First Steps

One month after the First Zionist Congress authorized the establishment of JNF, Kremenezky was appointed to head it and he set to work with a will.

Born in Odessa in 185% Kremenezky had left Russia at an early age for Vienna, where he studied the then new field of electrical engineering and started a factory for electrical products that soon did very well, when word of Hibat Zion reached Vienna, he was among the earliest members of the local chapter. He was also one of the first people before whom Herzl, also of Vienna, propounded his idea for a world Zionist movement. Indeed, an entry in Herzl's diary in 1896 notes three of Kremenzky's proposals: that a chemical industry be set up on the shores of the Dead Sea, that the country be supplied with electricity from hydro-electric plants, and that afforestation be undertaken as part of a broad national endeavor.

Kremenezky embodied the fervor of East European Jewry and the practicality of western Jews. He had been very taken with Schapira's idea of a Jewish national fund and his first act as chairman was to set up a head office in Vienna and look for ways to publicize it among Zionists and make it a popular mass institution to raise funds for the implementation of its aims.

He initiated the Golden Book which records special moments in the lives of inscribers, or those they wish honored - paid inscriptions which to this day remain a coveted badge throughout the Jewish world. He also began publishing JNF stamps, the proceeds of which went to the fund. These stamps were affixed to official Zionist documents as well as personal letters, to business letters and even love letters, and many people collected them. The first stamp was issued in 1902 and showed the Star of David and the name "Zion."


 Over the years thousands of JNF stamps have been issued, bearing the portraits of famous personalities or the pictures of projects undertaken in Palestine and they were even used as the official postage of the nascent State of Israel in 1948. A JNF stamp had served as legal tender earlier still. ln 1909, the Petah Tikvah post office won the permission of the Austrian government to issue a stamp for the Austrian postal service. It was issued with the consent of the JNF which benefited from half its revenue, the other half going to Petah Tikvah's communal coffers. Its circulation however lasted only a year - until the Turkish authorities got wind of it, and stopped it.

The blue boxes forged a link of love between Diaspora Jewry and the land of Israel, and between those living there and the idea of redeeming the land.

Kremenezky also adopted the suggestion of a small-town Galician bank-clerk, Haim Kleinman, who had written to the Zionist movement's newspaper "Die Welt' about placing a collection box in every Jewish home so that contributions could be made to the Jewish National Fund at every opportunity.

This simple idea had it had its roots in hundreds of years of Jewish tradition which had seen a Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness collection box in every home. But, unlike the Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness boxes, JNF's "blue boxes" - so called because of their color - were not meant to support the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, but to redeem the land itself. Herzl took one of the first for his study, where it can still be seen today in his room on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl.

The money generated in this way for JNF was always only a small part of its income, but the real significance of the blue boxes was in the link of love they forged between Diaspora Jewry and the land of Israel, as well as to those living there - especially children - and the idea of redeeming the land. In the period between the two world wars, about one million blue boxes were to be found in Jewish homes throughout the world.



It was Kremenezky, too, who decided that all contributions to JNF large and small alike, be publicized in "Die Welt'. This was largely the work of Alexander von Eis, whom Herzl had appointed administrative head of the JNF office in Vienna. Von Eis was a Jewish aristocrat and major-general (the highest rank ever attained by a Jew in the Austrian army). He had served in the army for many years, but had resigned his commission when it was indicated to him that he should convert to Christianity if he wished to rise higher still.

The idea of JNF caught the imagination of tens of thousands of people throughout the Disapora, from the smallest East European shtetl to the largest American metropolis.

Community functionaries, leaders and ordinary people organized campaigns and balls, assemblies and meetings on behalf of JNF. Menahem Ussishkin, leader of Hovevei Zion in Ekaterinoslav, who had already made a name for himself among the Zionists of Russia, was among the first to enlist in JNF's ranks and achieved immediate results.



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31 Jul 2007 / 16 Av 5767 0