12 Things You Need to Know About… Eli’ezer Kaplan

Zionist and fiscal wizard

1. Eliezer Kaplan was born in Minsk in 1891. He attended cheder and Russian high school, then went on to polytechnic university in Moscow, where he graduated in 1917 as a building engineer.

2. While in school, he joined the Socialist Zionist Party. He was one of the founders of the Youth of Zion – Renewal movement and a member of the Youth of Zion (Ze’irei Zion) central committee.

3. During World War I he was active in helping Jewish refugees. He was a member of the Ukrainian Jewish delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.

4. He made aliyah in 1920. In Palestine, he was one of the initiators of the merger between Ze’irei Zion and HaPoel HaZair to become Hitachdut (haHichtachdut haOlamit), with a program of pioneering and labor socialism. He represented the organization at the London Zionist Conference of 1920, where he was elected to the Zionist Executive Committee and then sent to Berlin to head the Hitachdut world office.

5. In 1923, he returned to Palestine and joined the Office of Public Works of Histradut (note: not Hichtachdut). In 1925, he was elected to the Tel Aviv City Council, a position he held until 1933.

Kaplan6. He joined the board of the Jewish Agency in 1933, serving as its treasurer until 1949 and head of its Settlement Department from 1943-48. As treasurer, he obtained the first foreign loan for the Jewish Agency from Barclays Bank in London. Other loans followed, and he introduced meticulous supervision over expenditures. It was his financial acumen that gave him an important role in the developing Jewish state.

7. He was one of the founders of the Mapai party and a member of its central committee. Within Mapai, he was looked upon as a moderate. David Ben-Gurion was to say of him later, “He was not an easy man to work with,” but his opinions came from “deep and pure conviction.”

8. When the State of Israel was in its gestation, Kaplan was a member of the Assembly of Representatives, signing the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. He was appointed Minister of Finance in the provisional government and elected to the first Knesset as a member of Mapai. In Ben-Gurion’s first government, he served as both Finance Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry.

9. Kaplan laid the foundation for the State of Israel’s fiscal policy, shaping its first budgets and its taxation structure. He headed the committee for establishment of a state bank, securing the bank’s independence. He was particularly interested in agricultural settlements and worked to strengthen their economic foundations. He published several books on the economy of Israel.

10. In 1949, he obtained the first loan for the State of Israel from the Import and Export Bank of the United States. Later, he contributed to organizing the sale of Israel Bonds in the United States.

11. In June 1959, he became the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister – but died three weeks later while on a trip to Genoa. Thousands upon thousands of immigrants lined the three-mile road into Tel Aviv when his body was returned to Israel, honoring the man whose stringent financial oversight made their aliyot possible.

12. All over Israel, his name is honored: the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot; Kiryat Eliezer, a suburb of Netanya; the Eliezer neighborhood of Kfar Saba; Kiryat Eliezer in Haifa; and the Eliezer Kaplan School of Politics and Social Sciences at Hebrew University.

In Tel Aviv, if you follow Dizengoff eastward, you will come to Kaplan after crossing Ibn Gevirol. In Jerusalem, Eli’ezer H. Kaplan Street fronts the Knesset, and is the site of many a protest.

Author’s note: OOOPS! This was scheduled for November 20. I don’t know why it didn’t post. Perhaps I forgot to push the “Publish” button. Anyway, lucky you, you get an extra post for Hanukah.

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