The Jewish National Fund, a.k.a. Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, was founded 122 years ago yesterday, on 19 Tevet 5661 (January 21, 1901 – it was on Shabbat) to buy and develop land in what later became Mandatory Palestine, and subsequently Israel, for Jewish settlement. KKL-JNF is a non-profit organization that by 2007 owned 13% of the total land in Israel.
That’s a lot of non-profit. Even when Filmmaker Woody Allen confessed to stealing money from the JNF box in his anti-Israel NY Times op-ed many years ago.
Since its inception, the JNF planted more than 240 million trees in Israel, built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 250,000 acres of land, and established more than 1,000 parks. It was awarded the Israel Prize in 2002 for its contribution to society and the State of Israel.
But for many of us who grew up either in Israel or the West, JNF had a steady presence in our classroom environment via the blue box, and once a week, usually on Fridays, we’d be asked to drop our pennies in it, to support the Zionist dream.
The Blue Box continues to be a symbol of Jewish renewal in Eretz Israel, and to honor it, KKL-JNF re-published a series of historic images connecting the fund with Jewish children.