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.
Yiddish, English and Hebrew, Keren Hayesod’s posters appeal to the Jewish people
to help build their greatest dream – a flourishing, independent Jewish
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
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.
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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
“Keren Hayesod has a place of honor as one of the organizations
that undertook the design of public symbols of the Zionist movement,” says
“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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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.”
later, Keren Hayesod has fulfilled its original aim of reconstructing a
homeland and helping Jews to resettle it.
Today, says Keren Hayesod’s
world chairman, the organization is looking forward to the
“Throughout our history, Keren Hayesod always adapted to a
changing environment,” Pazner told Metro. “Ninety years ago, there was
here, and we funded reconstruction. When the State was established, we
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
That the organization will continue to remain relevant is
certain, adds Pazner. “Wherever is the greatest public need, there we
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