Tag Archives: Russian Empire

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

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Rabbi Kook

Rabbi Kook

Avraham Itzhak Kook (1865-1935) was born in what is now Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire). Recognized as a young prodigy, he spent only a year and a half at the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, and yet, it was said that it was worthwhile for the yeshiva to have been founded just for him. After serving as head rabbi of several European towns, in 1904 Kook settled in Israel to become rabbi of Jaffa (Yafo), overseeing predominantly secular Zionists, whom he was able to inspire with Torah, and lead them to incorporate more observance into their lives. World War I broke out while he was on a trip to Europe, preventing him from returning to the Holy Land. Wasting no time, he served as a rabbi in London, England until the end of the war, then returned to Israel and took up the post in Jerusalem. He was instrumental in establishing the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and saw it as a stepping stone towards reinstating the Sanhedrin. In 1921 he was appointed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine.

Rabbi Kook wrote excessively on Jewish law and exegesis. Many of these profound writings were only published after his death, and continue to make a powerful impact on people around the world. Kook founded Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav (“Centre of the Many”), Israel’s central academy for religious Zionists. He was beloved as a figure who tried to bridge the gaps between various sectors of Jewish society, especially between secular and religious. He also tried to win over the non-Zionist religious groups, and often preached that the re-establishment of the state of Israel was a necessary precursor for the coming of Mashiach. Kook remained totally apolitical, and refused to join any parties, working to unify groups instead of separating them into even smaller factions. His love for the Torah, the land of Israel, and the Jewish nation was renowned, and at his passing, over 20,000 mourners attended his funeral in Jerusalem (out of a total population of roughly 130,000!) He commanded a photographic memory and it was said there was no mystical secret he did not know. Some consider him to be the most influential religious Jewish thinker of the 20th century.

 

Words of the Week

The truly righteous do not complain about evil, but rather add justice; they do not complain about heresy, but rather add faith; they do not complain about ignorance, but rather add wisdom.
– Rav Kook