Did you know that the first JNF blue box was Theodor Herzl’s hat?

In 1901, with the circulation of Herzl’s own top hat at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, the first pushke was created, and Jewish National Fund was founded. The declarative slogan Im Tirtzu — “If you will it, it is no dream” — became the clarion call for Zionists around the world, and the process of turning a dream into a reality had begun.

The world has never been the same since.

This month we will witness a special jubilee year as Israel celebrates her 70th birthday.

At 70 years old, Israel is more than twice as old as I (and JNF is 3½ times as old as I am). As a student of history, I’m fascinated by how interwoven everything truly is, and the more I learn about the symbiotic relationship between JNF and Israel, the more clearly I see JNF for what it is: a nation-builder.

Did you know that Jewish National Fund was started with the sole intention of buying and developing land in Ottoman-controlled Palestine?

From 1901 to 1948, the organization charted a course that was envisioned by Herzl and carried out by his ardent followers, purchasing the first tract of land in 1903 and owning 12.3 percent of all the land of Israel by 1948. Trees were planted by the tens of thousands, building both physical and metaphorical roots in an effort to make the desert bloom.

When I lived in Israel from 2012 to 2014, I met a distant relative who was part of the first Jewish resettlement of Be’er Sheva in the British Mandate period. It’s funny to think that my great-grandfather’s cousin may have lived on land purchased by JNF. She could have planted a tree as a child that is still growing there today.

After the establishment of the state, the Israeli government began selling absentee lands to JNF, and it quickly became clear that owning the land was one thing, while managing it and making it work for the people who lived there was something entirely different.

When Theodor Herzl passed his top hat around the Fifth Zionist Congress, he launched the fundraising that helped JNF buy 12.3 percent of the land of Israel by 1948.

With the help of numerous on-the-ground partners in Israel, JNF shifted its modus operandi from land purchases to land reclamation and development. Jewish National Fund became embedded in Israeli society while remaining true to its original mission as a caretaker for the land and people of Israel.

The roots had taken hold, and the saplings had turned into forests.

As we approach Yom HaAtzmaut, Jewish National Fund is as relevant as ever. One of the things that differentiate JNF from other organizations is its ability to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the country it serves. Thanks in part to dynamic and revolutionary leadership, Jewish National Fund is so much more than just trees and blue boxes and has become deeply entrenched in everything Israel.

Did you know that JNF focuses on seven areas that have been prioritized as necessary for the long-term survival and growth of the country? Community building, forestry and green innovations, disabilities and special needs, heritage site preservation, research and development, education and advocacy, and water solutions.

JNF is equipping Israel, its people and the world with the tools for success.

Herzl dreamed big in 1901 when he started collecting funds, and he would be proud to witness Israel today on the eve of her 70th birthday. At JNF, we always dream big, and the future for Israel is bright and beautiful.

I hope you’ll join me Thursday, April 19, at the Buckhead Theatre for our Israel@70 Platinum Jubilee to celebrate all that we have accomplished over the years. Tickets can be purchased at www.jnf.org/atlisrael70.

Become a part of something special and let Jewish National Fund be your voice in Israel.

 

Evan Alberhasky is the Atlanta campaign executive for Jewish National Fund.