtain an elegant copy of Herzl's book, Altneuland (literally, Old-New Land), translated from German. The store is located in a renovated building, which, at the end of the 19th century, was the home of the Stern family. Many Jerusalemites still remember the original, simple building from before the Six Day War, which stood near the high concrete wall that spanned the width of Mamilla Street, protecting passersby from the bullets of Jordanian snipers positioned on the walls of the Old City.
In the past, there had been a modest sign on this building about an event connected to the birth of the Zionist movement that said, “Dr. Binyamin Zeev Herzl lived in this building when he visited the land of Israel in 1898.” One hundred and twelve years after this visit, during which Herzl hoped to obtain support from Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany for the idea of establishing a Jewish state, many of the bookstore's customers are unaware of this chapter in the history of the building that became an integral part of Jerusalem 2010.
Herzl Founds KKL-JNF
The spirit of Herzl accompanied the Zionist movement from its first day, and unlike other central figures who played a major part in the rebirth of the people of Israel in their land, his vision has remained foremost in our consciousness until this day, so many years after it became clear that he was correct in saying, “If you will it, it is no dream.” The first Jewish bank, which he founded, eventually became Bank Leumi LeIsrael (literally, the National Bank of Israel). The German language newspaper which he founded, Die Welt (literally, The World), was, in his trustworthy hands, an invaluable media tool for publicizing the idea of the Jewish nation returning to its land. Herzl, who was a journalist, an author, and a lawyer with a PhD in law, was born in Budapest, but emigrated to Vienna with his family when he was a boy. He completed his law studies in Vienna but did not work in his profession because of policies that prevented Jews from practicing law. He dedicated himself to literary writing and journalism, and he was a correspondent in Paris and in London.
Life in Vienna, and life as a journalist in France during the Dreyfus Trial, was rife with anti-Semitism and this led him to contemplate a solution for the Jewish nation. Scholars disagree about it to this day, but in 1896, when Herzl published his book The Jewish State, it became the basis for political Zionist and endorsed enlisting international support for establishing a Jewish homeland. This approach clashed with the approach of “Practical Zionism” promoted by Menachem Ussishkin and his associates, who sought to establish facts on the ground by emigrating to Israel and settling it. Herzl took the first wise and obvious step, and in 1897 convened the First Zionist Congress with the aim of consolidating all the forces of the lovers of Zion towards actualizing the establishment of a Jewish State.
Four years later, during the Fifth Zionist Congress, the path toward establishing a thriving Zionist enterprise began, and from then until today, its business is realizing the Zionist vision of Theodore Herzl. We are referring, of course, to Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael - Jewish National Fund. The spirit behind the establishment of the Fund was Yona Kremnetzky, Herzl’s personal secretary, who sought to establish a fund for raising money in the Jewish world for redeeming the lands of Israel as preparation for Jewish settlement. Kremnetzky and Herzl struggled at the Zionist Congress with several prominent Jewish leaders who were opposed to establishing the fund for redeeming lands. Kremnetzky was also the one who came up with the idea of the “Blue Box,” which became a Zionist symbol in Jewish communities worldwide, as well as in Israel. Only one year ago, one of the most unique blue boxes was brought to KKL-JNF headquarters in Jerusalem. It was one of the first created in Europe by the German-Jewish artist Leopold Fleischhacker and it was made of bronze. It was brought to KKL-JNF Israel by a grandson of Yona Kremnetzky, John, who also brought some old photographs of Theodore Herzl’s wife Julia and his sister Paulina, which were inscribed to Yona Kremnetzky.
