Israel Reborn

  • Overseas
  • 1948

In the year when Israel was reborn as a modern state, 1948, American Jews donated $150 million to the infant nation—four times the total amount raised by the American Red Cross that same year. Just in the last few years of the 1940s, more than half a billion dollars of desperately needed aid arrived from American donors. Without this voluntary giving it is quite possible Israel would not exist today.

During World War II it had become clear that Jews were in mortal danger in many European countries, and efforts revved up to relocate families to what was then the British territory of Palestine. Donations from America in particular allowed a million refugees to be settled in Israel in just a few years. Nearly all of those relocated arrived penniless and utterly dependent upon outside charity.

And then the fighting began. Within days of Israel’s founding, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq dispatched military forces to crush the new state. The only reason Jews were able to defend themselves was because U.S. donors had foreseen this and begun to arm Israelis. Just two months after Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered, 18 wealthy American Jews gathered in New York and created the Sonneborn Institute to import military and non-military supplies for Israel’s pioneer settlers. This included smuggling in surplus World War II weapons and sending experienced American fighters. In nearly a year of fighting after Israel’s declaration of independence, 6,400 Jews were killed—about 1 percent of the population—but the new state was preserved.

U.S. philanthropists then began to build up Israeli society. The U.S. Jewish women’s group Hadassah, for instance, raised billions of dollars over a period of decades to build many of the medical facilities in the country. Israeli schools and universities thrived with support from American angels, and thanks to great universities like the Israel Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute, half of Israel’s exports are now from high-tech industries.

Israel continues to receive upwards of $3 billion every year from overseas donors. In a normal year one out of every three U.S. Jews will contribute money to some cause in Israel. During crises, that giving surges higher. It is this philanthropy that has allowed the state of Israel to burgeon and thrive.