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The first donation to the JNF was made by Johan Kremenezky, a Viennese electrical engineer and industrialist, who had taken on Schapira's role among the delegates as chief lobbyist for the Fund. A month later, at the age of fifty-one, Kremenezky was appointed to head the newly created Jewish National Fund, or Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (KKL), as it is called in Hebrew.[11] Quickly he instituted the three fundraising gimmicks that have been associated with the JNF's remarkable revenues ever since:

  • The “Gold Book” recognizes important events in contributors' lives.

  • JNF stamps, depicting famous sites and personalities, are either collected or used decoratively in correspondence (the stamps were

    even briefly recognized by the Austrian post in 1909 and by the fledgling state of Israel before its post office was organized).

  • The “Blue Boxes,” in use to this day, tapped into centuries of Jewish experience; the so-called “Rabbi Meir Ba'al ha-Ness charity box” had been a fixture in many observant homes in Europe, col-lecting coins to support indigent religious brethren in Palestine. Donations to the new JNF blue boxes, however, went for land re-demption rather than personal handouts.[12]

In fact, the effect of these three fund-raising devices was more symbolic than practical. As with most nonprofit organizations, the majority of the JNF budget has always come from “big donors”[13] or, with the inception of the State, from the payment of user fees on JNF lands.[14] The increasingly ubiquitous JNF blue box, however, raised the consciousness of Jewish com-munities around the world regarding the Fund and its mission. Nothing was more effective than the blue box in giving Jews around the world a sense of involvement with the Yishuv and in making Zionist settlement synonymous with overall Jewish aspirations.

The operational mission of the JNF remained amorphous, however. As early as 1896, Herzl's diary records his friend Kremenezky's enthusiasm for a “national forestry association to plant ten million trees throughout the country” (along with his desire to develop a chemical industry along-side the Dead Sea and hydroelectric plants on the Jordan River).[15] But in retrospect, forestry was a peripheral part of Kremenezky's agenda and re-mained so in the JNF at large until the State of Israel was established. Moreover, prior to World War I, JNF soil reclamation was limited to re-moving stones at Ben Shemen before planting olive trees there and to draining a modest plot near the Kinneret.

During its first twenty years, purchasing land and bankrolling agricultural activity were the centerpieces of the JNF's diverse activities. Other bodies, such as the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) and the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), were already active in this realm, sponsored by the great patrons of Jewish settlement, Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his son James.[16] In 1903 the JNF acquired its first parcel—200 dunams (about 50 acres) in the new settlement of Hadera—followed by larger parcels in Kfar Hitim and Hulda. Slowly, the JNF (and the world Zionist movement it represented) became the key player in this sphere.

Finding sellers and cutting a reasonable deal were the greatest hurdles that the JNF faced in those days; Zionist activity, after all, was hardly pop-ular among local Arab landowners. The Fund's success in acquiring one

million dunams (100,000 hectares) prior to 1948 was largely attributable to one of the most colorful characters in JNF and Zionist history—Yehoshua Hankin.

Arriving as a teenager in Ottoman Palestine in 1882, Hankin acquired a fluency and familiarity with Arabs and their business practices by help-ing his father in the family's Jaffa store. When, at age twenty-five, he stumbled on a seller of a ten-thousand-dunam tract, he realized he had a unique gift as a real-estate broker. In a moment of mystical acuity, Hankin took an oath dedicating his life to “redeeming the land.” For sixty years he stuck to this sacred mission, largely at the behest of the JNF, who eventu-ally became his best client.[17] Zionist legends abound describing this eccen-tric lone ranger with flowing hair and unruly beard. Fearlessly riding the backcountry on his horse, armed only with Ottoman land titles and sacks of silver, Hankin would go anywhere, any time, to buy yet another parcel of the total six hundred thousand dunams of Palestine he would purchase during his lifetime. During slow periods in the real-estate market, he had to rely on his devoted wife Olga's earnings as a midwife, but the couple never veered from their common quest.[18] In a fittingly peculiar postscript, their graves overlooking one of Hankin's biggest purchases, the Jezreel Valley, are now a popular destination for women with fertility problems, who come to pray for the childless couple's intervention.[19]

Despite heroic individual efforts, from an organizational standpoint the Jewish National Fund was all over the place during its first twenty years of operation: With only moderate success, it dabbled in tree planting, took in orphans from pogroms, subsidized high schools, and even bought the buildings for Israel's national art academy. Limited by a modest budget, it could ill afford such a diffuse strategy. After World War I, however, new leadership would get the organization on track.

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The Forest's Many Shades of Green
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