Jewish National Fund Collection Box

Jewish National Fund Collection Box

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This collection box for the Jewish National Fund is typical of collection boxes, known in Yiddish as pushke, that were common in American Jewish homes in the mid-1900s. Members of Jewish families dropped coins into the box to support the Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901, which has worked to buy land and plant trees to build a Jewish state. The boxes were sent periodically to organizations, such as synagogues, that forwarded the funds onto the Jewish National Fund. In addition to helping fundraise for the JNF, the boxes helped inculcate philanthropic values. They reminded Jews that giving tzedakah was an everyday obligation and encouraged a sense of belonging to the Jewish community. (Tzedakah is Hebrew for “righteous behavior.” By the early 2000s, many understood the word to refer to charitable giving).
This particular box belonged to Helena “Nelly” Birnbaum (ne Eisenberg), who was born in Kharkov, Ukraine in 1917. Her family were bourgeois Jews from Bialystock who’d moved east to escape WWI, then fled back west to escape the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War / White Army pogroms. They settled outside of Danzig. With the rise of Nazism, Nelly escaped to Baltimore in 1936 and got her parents out before the war. Most of her extended family died during the Holocaust, some at Treblinka, other’s at unknown places. In Baltimore Nelly joined German-Jewish social clubs and played a key role in organizing the Jewish refugee/survivor community. She was a committed Zionist and became active in Hadassah, HIAS, the JNF, and later in the movement to support Soviet Jewry. She hosted talks, donated money, organized development campaigns, traveled frequently to Israel and even the Soviet Union, and hosted Soviet Jews (distant relatives) who were allowed to leave in the 1970s. She died in 2000.
Object Name
date made
mid 1900s
place made
United States
Associated Place
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 11.5 cm x 8.7 cm x 3.9 cm; 4 17/32 in x 3 7/16 in x 1 17/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Judy Grinspan
See more items in
Work and Industry: Philanthropy
Giving in America
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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