Thousands of passengers passing through Ben-Gurion Airport this summer will get a short lesson in the history of Zionism in the form of 40 historic Keren Hayesod posters. Exhibited in honor of the organization’s 90th anniversary, these posters reflect the changing needs of the Zionist cause through the different stages of the birth and growth of the State of Israel.

In Yiddish, English and Hebrew, Keren Hayesod’s posters appeal to the Jewish people to help build their greatest dream – a flourishing, independent Jewish homeland.

Curated by design giant David Tartakover, winner of the Israel Prize in 2002, the exhibition features work by leading artists including Nahum Gutman, Reuven Rubin, Franz Krausz, brothers Gabriel and Maxim Shamir – and Tartakover himself, who created a poster especially for the exhibition.

Ben-Gurion Airport was chosen as the venue for the exhibition because this is the first piece of Israeli soil on which new immigrants and visitors set foot.

It reflects the organization’s key role in linking Israel with the rest of the world.

“Keren Hayesod is a bridge between Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora,” says Ambassador Avi Pazner, Keren Hayesod’s world chairman.

ESTABLISHED AT the World Jewish Congress in London in 1920, Keren Hayesod – which means “Foundation Fund” – was born out of the Zionist movement’s need for a financial arm to fund the reconstruction of a Jewish homeland. In the wake of a series of terrible pogroms in Eastern Europe which annihilated whole communities, the new fund issued a call to action for ‘the Jews of the World,’ asking them to pay a mas leumi, a national tax, that could fund immigration to Palestine.

In a world before mass communications, Keren Hayesod used its posters to create a rich and powerful visual language that conveyed Zionist ideology to Jewish communities around the world.

“Keren Hayesod has a place of honor as one of the organizations that undertook the design of public symbols of the Zionist movement,” says Tartakover.

“These posters have been present at almost every major event of the Jewish people over the past 90 years, and they translated Zionist ideology into the language of form, color and words to encourage the Jewish public to get involved.”

By the time Keren Hayesod celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1935, the “national tax” had succeeded in capturing the Jewish people’s collective imagination. The funds raised were transforming the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland into a living, breathing reality.

Viscountess Erleigh, vice president of the UK’s Zionist Federation, described Keren Hayesod’s achievements in The Palestine Post (now The Jerusalem Post) in December that year. According to Erleigh, in 1919, just a year before Keren Hayesod was established, there were 50 Jewish villages in Israel with a population of 13,000. By 1935, this number had rocketed to 175 villages, with 70,000 Jewish residents.

How was such a phenomenon possible? “The answer lies in the pioneering work of the Keren Hayesod, which has raised £5,350,000 by voluntary subscriptions by Jewry,” writes the Viscountess. “There is no corner of the globe and no community of Jews so small that it cannot be reached.”

NAHUM GUTMAN expresses the Jewish community’s collective pride in these achievements in his 1937 poster, which declares: “After 2,450 years, Jews once again left the captivity of the Diaspora and returned to their Homeland!” To rebuild this homeland, Keren Hayesod trained groups of Zionist youth prior to their arrival in Israel, and helped them purchase housing, tools and livestock.

To aid these pioneering immigrants, health services were created and educational establishments founded – including Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and the Technion in Haifa.

During the terrible years of World War II and its aftermath, Keren Hayesod turned its efforts to helping survivors of the Shoah forge a new life in Israel.

The sense of collective grief and horror underlying these rescue and resettlement missions is palpable in Franz Krausz’s 1943 poster, which depicts a family of survivors waiting to go to Israel. Their faces are partially illuminated by a distant glimmer of light as they gaze through barbed wire. Against these gaunt human figures, the poster’s headline jumps out in blood red: “For Rescue and Aliya!” In 1948, tragedy struck Keren Hayesod. A few short months before the State of Israel declared its independence, an Arab terrorist drove an explosivespacked car into the courtyard of Keren Hayesod’s offices in Jerusalem. Five minutes later, a bomb blast rocked the city.

As rescue workers attended to the wounded and dying, Arab snipers fired at them from across the road. Thirteen members of staff, including directorgeneral Leib Yaffe, were murdered in the attack, one of the worst of its time.

“Why did they target Keren Hayesod specifically?” asks Pazner. “Because Keren Hayesod symbolized even more than any other institution the struggle to establish the State of Israel.”

In its first three years, the State of Israel welcomed home a huge influx of new immigrants. Over 688,000 Jews, almost half of them Holocaust survivors, poured into the country between 1948 and 1951. In 1949, Operation Magic Carpet rescued 45,000 Jews from Yemen, and two years later Operation Ezra and Nehemiah brought 121,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel.

That same year, 1951, the Jewish state welcomed home Libya’s 32,000-strong Jewish community.

Keren Hayesod focused its energies and efforts on helping these new arrivals build a life in Israel. By the mid-1950s, almost all of them had moved out of temporary camps into permanent housing.

Large-scale immigration continued throughout the next decade. Otte Wallish’s and Rudolph Machner’s 1978 poster celebrates Israel’s phenomenal growth, and the technological advancements that occurred alongside aliya.

ABOVE IMAGES of modern houses, factories, ships and airplanes reads the caption “One million immigrants in Israel – on to the second million!” Their wish was shortly to come true: After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, almost 700,000 Jews made aliya to Israel, followed by 24,400 Ethiopians in Operations Moses, Joshua and Solomon.

In Jacky Levy and Rami Elhanan’s 1990 poster, Russian immigrants arrive for the first time on Israeli soil. The caption reads simply “Welcome Home.”

“On the eve of its renaissance, Jewry stands wounded and mutilated,” announced Keren Hayesod’s original manifesto, penned almost a century ago. “It has but one hand free of constructive labor: With the other it is desperately struggling to ward off the implacable onslaught that threatens it with annihilation.”



Ninety years later, Keren Hayesod has fulfilled its original aim of reconstructing a Jewish homeland and helping Jews to resettle it.

Today, says Keren Hayesod’s world chairman, the organization is looking forward to the future.

“Throughout our history, Keren Hayesod always adapted to a changing environment,” Pazner told Metro. “Ninety years ago, there was nothing here, and we funded reconstruction. When the State was established, we funded immigrant absorption.

During the intifada, we adapted again and helped raise money for terror victims.

“Today, we consider that the most important national challenge is to strengthen the Galilee and the Negev.”

That the organization will continue to remain relevant is certain, adds Pazner. “Wherever is the greatest public need, there we will work.”

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