Menu JTA Search

Palestine, World Jewry Mourn Death of Mayor Dizengoff

More than 10,000 citizens of this all-Jewish city paid homage today at the bier of their mayor, Meier Dizengoff, who died this morning of pneumonia. He was 75.

Government officials sent condolences to the Tel Aviv municipality. High Commissioner Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope telegraphed that he had lost a personal friend and voiced the hope that Dizengoff’s spirit would live forever in the city which, he said, would remain forever a monument to his high qualities.

Other messages were received from Chief Secretary John Hathorn-Hall, judges, consuls and directors of the various Government departments.

Tel Aviv public institutions were closed and flags flew at half-mast as thousands filed past Mr. Dizengoff’s body, which lay in state in the great hall of the Museum, his residence.

Officers of the municipality met in the Museum at five o’clock this morning, forty minutes after the death, and issued an official proclamation to the inhabitants announcing that the funeral would take place at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.

Friends, relatives and city officials were at his bedside when he died. Shortly after midnight, he lost consciousness and was revived with oxygen and an injection. He asked for tea, then lapsed into a coma again.

Mr. Dizongoff was taken ill with pneumonia of the left lung last Saturday, which was later complicated by a cardiac condition. By last night physicians had given up hope for his recovery.

In a generally weakened condition since a serious illness in January, 1935, Mr. Dizengoff was strained by exertions in connection with current Arab disorders.

Mr. Dizengoff, who was a widower, is survived by a niece, Mrs. Averbuch, and a step-niece, Gita Dizengoff.

CAREER LINKED WITH PALESTINE’S GROWTH

Meier Dizengoff’s 30 year career in Palestine was linked with the growth of the Holy Land into a modern, westernized country.

Coming here as a refugee from Russian anti-Semitism, he helped to found Tel Aviv on a sandy tract along the Mediterranean, and watched it spring into a metropolis of 150,000 population–the largest city in Palestine.

Last January, Mr. Dizengoff, impatient with what he called the Government’s “negative attitude” to Tel Aviv’s expanding needs, declined to serve again as mayor, but was drafted.

One of his fondest dreams was realized last May when a seaport was established for the first time at Tel Aviv. It was only a temporary jetty, but to him it signified the beginning of a maritime trade for the Jews. Against the advice of physicians, he left the hospital to attend dedication ceremonies.

For many years, Mr. Dizengoff had turned over his entire salary to projects not municipally financed, such as the Tel Aviv Orchestra, a fire brigade and various public improvements. He was independently wealthy, holding interests in several business enterprises. He acted as consul for several foreign countries, including Belgium.

He was one of the most influential of Jewish leaders in Palestine, a member of the Jewish National Council, the Zionist Council, a former member of the Zionist Executive and a frequent delegate to Zionist congresses. His influence went beyond the borders of Palestine. On a visit to the United States some years ago he succeeded in negotiating a $350,000 loan for his city.

In a sharply-worded letter last August, Mayor Dizengoff charged that the Government’s policy was responsible for the continuation of the current disturbances.

The Levant Fair, bringing together examples of Palestine’s progress in industry and commerce, owned its success largely to Mr. Dizengoff’s efforts. He was chairman of the arrangements committee for the fair.

In connection with the celebration of Mr. Dizengoff’s seventy-fifth birthday last March 10, the Palestine Government allocated $25,000 for creation of a public park in his name called Gan Meier. The British and Yugoslavian governments awarded him decorations.

Meier Dizengoff was born March 10, 1861, in a Bessarabian village. He studied at a local Hebrew school and a yeshivah. Later, when his family moved to Kishineff, he attended a State school and served in the army, reaching the rank of assistant manager of the regimental office and editing the regiment’s newspaper.

While in the army, he became interested in Nihilism. He was arrested and imprisoned for eight months for propagating his views. During this confinement he did considerable reading on the Jewish question, and on his release abandoned Nihilism to enter Jewish public life. Returning to Kishineff, he founded the first Hovevei Zion Society (Lovers of Zion).

After a trip to Palestine in 1891, during which he tried unsuccessfully to establish a glass factory for Baron de Rothschild, Dizengoff returned to Russia to take up the battle against the assimilationist movement among the Jews. In 1905, during the pogroms that followed the first Russian revolution, he left Russia to settle permanently in Palestine.

In the seaport city of Jaffa he laid the foundations for his career. As agent for the Geulah Society he purchased lands that later made possible the founding of Tel Aviv. During the World War, Mr. Dizengoff and other Tel Aviv Jews were banished to Northern Palestine by the Turks. There he undertook relief work and became the spokesman for the exiled Jews, frequently jeopardizing his life by vigorous representations to the government of Jamal Pasha.

With the war ended and Palestine under a British mandate, Tel Aviv experienced a boom and shot up into a great metropolis, the more remarkable because it was the only all-Jewish city in the world. Mayor Dizengoff’s prestige rose in proportion, and the Jewish community came to look to him as a person of great sagacity and business sense. He combined practical genius with idealism.

NEXT STORY