During Passover 5669, on the 11th of April, 1909, history was made in Eretz Israel: the founding stone for the first Hebrew city was laid. Little did the founders know that their modest plan would become such a success. Since the summer of 1906 a group of Jews from Jaffa, some of whom were long-time residents while others had just recently arrived (as part of the second large wave of immigration to Eretz Israel), had been promoting an idea: to build a Jewish garden neighborhood "outside the noisy and crowded city" where rent increased from year to year.
They founded the "Ahuzat Bayit" association and sought land on which to erect the neighborhood. Various proposals were suggested and rejected until eventually a sandy, distant area north of the "Neve Tzedek" neighborhood, called "Kerem Djebali" was chosen. Akiva Aryeh Weiss, chairman
of the association committee, led the project. Members of the committee were: David Berger, Itshak Hayutman, Yehezkel Sochowolski-Danin and David Smilanski. After Weiss' resignation as head of the committee, Meir Dizengoff served, at a later stage, as its chairman.
The Zionist Organization's weekly newspaper "Ha'Olam" wrote in March of 1909: "The AhuzatBayit Association, whose goal is to build a new Jewish neighborhood in Jaffa, has begun its operations. The land needed for the neighborhood was recently purchased... and the association is currently busy digging a well in the center of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is now being divided into streets and the main street will be named after Dr. Herzl."
Over time, a dispute arose as to who actually originated the idea to found Tel-Aviv. However, the general opinion in recent decades has been that although "the idea was brought up by a number of people" (Y. Shavit and G. Biger, The History of Tel Aviv, 2001); "Weiss was not the only one... some of the eminent Jews in Jaffa and its merchants spoke of the need for a new neighborhood... both Ashkenazis and Sephardic, whose names could be seen on respectable businesses in Jaffa, but it did not become a reality until the arrival of A.A. Weiss" (S. Shva, Oh, City Oh, Mother, 1977).
The number of founders reached sixty and six more joined within a year. They had a modest equity and the Jewish National Fund, which was then just starting out, made up the balance through a long term loan granted via the Anglo-Palestine Bank (today Bank Leumi). The only problem left was how to determine which plot each member of the association would receive. In order to maintain equality they decided to hold a lottery. As legend has it, committee chairman Akiva Aryeh Weiss went to the sea shore on the morning of the lottery and collected 120 sea shells, half of them white and half of them grey. He wrote the members' names on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey ones.
Most of the association members and their families gathered for the Iottery at them site where the first water well would eventually be dug (today Rothschild Boulevard, opposite the Dizengoff House). A boy drew names from one box of shells while, at the same time, a girl drew plot numbers from a second box. Photographer Avraham Soskin immortalized the occasion.
The date of the lottery is considered to be Tel-Aviv's birthday. Building began during the months thereafter and most of the founding families lived in the "Ahuzat-Bayit" neighborhood by the end of 1909. In May of 1910 a general meeting of the settlers decided to change the neighborhood's name from Ahuzat-Bayit to Tel-Aviv.
Dr. Mordechai Naor