On Bonds and birthdays
May 3, 2019
My husband, Larry, was born the week that the State of Israel was born. For the rest of his life, his birthday celebration would be entwined with the founding of a new country.
In 1961, Larry’s entire bar/bat mitzvah class and their families participated in a special presentation conducted by Israeli Bond representatives. As a result, Larry’s parents, along with many other families at the presentation, purchased several bonds in honor of their son’s upcoming simcha.
While I was writing this article, Larry wondered aloud if Israel Bonds were still sold. We were surprised to learn of its interesting history and its expansive role in Israel, the United States and the world today.
The brainchild of David Ben-Gurion, the Development Corporation of Israel was developed shortly after Israel’s War of Independence. The war had wreaked havoc on the economy as well as the population—more than 1 percent of the country’s population was killed. Furthermore, with hundreds of thousand of immigrants pouring in from post World War II Europe and the Middle East, the country faced food and housing shortages. To seek financial assistance, Ben-Gurion turned to Jews throughout the Diaspora to become active partners in building the new Jewish State through their funding for immigrant absorption and construction of the national infrastructure.
In September 1950, Ben-Gurion convened a meeting of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to explain his bond proposal, which was strongly supported. The following spring, the prime minister traveled to New York City to help launch the first bond campaign. In the next year, bond sales totaled $52 million, over twice as much as initially believed could be raised.
By Larry’s bar mitzvah in 1961, Israel Bonds had expanded its network throughout U.S. and Canada. Along with the initial targets, the bonds also funded the country’s industrial and agricultural sectors.
In the following years, a series of wars, including the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973) and Persian Gulf War (1991) brought in sales that shattered the one billion dollar mark, a benchmark that has continued through today.
Initially, Israel Bonds offered one security. As the program became increasingly successful, multiple investment options were made available, ranging from $36 to a minimum of $25,000.
What began as a predominately Jewish investors intent on helping Israel with their financial support became more and more diversified. Investors now include over 90 U.S. state and municipal pension funds, corporations, insurance companies, associations, unions, banks, financial institutions, universities, foundations and synagogues.
An e-commerce site was launched in 2011. Along with the initial initiatives, Israel bonds now fund investment in technology companies, including Goggle, Intel, and Apple as well as start-up companies.
In order to counteract the Boycott/Divest/Sanction movement, in 2016, the organization launched a new initiative to counter campus anti-Israel activism activities. The alternative to the Boycott/Diversity/Sanctions Movement begun by Israeli bonds is called the Bonds Donated to Schools initiative and encourages donation of Israel bonds to universities.
Simon Perez, past president and Nobel laureate, stated “The strong ties between Israel bonds and Israel has been as resilient and fruitful as the Land of Israel itself. Philanthropist Warren Buffet recently recognized Israel Bonds as a “deserved endorsement of a remarkable country.”
Besides the coincidence of Larry being born the week “Israel has risen,” to quote Ben-Gurion, and the push for the purchase of Israel bonds prior to his bar mitzvah, there have been other family connections that his family has to Israel that have touched him deeply.
Larry’s grandmother, Rose Applebaum, was living in Russia in the early twentieth century with her parents and several siblings. As opportunities arose, Rose and several members of her family emigrated from Russia to live in the U.S. and Canada. Those who did not immigrate were tragically murdered in the Holocaust.
One of Rose’s brothers, Aaron, had preceded her arrival in the United States. Around 1915, Aaron started moving around the country. Within a few years, all communication ceased. In the mid-1960s, Rose received a letter from Aaron saying that he was living in New York and wanted to reunite with his sister. Larry’s parents met Aaron in New York City. After talking to Aaron and asking specific family-related questions, they were able to assure Rose that Aaron was indeed her brother. A joyful reunion followed.
Several years later, Aaron had a stroke, and Larry’s parents relocated him from his apartment in New York City to a nursing home in Saratoga Springs. As his cognitive abilities declined, Aaron only recognized one member of his re-found family in the present time—Larry. Although the elderly man had shared none of his past history, Aaron felt a connection with his great nephew, who was attending Northeastern University in Boston. During Larry’s visits, Aaron frequently asked Larry, “How is Boston?” This made the family believe, that Aaron may have spent time there in his “lost” years. In his mind, Aaron believed Israel was still fighting the War of Independence and questioned Larry often as to how the war was going. That made Larry and his family aware how important Israeli’s independence was to Aaron.
Last year, when Larry and Israel turned 70, we celebrated the “Double Simcha” by sponsoring both the oneg at our synagogue and the refreshments at the Shalom Club, our community’s Jewish social club. G-d willing, Larry and I will have many more occasions to celebrate Larry’s birthday and to appreciate his connections to Israel.
Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilations of her stories, “There Goes My Heart” (2016) and “Tikkun Olam.” Marilyn Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.