More than a century ago, the Zionist movement breathed new life into a downtrodden, dejected People. It steadily gained steam with the establishment of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) for purchasing and developing land for a Jewish national home in the Land of Israel. To raise funds, KKL-JNF drew inspiration from ancient practices and introduced the Books of Honor, a series of elaborate, majestic tomes in which loved ones could be inscribed in exchange for a donation. The first volume was presented at the 6th Zionist Council in Basel, in August of 1903. The first to donate an inscription was none other than Theodor Herzl himself, who bestowed the honor on his friend Zvi Hermann Schapira, whose idea it was to establish the Fund.
Over 200 volumes have been produced since then. Hundreds of thousands of inscriptions (662,821, to be exact) adorn their massive pages, honoring luminaries like Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, and countless other individuals and groups whose contributions to KKL-JNF played a pivotal role in Israel’s establishment. The Books of Honor are widely regarded as the "Scriptures of Zionism". Each page of these meticulously crafted volumes recognizes a milestone in the Zionist journey up until this very day.
To read the KKL-JNF Books of Honor is to take a voyage through the history of the Jewish people. Also referred to as the Golden Books, they contain what is probably the biggest collection of names in modern Jewish history. They preserve the memory of ruined communities and the names of Israeli and diaspora leaders, of Jewish Zionist families, of those who fought for Israeli freedom and of people who just wanted to take part in the building of the Jewish state.
Beyond their historical value, the Books of Honor are exquisite artistic treasures. Adorned in leather and copper bindings, their covers were designed by leading artists of their time. These covers, embellished with reliefs that include silver, and copper filigree, chronicle pivotal events in the journey of the Jewish people.
In September of 2022, KKL-JNF opened a miniature museum at its Jerusalem headquarters. There, you can see 26 Honor Books on display, tracing the evolution of Israeli art from the early 20th century to the present. The inaugural volume's cover, for instance, depicts a sun radiating over fields, surrounded by a frame adorned with grains and vines, symbolizing the dawn of a new era as the Jewish people reclaimed their homeland.
The inscriptions in the Books of Honor are written by a Hebrew scribe trained in the sacred calligraphy of Jewish holy texts. According to Jewish tradition, calligraphic Hebrew script serves as a bridge to the spiritual world. Just as Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot are meticulously handwritten by trained scribes, every entry within the Honor Books is penned by an traditional calligrapher, homage to the return of the Jewish people to Israel which KKL-JNF views as a sacred endeavor.
Shmuel Wolfman, the Hebrew scribe responsible for crafting inscriptions in the Books of Honor, shares his sentiments: "The content of the Golden Book is inspiring and being part of this endeavor fills me with a profound sense of reverence. These entries span decades, encompassing personal tributes from individuals and organizations keen on perpetuating their legacy. It's a privilege to contribute to this monumental project."
Today, many people choose to make inscriptions in Golden Books to significant life events such as births, bar or bat mitzvahs, weddings, and anniversaries. Through these entries, they join the ranks of Zionism's pioneers, etching their names into the ongoing Jewish narrative for future generations to cherish.
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