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  • Young Israeli volunteers help teach young students at summer school. Because of their migrant background, they are in danger of falling behind. These volunteer programmes help to prevent this from happening. | Photo: Flash90
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A State Built on Charity

Ruben Ridderhof - 2 January 2020

At the base of every nation are the aspirations of people with a shared vision. Like the idealism of the American founding fathers, but also the national aspirations of the Kosovars, for example. Zionism, the national aspiration of the Jews, is such a vision as well. Achieving that vision would not have been possible without the Jewish value of charity.

At the base of every nation are the aspirations of people with a shared vision.

Zionism emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century and, like many other emancipation movements at the time, matured at the beginning of the twentieth century. Jewish pioneers had already moved to Palestine in smaller numbers from about 1850. At that time Palestine was still part of the great Ottoman Empire. To live in Palestine, money was needed. The Jews bought land from Arab landowners and established small settlements there. From there they began to develop the land, which at that time was either very dry or swampy. As Zionism gained momentum, resistance increased as well, and the need arose to defend themselves against hostile Arabs. It took huge investments to make the land fertile and profitable. The Jews who had moved to Eretz Israel, the ‘Land of Israel’ as pioneers, could not pay these costs themselves. That’s why they called on their friends and family in Europe to support them. That support turned out to be huge.

Jews were not the only ones being charitable when the state of Israel was founded. This photo from 1949 shows how local Arabs came to help the Jews with the construction of kibbutz Yasu, near Akko. | Photo: GPO


Jewish National Fund

As Zionism gained more momentum, it also became more organised. In 1901, the Jewish National Fund was established, an organisation that bought land in Palestine so that Jews could settle there. Afforestation projects and agricultural businesses were also set up through the Jewish National Fund.

Where did all that money come from? The Jewish National Fund would organise events where they would talk about Zionism and its progress in Eretz Israel. In addition, they distributed donation boxes that were placed in people’s homes, as well as in Jewish institutions. Hundreds of thousands of Jews all over the world were saving and raising money for the Jewish National Fund, and in that way giving wings to Zionism.

Keren Hayesod
In 1920 a new organisation was added: Keren Hayesod, “The Foundation Fund”. In addition to the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod used the funds that were raised to lay the groundwork of the Jewish State as it was being formed. For example, these funds were used to establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the first Israeli bank. Keren Hayesod was also committed to housing refugees from Germany following the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. After the establishment of the Jewish Agency in 1929, Keren Hayesod became its fundraising arm.

Helping each other, charity, is part of Israel’s DNA.

Helping Each Other
When the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, it was the result of the dedication of countless people who gave unconditionally from a value of helping and loving your neighbour.

A donation box for the Jewish National Fund. | Photo: Jewish Museum Sydney

And this value of charity did not end there, but only flourished in the Jewish State. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Arab world have found refuge in Israel. The Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund have continued and are still to this day committed to helping new Jewish immigrants with great love and dedication, welcoming them with language learning programs, and finding work and housing. It doesn’t matter where they come from. Eastern Europe, India, Ethiopia. Everyone is being helped because helping each other, charity, is part of Israel’s DNA.

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