HENRIETTA SZOLD visited Israel in 1909. She returned to America with a mission to raise money to build a hospital for the Yishuv, wanting to ensure the health and education for its people. Szold, along with six other women, founded Hadassah. She also was a staunch supporter and advocate for a binational solution.
This steady monetary support was a real expression of ideological support, and more importantly, of a partnership between the Zionists in the land and Zionists abroad.
At the beginning of WWI, the Joint (The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) was established, initially to aide Jews living under Turkish rule in Palestine. It began by sending 900 tons of food and medicine but eventually, after the war, was sending various kinds of help for the establishment of economic, social and cultural reform.
PICA was founded in 1924 (reconstructed from the JCA), and run by Baron de Rothschild’s son, James Armand de Rothschild. By 1930, PICA had acquired 5,200 hectares (about 12,000 acres) in different areas. It had set up 50 settlements of different types – villages, kibbutzim, moshavim and towns. PICA assisted rural settlements as well as developing or financing economic enterprises such as wineries, the Palestine Electric Company and Nesher Cement. PICA also drained swamps, giving the land thus redeemed to existing or newly founded rural settlements there. In 1934, PICA purchased the Hula Valley. After the foundation of the state, PICA gifted all of its land to Israel’s government.
Keren HaYesod was established at the World Zionist Congress in London in 1920. Its purpose was to provide the Zionist movement with resources needed for the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel. It was meant to help plant the financial seeds needed to create a national homeland for the Jewish people. Keren HaYesod established fund-raising organizations all around the world. Some of the many fruits of its labor include the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bank HaPoalim.
The United Jewish Appeal (UJA) was established as a Jewish philanthropic umbrella organization in 1939, in order to help Jews abroad and in Palestine.
There are of course plenty other examples of philanthropy during this pivotal time, of organizations, movements and individuals. In trying to understand the mold and pattern of such Jewish philanthropy, one can simply look at how philanthropy and tzedaka, or charity, are rooted so deeply in the history of the culture and religion of the Jews. It is more than just a good deed (which Jews and non-Jews alike value). It is considered a basic mitzvah, an obligation according to Jewish law, halacha: “Tzedaka is equal to all the other commandments combined” (Baba Batra, 9a). Tzedaka is not only what makes the world go round; it is what makes the world stand: “Great is tzedaka, for since the day that the world was created until this day the world stands upon tzedaka” (Midrash Tanna d’Vei Eliyahu Zutta 1).
Tzedaka, or philanthropy, is a form of social justice, bridging the giver and receiver. As is generally the case with social justice, this significant civil responsibility cannot simply be done to someone or for someone. Rather, it must be done with someone. There is no better example of this than the example of the State of Israel. As I survey this mass of fascinating documents, I am bearing witness to the ultimate proof of partnership. Using the funds and support of generous philanthropists, we were able, together, to build a state, and with that, a future.