TEL AVIV (Dec. 11)
The Knesset held a special festive session Tuesday to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish National Fund, which was created in 1901 at the urging of Theodor Herzl.
JNF’s original purpose was to acquire land in Palestine to hold in perpetuity for the Jewish people.
True to form, most of the 120 Knesset members were absent from the chamber, as they usually are unless crucial votes are scheduled or important government statements are to be made.
But the VIP and visitors’ galleries were packed with national figures, led by JNF World Chairman Moshe Rivlin and Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz.
Also present were scores of veteran kibbutzniks and farmers who actually work the land bought by JNF, on which their villages were founded over many decades.
Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky reviewed the history of the JNF since the early discussions at Zionist Congresses before the turn of the century, where Herzl argued the need to establish such an instrument.
It was decided nine decades ago that the JNF buys land for the Jewish people which “may never be sold to private interests but only leased for productive national purposes.”
Knesset members Ya’acov Tsur of the Labor Party and Gideon Gadot of Likud described how the JNF built the infrastructure of the future state under the slogan of “another dunam and yet another dunam.” A dunam equals a quarter acre.
Summing up for the government, Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan, the only minister present, recalled the famous JNF “blue boxes” in Jewish homes all over the world in which funds were collected penny by penny for the purchase of land.
“Children used to put their small coins in the box every Friday,” he said, recalling his boyhood in Tel Adashim.
“But we had no money in those days, and so we each donated one potato for the fund, which was sold to raise the pennies,” Eitan said.
Other speakers noted that in its 90 years, the JNF has purchased more than 250,000 acres of land, now vested in the Jewish people, on which nearly 200 million trees have been planted and hundreds of agricultural settlements founded.