Hartford Raises Funds for Israel

From the earliest days of the Zionist movement through the present day, Greater Hartford’s Jewish communities have connected to Israel through fundraising and philanthropy. Early fundraising efforts especially focused on purchasing land in Palestine. After 1945, as the destruction of much of European Jewry became widely known, Hartford’s Jewish community raised unprecedented sums to help Jews in Israel build and defend the new country and resettle refugees. Donations from the Greater Hartford area continue to play a part in Israeli society today.

Jewish National Fund “blue box.” Image Source

The first “blue boxes,” used to collect money for the Jewish National Fund, were produced in 1904. In the decades that followed, the boxes were found in just about every Jewish community in the Americas and Europe and in many Jewish homes throughout the Hartford area. They represented the philanthropic ties between Jews in the Diaspora and the state of Israel and held the promise that even small amounts of money could make a difference. Schoolchildren were – and still are – encouraged to drop coins into boxes to learn the importance of giving tzedakah.

Early Zionist groups in Hartford also raised money by selling flags on “Zion Flag Day,” as this pamphlet describes. 
Jewish Colonial Trust certificates offered a way for individuals in the early 1900s to purchase stock in the Zionist movement’s bank, supporting the purchase of land in Palestine. Tens of thousands of Jews around the world responded, buying the stocks in small installments to make the purchase affordable. This certificate was purchased in 1900 by Jacob Richman, who lived in Hartford’s immigrant neighborhood on Front Street.  

In 1948, members of the Zionist Organization of America’s Connecticut chapters “adopted” Kibbutz Palmach Tsova. When they learned more about the challenges faced by the kibbutzniks in clearing large rocks from the land, the Connecticut Zionists raised money statewide for a tractor. The Connecticut-based Savin Construction Company helped select the tractor and ship it to Haifa, and in 1953 Morris and Rosa Dunn of New Britain, William Cohen of New Britain, and Mr. Raucher of New London officially presented it to the kibbutz and joined them in their newly constructed dining hall for a Passover seder. The tractor helped the kibbutzniks clear the land, expand their housing, and earn extra income by renting it out to other kibbutzim.

Morris and Rosa Dunn of New Britain, William Cohen of New Britain, and Mr. Raucher of New London at Kibbuts Palmach Tsova in 1953.

In 1956 Foreign Minister Golda Meir spoke at an Israel Bonds dinner at the Beth David synagogue. Meir was one of Israel’s most effective fundraisers in the U.S. and promoted the bonds – which had been introduced just a few years before – as a way for American Jews to invest in Israel’s growth rather than seeing the country as in perpetual need of charity.

Israel Bonds dinner in honor of Golda Meir, Beth David Synagogue, December 22, 1966.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War raised alarm about the Jewish state’s survival – and fears which were intensified by high-profile terrorist attacks in the years that followed. Faced with threats to Israel’s safety, the Hartford Jewish community responded with generous financial support.

Within days of hearing of the attack that started the war, both Jews and non-Jews from the Hartford area contributed to the Jewish Federation’s emergency fund, while major donors pledged support in private house meetings. Federation’s Executive Director Irving Kessler reported “a tremendous outpouring of money and concern from the Jewish community here.” An Emergency Campaign for Israel in 1974 raised millions of dollars.

“We Are One,” Hartford Jewish Federation Emergency Campaign for Israel, 1974.

Concern about poverty in Israeli neighborhoods and towns led to Project Renewal, a new kind of partnership between Jewish communities overseas and the Israeli government. Starting in the late 1970s, Hartford, together with other Jewish communities in Connecticut, adopted Afula Illit as their Project Renewal town and “sister city.”  Signs of Connecticut’s contributions were visible throughout the town, including a street named “Konetiket Street.” Funds were used to support social services, plan an industrial park, and support the integration of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewish immigrants settling in Afula, including building an Ethiopian synagogue. In the mid-1990s, this relationship grew to encompass the entire Gilboa region and thirteen Jewish communities in southern New England.

When an arson attack damaged the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford in 1983, burning its Torah scrolls, the town of Afula responded by donating one of their scrolls. Mayor Ovadia Eli traveled to Hartford a few months later to present the 100-year-old Torah as a gift from “your family in Afula.”