History and Education – The Historic KKL-JNF House in Tel Aviv

The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948.  The events that led to this important historic day did not occur in one day.  Many Zionists had dreamed about a Jewish homeland long before it was established, and worked hard to make it happen.  What was the role of KKL-JNF in Israel’s independence and why it is important to educate people about its history?  

In order to understand more about this, I travelled to the KKL-JNF House in Tel Aviv to meet Dr. Arie Ben, the Director and Founder of the KKL-JNF Museum and Educational Center.  This blog will reveal a little about the unique story behind this special building where the founding fathers of Israel literally dreamed, planned and made critical decisions that led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.


Dr. Arie Ben at the entrance to the KKL-JNF House. Photo: Samuel WillnerDr. Arie Ben at the entrance to the KKL-JNF House. Photo: Samuel Willner
Photo: Samuel Willner
For over 25 years, Dr. Arie Ben has been managing the KKL-JNF Museum and Educational Center in Tel Aviv.  He started the project in 1988 when the museum was established to present Israeli history to the public from KKL-JNF point of view.  Since its establishment, around 9,000 visitors come to see the museum each year, amounting to over 330,000 people in all.  The museum is located in a unique Bauhaus style building on Herman Shapira Street, not far from Dizengoff commercial center of Tel Aviv.  According to Dr. Ben, the museum has given a new life to the KKL-JNF office building that was built in 1935-1937, the very building which was used by the first government of Israel (also known as the ‘Provisional People’s Council’) during the last months of the British Mandate right up until the declaration of independence in 1948.
Dr. Arie Ben met me at his office at KKL-JNF House.  The walls in Dr. Ben’s office are literally covered in dozens of awards and certificates, most of which are recognition from his passionate work in the education.
What brought Dr. Arie Ben to work for the KKL-JNF Museum and Educational Center?  Before joining KKL-JNF, he served in the Ministry of Education as a Principal and in the Police Forces as an Educator and Teacher.  He also has an extensive leadership experience from the Israeli Defense Forces, where he started his military service on the eve of the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, serving in the Air Force, and later in the reserves in the tanks and logistics units as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Museum''s interior. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo ArchiveMuseum''s interior. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The visit began with a tour of the museum.  Dr. Ben explained that KKL-JNF Educational Center is a place of ‘past, present and future’.  The ‘Provisional People’s Council’ gathered in this building under the leadership of the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion.  Dr. Arie Ben highlights that the building is an important reminder of Israel’s first steps in becoming an independent state.
Blue and white:  In his guided tours, Dr. Ben always first explains why the building is such an important piece of Israeli history.  He points to the roof of the building where one can see a huge ‘Menorah’ – candelabrum, a reminder of its Jewish context, history and meaning.  Outside of the building on the patio, a large artistic ‘Blue Box’ decorates the area.  The ‘Blue Box’ was used to collect funds to buy lands and to build the Jewish homeland in Israel.  Therefore, according to Dr. Ben, it is essential that the building is blue and white to remind visitors of the colors of Israel and of their symbolic meaning:  blue symbolizing wisdom, intelligence, faith and heaven, and white symbolizing light, innocence and peace.
Dr. Arie Ben continues the tour of the museum showing the many unique items from the time before the State of Israel was established.  On several occasions, he quotes Mr. Zvi Herman Shapira, who fathered the idea of Jewish National Fund; a visionary person who presented his vision for the State of Israel in front of the 1884 Zionist Congress.  It was at the 5th Zionist Congress in 1901 when Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – the Jewish National Fund was established to carry out this dream.
Now in 2013, Dr. Arie Ben is approaching his own retirement from his work.  Yet his is still a passionate educator. He emphasizes that he has always loved his work in the education, and thus has put lot of personal input in preserving important pieces of Israeli history.
If the founding fathers of the Israel dreamed about a brighter future, how should we continue this vision, not just as dreamers but also as workers and pioneers?  According to Dr. Ben, it is very important that such a museum – that not only educates, but also raises public awareness on the role of KKL-JNF – exists.  This especially important in these times when Israel is constantly being criticized of its existence and of its right to be a sovereign Jewish state.  Personally, the visit to the KKL-JNF Museum was a positive experience, and reminds me that despite the many hardships, Israel’s future is bright; it is a survivor.