The Blue Box is a symbol of JNF and its efforts to develop the land, plant parks and forests, prepare the ground for communities and agriculture, and build roads and water reservoirs. It is a symbol of the bond between man and country. It is also a vehicle for educating youngsters and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their identification with the Zionist enterprise and the State of Israel.

JNF's collection box, the "Blue Box" (so called because of its blue and white colors) has been part and parcel of the Zionist Movement since its inception. Professor Zvi Hermann Schapira, whose concepts and suggestions led to the inception of the JNF at the 5th Zionist Congress in Basle on 19 Tevet, 5662 (December 18, 1901), had unveiled a tin collection box a "pushke" as early as 1884. Calling it the "Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel" box, he invited colleagues at a gathering of the "Zion Association" to contribute to the redemption of the land and Jewish settlementin Eretz Israel.

Upon JNF's establishment, a bank clerk by the name of Haim Kleinman from Nadvorna, Galicia placed a Blue Box marked "Keren Le'umit" (National Fund) in his office. He suggested that such a box be placed in every Jewish home and that everyone contribute to the newly created national fund at every possible opportunity. The idea had been well rooted in Jewish tradition for hundreds of years. Many Jewish homes contained a "Rabbi Meir Baal Ha'Ness" box, the proceeds of which helped support Jews living in the Land of Israel. The proceeds of the Blue Box, however, were slated for the redemption of the land itself, and it was distributed in Jewish communities throughout the world.

The very act of collecting funds in a special box aroused in Jews everywhere a longing for the tastes and fragrances of Eretz Israel, and strengthened their yearning for the homeland.

The first Blue Boxes were produced in 1904. One of these was placed by Theodor Herzl in his study (and can still be seen in "Herzl's Room" in Jerusalem). Their impact was immediate, not only in terms of the money they generated but as an expression of the deep bond between the Diaspora Jewry and the small Jewish community and the soil of Eretz Israel. In the 'Thirties, for example, about one million JNF Blue Boxes were to be found in Jewish homes around the world.

Kleinman was to appreciate the fruit of his labors when he visited pre-state Israel some 30 years after placing the first box in his office, and was gratified to learn that the idea had become reality. Unfortunately, he perished in the Holocaust before he was able to come on aliya. The Blue Box, however, which he had conceived together with Prof. Schapira, lives on to this day.

At a festive assembly marking JNF's 80th anniversary, Israel's fifth president, Mr. Itzhak Navon responded and, as we approach its 90th anniversary, we find pupils again learning through the Blue Box the meaning of "You shall redeem the land." The Blue Box has also returned to its rightful place in the Diaspora. In Australia, for example, it is once more a common sight in most Jewish homes, symbolizing their support for the Zionist enterprise.

The late Menhahem Ussishkin, one of JNF's predominant leaders, described the Blue Box's educational value succinctly:

"The coin the child contributes or collects for the redemption of the land is not important in itself...but as an element of education: It is not the child that gives to Keren Kayemeth, but, rather, the Fund that gives to the child...a foothold and lofty ideal for all the days of his life."

The Many Faces of the Box

The Blue Box has changed form many times over the years and in many cases was not even blue for the most part. The first boxes, such as Theodor Herzl's, were in fact whitish. Ornamental boxes, manufactured in Austria in 1920, were copper-colored. Leather-bound boxes, produced in Germany, were sometimes black. Indeed, the standard "Blue Box' widely distributed for the past 50 years, is both blue and white but mostly white.

Nor was the Blue Box always a box. Its original shape was first changed in the United States, where it was replaced for a while by a round tin container. In Germany boxes were made in the form of a leather-bound book, and other sites in Central Europe adopted paper "boxes" resembling an envelope, which could be folded and pocketed. These envelopes were apparently distributed at Zionist Congresses so that should a delegate be overcome by an irresistible urge to contribute, all he had to do was pull the envelop out of his pocket, drop a coin inside and replace it. Such boxes were primarily common in Jewish schools in Germany in the 'Twenties and early 'Thirties.

Some of the boxes could only hold a few coins. The smallest box, made in Jerusalem during the Mandate, measured 28x58x35 mm., approximately the size of a matchbox. Even when full it hardly promised a sum that could redeem any significant tract of land...

The largest known "Blue Box" has no money opening at all. In every other way, however, it does resemble a collection box, although it is not meant for canvassing; it is a monument, in the shape of a Blue Box, which stands two meters high in JNF's Australia Park in the Segev District of Galilee.

For many people the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contribution made in kindergarten and school.

Author and poetess Yemina Tchernowitz-Avidar described her experience with the Blue Box thus:

"I came upon the Blue Box by chance: I don't know how it came to be among the papers I was sorting in search of a document. The box, of course, was empty.
material from JNF Fund

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