Hulda Forest and Herzl House
In 1902, Kremnetzky was voted to be the first chairman of KKL-JNF, and his name has been commemorated three times in KKL-JNF's Golden Book, one of them with Dr. Theodore Herzl's signature. With the initial funds collected from philanthropists and simple people all over the world, the Fund purchased lands in the region of today’s Hulda Forest, and there, after Herzl’s demise in 1904, the first olive groves and vineyards were planted, which were supposed to constitute a basis for the livelihood of Jewish immigrants. The first experimental agricultural farm of its kind was also established there, with its main building serving as the residence of the farm's director. Today it is known as "Herzl House" and it tells the story of KKL-JNF from its inception, and the roles of Herzl and Kremnetzky in the organization’s establishment. Today, after being restored with a contribution of Friends of KKL-JNF from the USA and Canada, the house serves as an information and educational center about the beginnings of KKL-JNF activities
In order to maintain ownership of the lands that were bought, the first pines and cypress trees planted in the land of Israel. With the help of the Blue Box and KKL-JNF stamps, the organization continued to raise money for the redemption of lands, whether on the Coastal Plain near the older settlements, the Jezreel Valley or in the Galilee.
After planting the olive grove, one year after his death in 1904, the first trees to commemorate Herzl were planted in the Ben Shemen Forest, which is one of the largest recreation and leisure sites in central Israel. In 1908, the first Jewish neighborhoods started being built north of Jaffa, the city where Herzl’s ship had anchored ten years earlier. The name of the first Hebrew city was soon chosen – Tel Aviv – a Hebrew rendition of Herzl’s book Altneuland (Old-New Land).
Herzl's Cedar and KKL-JNF Afforestation Project
On their first night in Israel, Herzl and the members of his mission stayed in Rishon Letzion. The local residents danced for Herzl, and the famous orchestra of Rishon Letzion played for the guests. From Rishon Letzion the group proceeded to Mikve Israel and from there to Nes Ziona. “I had to visit almost every house in the village,” Herzl wrote in his memoirs about the warm reception. In Rehovot, Herzl was welcomed by a mounted brigade. “The members of the mission and I looked at those riders with tears in our eyes.” In the village of Motza, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, “I planted a cedar tree on the slope of Broza’s plot, and Wolfson planted a palm sapling. A few Arabs assisted us as did the settlers Broza and Katz. We returned to Jerusalem late at night,” Herzl wrote in his diary.
Purchasing lands for settlement and development by KKL-JNF was, in its very first stages, in the “footprints” of Herzl in Israel. First it was the land of the "older" villages, which Herzl visited and described with great amazement, although they were only 8 to 10 years old at the time. Within several decades, lands were purchased all over the land of Israel, until, at the peak of its activity, KKL-JNF possessed more than 13% of all of the area which is now the area of the State of Israel. The Ben Shemen Forest, the Hulda Forest, and the Balfour Forest in the lower Galilee, were emblematic of the great afforestation enterprise, which brought the color green back to the areas of today’s state, covering extensive areas that had been made desolate by hundreds of years of exploiting the natural resources of the land by its conquerors.
In the beginning of the 1930s, Theodore Herzl’s image and vision had already become brand names for the Zionist movement. A withered postcard found among the possessions of Wolff – Zeev Baron, of blessed memory, gives an idea of the scope of KKL-JNF activities inspired by Herzl. On its back, the postcard shows a wood carving of Theodore Herzl. On the front of the postcard, which bears a stamp and a postmark of the German postal service from July 1931, it says, "Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of the modern Palestine movement,” and at the base of the front of the postcard it says, “Herzl's forests are an eternal memorial. 1,250,000 trees, which have been planted thanks to voluntary contributions (one tree = 6 marks), are already giving shade and coolness to the formerly arid hills of Palestine.”
The postcard was sent by one of the major activists of the Hechalutz (Pioneer) movement, Isa Dimenstein, to his friend Wolff (Zeev) Baron, a member of the Hechalutz organization’s branch in city of Danzig (today, Gdansk, Poland). Both of them are not with us any longer, but the postcard survived as an additional historical souvenir of Zionist activism and of KKL-JNF activities, which were a result of the ideas and great energies invested by Theodore Herzl in promoting the Zionist movement.
