Educator and influential labor pioneer
1. Joseph Vitkin was born in 1876 in Byelorussia and made aliyah in 1897 at the age of 21. At first he worked as a laborer, but soon, being well-educated, became a teacher in Gedera.
2. As an educator, he promoted a love of Jewish values and an appreciation of the landscape of Eretz Yisrael. He became headmaster of the Gedera school and then headmaster at Rishon leZion, where, except for a brief hiatus at Kfar Tavor, he remained for most of his life.
3. He has been called the precursor to the Second Aliyah, partly because of the time at which he emigrated, but primarily because he so effectively promoted the pioneering movement in Eretz Yisrael.
4. In 1905, he wrote and distributed a pamphlet, “A Call to the Youth of Israel whose Hearts are with their People and with Zion.” It was written in Hebrew and signed, “A Group of Young People from Eretz Yisrael.” His words made a moving appeal that greatly influenced idealistic Jewish youth in Russia.
5. The pamphlet encouraged aliyah based on manual agricultural labor in the Jewish national homeland. Vitkin did not shrink from pointing out the immense physical difficulties facing would-be pioneers; sacrifice would be necessary, but he forecast that with patience and commitment would come success.
“Now, dear brothers, listen to the voice appealing to you from the mountain peaks of Israel: Awake! Awake! Jewish youth, come to the aid of the people…. You are needed by the people and the Land, as air is needed for breathing.”
6. His pamphlet laid out the principles of the labor movement of the Second Aliyah. Vitkin was active in the founding of HaPoel HaTzair, the Young Workers Party, in 1905.
7. He was one of those who supported the campaign to have Jewish farm owners employ Jewish laborers exclusively, rather than using Arab labor; and he advocated the formation of new Jewish agricultural settlements.
8. The land he saw as the possession of the whole people, to be won through hard work and sacrifice – an “agricultural conquest” of Eretz Yisrael through Jewish settlement.
9. In 1907, he contracted throat cancer and went for medical treatment in Vienna. Six months later, he was sent by Hovevi Zion to Russia to promote emigration. He returned to Rishon LeZion in 1907. In May 1911, suffering from acute cancer, he returned to Vienna, but to no avail. He died in Tel Aviv in 1912 at the age of 36.
10. Kfar Vitkin and many streets in Israel have been named for him. Kfar Vitkin, founded in 1930, was the first settlement on the Hefer Plain and was to become, in the 1940s, the largest moshav in the land. An interesting historical note: it was at Kfar Vitkin that the Irgun arms ship “Altalena” was intended to unload its cargo of 5000 rifles and other weapons in June 1948.
In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Vitkin Street running parallel to HaYarkon and Ben Yehuda, just north of Arlosoroff.
Kfar Vitkin is on the coast about midway between Netanya and Hadera.