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Palestine Mourns Pinchas Rutenberg; Simple Rites Mark Burial on Mount of Olives

January 5, 1942
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Pinchas Rutenberg, Palestine industrialist and longtime leader of the Yishub, who died here yesterday after a long illness, was buried today on the Mount of Olives. Simple traditional rites without flowers or eulogies marked the funeral services, in accordance with his last wishes. The funeral procession proceeded directly from the Hadassah Hospital, where Rutenberg died, to the burial site – “in a modest place among modest Jews,” as Rutenberg’s will directed.

All the Yishub is in mourning today. Messages of condolence poured in from leaders of all factions of Jewish life in Palestine and from the Palestine Administration. In Tel Aviv, a mourning session was held last night and all places of entertainment were closed in his honor.

The Zionist leader fell into a coma at 11 A.M. Friday morning but his actual death agonies did not begin until 9 P.M. James MacPherson, Chief Secretary of the Palestine Government, Eliezer Kaplan, treasurer of the Jewish Agency, Moshe Shertok, the Agency’s political chief, and other prominent Palestine leaders gathered at the dying industrialist’s bedside but he no longer recognized them. On Thursday afternoon Rutenberg had called Kaplan to his home and demanded that Kaplan summon the leaders of all the parties and groups in the Yishub to “sign an immediate peace.” To the end his driving motive was “unification of the Palestine Jewish community.” By the time the leaders summoned by Kaplan had arrived on Friday, however, Rutenberg was in a coma. It is understood that a second will left by him asks that no funds be collected in his name and that no street be named after him.


Famous, primarily, as the man who gave electricity to Palestine, Rutenberg was one of the most colorful figures in world Jewry. He was born in Romany, in the Ukraine, and took an active part in Russia’s revolutionary movement. He first attracted attention when the workers of Petrograd made their famous march on the palace of the Czar, Jan. 8, 1905, under the leadership of a priest named Gapon, who was one of the leaders of the early anti-Czarist revolutionary groups in Russia. He rescued Gapon from the guns of the soldiers and helped him escape. Later he exposed to fellow workers that Gapon was plotting a revolution of his own. They accused the priest of having “defiled the honor of his comrades” who fell on Jan. 9, bound him, and hanged him from a peg in the room where he had tried to talk Rutenberg into joining his revolution.

In 1917, after an interlude in Italy and the United States, during which time his interest in Zionism developed, Rutenberg returned to Russia. He was one of the leading figures in Kerensky’s Provisional Government actively participating in the fight against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. At one time he served as commandant of Petrograd under Kerensky. Later, he was Minister of Police in Odessa. When the Bolsheviks won, Rutenberg departed for Palestine where, as an engineering expert, he embarked on a plan of supplying cheap electric power and light from the falls of the Jordan River below Galilee. The evidence of his amazing ability to get things done is stamped all over the hills and valleys of Palestine.


Occupied as he was with bringing electricity to Palestine, he did not abstain entirely from public work. In 1927, after repeated requests from the Yishub, he became a member of the Vaad Leumi, the Jewish National Council of Palestine. After the riots of 1929, he acted as member of the Palestine Emergency Fund Committee. For a short time, in March 1930, he was a member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.

Retenberg played an important role in combatting the White Paper. It was constantly emphasized in those days that he was the one man, the one dominant figure, outside of all parties, whose word would carry weight with all the parties. In September 1939, soon after the outbreak of the present war, Rutenberg was elected by acclamation as President of the Vaad Leumi. The Yishub needed a “strong man” to lead it in its most trying times, and it was agreed that Rutenberg fitted this description. His election was met with general gratification among all sections of opinion, especially since he was proposed for his new post by Isaac Ben-Zvi, Lacorite leader, who served as the head of the Vaad Leumi until Rutenberg’s acceptance. It was looked upon as a unification of the Yishub for the period of national emergency.

Rutenberg tackled the job, with his usual determination and energy, but resigned after a year’s service, in Sept. 1940, giving illness as the reason. After a silence of weeks, he issued a frank statement to the press which aroused great discussion among Zionists in America and other free countries, revealing that his resignation was actually due to internal dissension.


Among the statements issued, mourning the passing of the Jewish industrialist were those of Mr. MacPherson, Mayor Rokeach of Tel Aviv, and David Remez, president of the central committee of the Histadruth.

MacPherson said: “We mourn today a great man. With the passing of Pinchas Rutenberg Palestine is poorer. He failed in his endeavor to secure unity within the Yishub but we best honor his name by remembering to do what he wanted.”

Remez declared that: “Rutenberg’s creative power has always been near and dear to the Histadruth. He was always praised by the Histadruth for capturing the imagination and awakening the responsibility among Zionists. We will remember forever his last word when he took leave of the Histadruth representative: ‘Even when I have spoken hard words to the Histadruth I did so with love and appreciation.’ He has joined those great figures of the generation, silenced just on the threshold of decisive solutions for the world, for the nation, for the country.”

Mayor Rokach stated: “I am so distressed that I cannot at this moment truly and fully express my feelings. But this is a tremendous loss to the country and the nation.”

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