In its first decades, KKL-JNF devoted most of its efforts towards greening the country through afforestation, but in more recent decades, the organization has begun to focus its efforts in additional areas, in accordance with the needs of the people and the land: land preparation, agricultural infrastructure, the struggle against desertification, constructing reservoirs to assist Israel’s water economy, and river restoration. The huge scope of KKL-JNF activities in these areas gave the organization its reputation as the largest “green” organization in Israel, and the organization is now popular in many countries throughout the world, who are coping with similar environmental issues to those Israel faces. As a result of KKL-JNF’s involvement with higher academic institutions in the field of agricultural and environmental research, it has achieved international scientific acclaim and productive bi-lateral collaborations in various fields of research. This collaboration has at present begun with the issues of restoration and rehabilitation of water sources (with the Alberta and Manitoba provinces of Canada), in matters related to fighting pests in wood production forests (with Australia, India, China, Turkey, some countries in Africa, even Brazil), and in the field of agricultural research, finding the right vegetable and fruit species for difficult climatic and soil conditions.
In KKL-JNF’s 109 years of existence, the organization’s leaders have not forgotten the conclusive role played by the founder of modern Zionism in establishing the organization. KKL-JNF personnel can presently be found almost everywhere in the world where there is a Jewish community. Along with the Blue Box, which two years ago was reintroduced to Israel's school system as part of Zionist heritage education, the person of Dr. Theodore Herzl’s is at the top of KKL-JNF's conceptual and practical pyramid.
But this is not the only reason why KKL-JNF is celebrating Theodore Herzl’s 150th birthday with so much pride. Herzl's legacy is also the small details of his life and way of living, and KKL-JNF is proud to take responsibility for these items in the State of Israel in 2010. For example, At a KKL-JNF Independence Day event, a company offered a large financial prize to anyone who could find Herzl’s bicycle. A photo depicting Herzl standing alongside his bicycle has been shown in the center of one of KKL-JNF’s new projects for the benefit of the public - forging bicycle paths in forests all over Israel. In the 19th century, Herzl had started commuting by bicycle in his daily life and was once quoted as saying, “A bicycle gives a person new life.” Since KKL-JNF started the first paths with help of its friends worldwide, bicycle riding for families and as a sport has developed rapidly throughout the country, and it now includes thousands of families that use the scenic trails prepared for this purpose by KKL-JNF.
Continuity in realizing Theodore Herzl’s dream is the guiding light of KKL-JNF activities in all the fields the organization is active in. It certainly is not just a dream or a legend, because even though most legends have a happy ending, they still end. At KKL-JNF, as everywhere in Israel, people want to continue building. On Independence Day, on Mount Herzl, the “Journey in Herzl’s Footprints,” was concluded. KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler participated in this journey, whose aim was to make people more aware of places and central events in the life of the man who envisioned the founding of a utopian, productive Jewish state, mainly agricultural. His vision did not include the violent opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel on the part of the Arabs living in the Middle East. Neither did he foresee wars, just as he could not imagine that the anti-Semitism he had witnessed and that led him to begin thinking in the direction of political Zionism, would bring the worst of horrors upon the Jewish nation only 35 years after his death.
During the 62nd year of Israel’s independence, Dr. Theodore Herzl will be central to the events. A series of three special stamps has been printed in honor of Herzl’s 150th birthday, combining his famous silhouette on the balcony of the hotel in Basel with him seeing pictures of aliya, agriculture, cities and the joy of building the land.
109 years have passed since Theodore Herzl stood on the stage of the Fifth Zionist Congress, which had just rejected the motion of Yona Kremnetzky to establish Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and said, “We mustn’t adjourn after having accomplished nothing, after years of seeking a way to establish this national fund. We do not wish to adjourn once again without creating this enterprise. Do you want us to launch the activities of the Keren Kayemeth immediately, or not? It is your prerogative to decide to postpone establishing this fund for another two years or until the days of the messiah.” Encouraged by the applause of the audience attending the congress, Herzl had a vote taken, which determined that “the fund is the property of the entire Jewish people.” 195 were in favor, 82 opposed, and thus, at seven forty in the evening, on the 29th of December 1901, the 19th of Tevet, 5662, Herzl could declare that “the Jewish National Fund has been established.”
Since then, KKL-JNF's footprints can be seen everywhere in Israel, in ongoing activities for preservation of the land and its development on behalf of man and his environment for generations to come.