December 29, 1901
The idea for a national fund to finance land acquisition in Palestine predated the Zionist movement. It was first proposed by Rabbi Judah Alkalai, leader of the Jewish community in Zemun on the outskirts of Belgrade, some fifty years earlier. In 1884, at the first meeting of the Hovevei Zion group in Katowice (see: https://israeled.org/first-gathering-of-the-hovevei-zion/), the idea was again proposed by Hermann Schapira, a Lithuanian-born rabbi and lecturer in mathematics at Heidelberg University in Germany.
At the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Schapira proposed the idea yet again. The idea was tabled when Max Bodenheimer (see: https://israeled.org/max-bodenheimer/), a lawyer from Cologne, Germany insisted that a Jewish bank should be established before a land fund. The First Congress passed a resolution stating, “The assembly declares that in principle it regards as essential the creation of a national fund and the establishment of a Jewish bank and to these ends, the Actions Committee to be elected present to the next Congress a carefully prepared plan.” At each of the successive three congresses, the creation of a national land fund was postponed. Despite his position at the First Zionist Congress, Bodenheimer become the second leader of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1907.
The Jewish Colonial Trust bank was approved at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898 and was incorporated in 1899 (see: https://israeled.org/jewish-colonial-trust-incorporated-london/). At the Fifith Zionist Congress, after the delegates had again voted to table the idea of the national fund, Theodor Herzl delivered an impassioned address to the delegates, urging them to take action immediately. The motion passed by a vote of 105 to 82.
The Congress resolved to call the organization the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth L’Israel), and that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole.” The Hebrew name, Keren Kayemeth, comes from a Talmudic teaching about good deeds. The new fund vowed to collect £200,000. The first donation was made by Yona Krementzky, who became JNF’s first chairman in 1902. Krementzky implemented the idea of placing a dedicated JNF tzedakah box in every Jewish home. The second JNF donation was made by Theodor Herzl.
In 1905, the JNF began buying land. Since its inception, the JNF has planted 250 million trees, built over 210 reservoirs and dams, and developed over 250,000 acres of land, in addition to fulfilling other Israeli infrastructure needs.
Photo Credit: JNF’s blue boxes became a major fundraising vehicle for the organization. The idea for the blue box was implemented by JNF’s first Chairman Yona Krementzky.