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Zalman David Levontin

1856 - 1940.


Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Born in Belarus to a Chabad Hasidic family, Zalman David Levontin was one of the pioneers of the first aliyah. He was one of the founders of Rishon Lezion and the Jewish Colonial Trust.


He was "one of the first" (as defined by D. Yudilovitz) to "preach in newspapers the idea of the restoration of the Land of Israel" in the early 1880s in Russia. In 1882, he began to take practical actions to realize the idea: he established in Russia an association of families who agreed to immigrate to the Land of Israel.


That same year, he immigrated there and established the "Vad Halutzei Yessod Ha Ma'ale" (The Pioneers' Committee Ha Ma'ale) and was elected to head it.


By doing so, he became the first elected leader of Jewish settlements in Israel.


The purpose of the Pioneers' Committee of Yessod Ha'Ma'ala was to redeem the land and settle it. Zalman, armed with a weapon, mounted on a horse and toured the country looking for suitable land.


In the summer of 1882, the land of Ayun-Kara (south of Jaffa) was bought with the help of Haim Amzlag, and later that year, "HaMoshav" Rishon LeZion was founded under Levontin's leadership.


The guiding principle was sharing work and income. As the head of the first Moshav, Levontin led its activity and development in its founding years. He dealt with the Turkish government's approval of constructing the first houses in the Moshav. He also dealt with the first plantings and solutions to the relationship problems with the Arab neighbors.


Until his second immigration to Israel in 1903, he continued his Zionist activities.

- He was one of the first to join the World Zionist Organization.

- Participated in the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

- Was invited by Herzl to manage the "Jewish Colonial Trust" in London. This institution, founded in 1898 during the Zionist Congress, called the "Treasure Bank of the Jewish Settlements", was run by Levontin, with the aim of operating in the Land of Israel.

In Levontin's wake, the Anglo Palestine Company Bank was established (APAK) and led by him and later became Bank Leumi.


When he came back to the Land of Israel, together with his family, Levontin settled in Jaffa.


For 25 years, he managed the APAK Bank, trying to make it a Zionist-local-educational institution as well as a commercial bank. He worked on educating the public about healthy economic concepts and creating friendly relations with their Arab neighbors. A lot of land was bought with the help of the bank.


During World War 1, he risked his life traveling to London and Paris to obtain funds for the bank.


He also helped establish the first Hebrew regiment founded by Jabotinsky. Returning to Israel in 1918, he dedicated his time to restoring the APAK Bank, as well as the construction of the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv.


At age 80, Levontin was crowned "Honorary Citizen" of the Rishon LeZion settlement, and a street was named after him. The Municipality of Tel Aviv also awarded him the title of Honorary Citizen.


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