The Blue Box

Photo: KKL-JNF's Photo Archive

How the Blue Box Was Born

The Blue Box accompanies KKL-JNF since its very beginning. Professor Zvi Hermann Schapira, whose ideas and suggestions contributed to the foundation of KKL-JNF during the fifth Zionist Congress on December 29, 1901, has presented as early as 1894 the idea of a tin box nicknamed "pushke". He encouraged his friends in a meeting of "Workers of Zion" to put coins in it for the sake of reclaiming the land of Israel and assisting Jewish immigration to it.

With the foundation of KKL-JNF, a banker named Haim Kleinman from the city of Nadwórna in Poland came up with the idea of collecting the funds needed for its operation. He sent a letter to the Die Welt Zionist newspaper in Vienna, in which he wrote:

"Inspired by the idea of 'a dime and another dime', following the congress' decision about the foundation of KKL-JNF, I have installed a 'Land of Israel Box', put a note with the title 'National Fund' on it, and placed it in a central place in my office. The results, so far, have been impressive. I suggest that other supporters, and in particular all the staff of the Zionist offices, will collect donations to KKL-JNF in this method."

The first boxes were ready for distribution in 1904, and one of them was placed by Herzl himself in his office (it is preserved today at the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem). The importance of the box became clear immediately, not just because they were a tool for collecting donations, but also because they symbolized the connection between the diaspora Jews and the small number of Jewish immigrants who came to Israel.

Menachem Ussishkin, one of KKL-JNF's notable leaders, said that "the dime that the child gives or collects for the purpose of land-buying is not important in its right… but it is important for its educational value: the child does not give to KKL-JNF, but rather it gives him… a standing and an empowering ideals for the rest of his life."
The rest is history – for many years, the box has functioned as popular means to turn the Zionist vision into a reality for many decades. The collected donations were used for buying lands, where the Jewish state was founded. But the box was more than a tool for money collection: from the beginning, it was an important educational tool for the distribution of the Zionist idea and strengthening of the Jewish people's connection with their homeland.

The Many Shapes and Colors of the Blue Box

The Blue Box is named for its dominant color, but throughout the years, it came in many different designs. The first boxes, like the one on Herzl's desk, was in the color of pale blue. The ornamented boxes made in Austria in 1920 were in the color of copper, and some of the leather-bound boxes from Germany were black.

In some cases, there were also variations of the box's shape. American boxes were round, German boxes had the shape of a book, and in several central-European countries there were paper boxes that could be folded and carried in a pocket. This design proved ideal for donors who visited the Zionist Congress, as well as for German Jewish schools in the 1920s and 1930s.

Another interesting variation is the boxes that could only contains a small number of coins. The smallest box was made in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine, and it was in the size of a matchbox. This is perhaps because the Jewish population in the country was poor, and those who lived in Israel still wanted to make a symbolic donation.