Tag Archives: Hovevei Zion

Jew of the Week: David Wolffsohn

The Man Who Created the Flag of Israel

David Wolffsohn (1856-1914) was born to a poor, religious Jewish family in the Lithuanian-Polish town of Darbenai (then part of Russia). His father was a Torah scholar and teacher, and Wolffsohn, too, was learning in yeshiva with the same goal in mind. In his teens, he was sent to live with relatives in Germany to avoid being conscripted to the Russian army. There, he met the rabbi, philosopher, and early Zionist leader Isaac Rülf, and became his devoted disciple. Meanwhile, Wolffsohn took up secular studies and went on to apprentice at a trading company. In 1877, he started his own flouring business, and was soon one of the most prominent Jewish businessmen in Europe. Henceforth, he dedicated his life to realizing that ancient dream of his people’s return to Israel. He played a key role within the Hovevei Zion movement, and in 1894 was a cofounder of the Society for the Promotion and Support of Jewish Agriculture in Syria and Palestine. When Herzl’s The Jewish State was published two years later, Wolffsohn immediately journeyed to Vienna to meet him. The two became very close and traveled the Holy Land together, setting the foundations for what would become the State of Israel. Not surprisingly, when the World Zionist Congress was founded, Herzl was made its president and Wolffsohn its vice-president. Upon Herzl’s death shortly after, Wolffsohn succeeded him. As president, he was instrumental in reinvigorating Jewish life in the Holy Land (among other things, it was under his tenure that the city of Tel-Aviv was founded). However, Wolffsohn is most famous for being the one who created the flag of modern Israel. Back in 1896, Herzl had written: “We have no flag, and we need one. If we desire to lead many men, we must raise a symbol above their heads. I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars…” Herzl’s proposal was good, but his flag gained little support. Wolffsohn responded to Herzl thus: “We have a flag—and it is blue and white. The talit with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this talit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations…” Wolffsohn designed a simple flag with blue talit-like stripes and a star of David in the centre. The flag caught on quickly, and the rest is history.

Words of the Week

What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life…
– Albert Einstein

The traditional design of the talit inspired the modern flag of Israel.

Jew of the Week: Meir Dizengoff

Founder of Tel-Aviv

Meir Dizengoff

Meir Dizengoff

Meir Yankelevich Dizengoff (1861-1936) was born in Bessarabia, a region overlapping parts of modern-day Moldova and Ukraine. After completing his education, he enlisted in the Russian Army, where he served for two years. Dizengoff then settled in Odessa and soon joined a revolutionary group called Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”), which sought to overthrow the Tsar and assist the plight of the many impoverished people across the Russian Empire. At the same time, he met several Zionist leaders and joined Hovevei Zion, an organization formed in response to the tragic pogroms of 1881. In 1885, Dizengoff was arrested for his involvement with Narodnaya Volya’s insurgent activities. Upon his release, he moved back to Bessarabia to found a new branch of Hovevei Zion. A couple of years later, Dizengoff enrolled at the University of Paris to study chemical engineering. It was there that he met Edmond James de Rothschild, a member of the French Rothschilds who was an ardent Zionist. Rothschild sent Dizengoff to Israel to set up a bottle-making factory for his family’s wineries. Unfortunately, the factory didn’t do well, and Dizengoff returned to Europe. It wasn’t long before Dizengoff returned once more to the Holy Land, setting up his home in Jaffa in 1905, and starting a development and import company called Geulah. Several years later, Dizengoff joined together with Ahuzat Bayit to purchase a plot of land outside of Jaffa to create a new Jewish community. In 1909, this plot of land was divided among 66 Jewish families, establishing the town of Tel-Aviv. Two years later, Dizengoff became its head of planning, and was instrumental in its quick expansion and development. During World War I, the Ottomans expelled the town’s population, and it may have ceased to exist entirely were it not for the efforts of Dizengoff. In 1922, Tel-Aviv was recognized as a city, and not surprisingly, Dizengoff was elected its first mayor, a post he held until his death. In 1923, Tel-Aviv became the first city in Israel to have electricity. By 1925, its population had swelled to 34,000. Upon the passing of his beloved wife in 1930, Dizengoff donated their family home to the city, requesting that it be turned into a museum. It was there, on the 14th of May in 1948, that the State of Israel declared its independence. Unfortunately, Dizengoff himself didn’t live to see this day. However, he played a critical role both in the founding of Tel-Aviv, and Israel as a whole, and transformed Tel-Aviv from an empty parcel of land to a beautiful city of 150,000 at the time of his passing. To this day, Tel-Aviv’s most important artery is Dizengoff Street, often described as “Israel’s Champs-Élysées”.

Words of the Week

“Thus said God: ‘Behold, I will save My people from the countries of the East, and from the countries of the West; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.'”
– Zechariah 8:7-8