March 10, 1861: Birthdate of Meir Dizengoff. A native of Bessarabia, he would make Aliyah in 1905, help found Tel Aviv in 1909 and then became its first mayor.
Dizengoff was born in the village of Ekimovtsy near Orhei, Bessarabia. In 1878, his family moved to Kishinev, where he graduated from high school and studied at the polytechnic school. In 1882, he volunteered in the Imperial Russian Army, serving in Zhitomir (now in the northwestern Ukraine) until 1884. There he first met Zina Brenner, whom he married in the early 1890s. After his military service, Dizengoff remained in Odessa, where he became involved in the Narodnaya Volya underground. In 1885, he was arrested for insurgency. In Odessa, he met Leon Pinsker, Ahad Ha’am and others, and joined the Hovevei Zion movement. Upon his release from prison, Dizengoff returned to Kishinev and founded the Bessarabian branch of Hovevei Zion, which he represented at the 1887 conference. He left Kishinev in 1889 to study in Paris.
Dizengoff became head of the town planning in 1911, a position that he held until 1922. When Tel Aviv was recognized as a city, Dizengoff was elected mayor. He remained in office until his death, apart from a three-year hiatus in 1925-1928. During World War I, the Ottomans drove out a large part of the population and Dizengoff was the liaison between the exiles and the Ottoman authorities. In this position he dealt with aid sent to the exiles of Tel Aviv and received the nickname Reish Galuta. He widely circulated and publicised the plight of the exiles, mainly via newspapers, and succeeded in convincing the rulers to agree to a regular supply of food and provisions to the exiles.
Dizengoff pressured the government to give him permission to open a port in his new city of Tel Aviv, and before his death he managed to dedicate the first pier of Tel Aviv’s new port. His dedication began with the words: “Ladies and gentlemen, I can still remember the day when Tel Aviv had no port”. He died on September 23, 1936.
In 1985, Israel issued a stamp honoring Meir Dizengoff: