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May 27: The First Mayor of Tel Aviv

May 26, 2015

phoca_thumb_l_(3)Meir Dizengoff (1861-1936), the first mayor of Tel Aviv, was honored with an equestrian statue in front of his home at 16 Rothschild Boulevard on this date in 2009, as part of the city’s centennial celebration. As a young man in Odessa, Dizengoff was involved in the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) revolutionary underground, and was arrested by the tsarist police in 1885. Also in Odessa he met such future Zionist leaders as Leon Pinsker and Ahad Ha’am, which inspired him to form a branch of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion), the proto-Zionist organization, in his home town of Kishinev. After an unsuccessful business venture in Palestine, Dizengoff returned to Europe and became an ardent follower of Theodor Herzl. He went back to Palestine, started up several transportation businesses, campaigned to separate the fledgling town of Tel Aviv (which he led as town planner) from the ancient Arab town of Jaffa, and was elected mayor when Tel Aviv was incorporated as a city in 1934. Dizengoff’s residence was where Ben Gurion and the Provisional National Council declared Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948.

“Dizengoff was one of the major initiators and dedicated supporters of cultural and bohemian life in Israel. A highly spiritual, yet social individual he encouraged cultural life in all its variations. Tel Aviv has, from the start, followed Dizengoff’s life interests: it became the center of a tumultuous cultural life. Artists and writers saw themselves as the vanguard of a secular Hebrew culture; cultural movements replaced one another in turn.” —Jewish Virtual Library