Let there be light

Pinhas Rutenberg was born in 1879 in the Russian city of Romney. It was a city of wealthy farmers, upon which, the unique kibbutz experiment would be based. As a child, Rotenberg received a traditional religious education and went on to study in the secular Hebrew high school. Pinhas excelled and was later accepted to an engineering program at a classy and famous Polytechnic. 

Pinhas, a young student, saw the suffering of the Russian people under the Tzar Alexander III who instituted a regime of nationalist and religious oppression. Not one to keep quiet, Pinhas played an active role in the two Russian revolutions. With social waters still stormy and his life endanger, he decided to flee Russia for Italy and take a break from political activism . He wanted to return to his profession, and advance hydraulic engineering. While doing this, he was troubled by the plight of his fellow Jews. Like Theodor Herzl, Pinhas believed that the only solution to antisemitism was the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. 

His biggest dream was to create a Jewish army in the Land of Israel. He knew without weapons, the Jews would never survive. To enlist support, he met with politicians and Zionist leaders all over the world . In 1915, he travelled to America to raise funds for the idea of his army of Jews. A lack of self-defense was not the only problem in the homeland of the Jewish people. 

The land was without electricity which limited Jewish progress and kept Jews the weak partner in the balance of political power.  Pinhas understood that he had to sell the idea of electricity to the British, the new landlords in the Holy Land. 

At the end of the World War I, the map of Europe was redrawn at Versailles. Pinhas was present to present his electricity plan to the influential Rothschild dynasty. Deservedly, he received the financial support he needed and set off to the Middle East to realize the dream. 

When Arab pogroms broke out soon after his arrival, Pinhas went to work on his first assignment – establishing a Jewish defense force, the Haganah. Just months later, he  successfully commanded Jewish troops in Tel Aviv and quashed Arab riots. With the pogroms over, he turned to his dream of providing electricity for his people. 

Pinhas believed that electricity could provide a better life for all. If people were happy there would be less trouble. Electricity was no respecter of persons. Electricity was for all, Jews, Arabs and British alike. 

With British approval and 3000 workers at hand, the brilliant engineer managed to harness the Jordan and Yarmuch rivers. In this back-breaking work he made sure to provide the workers with optimum conditions that ensured their safety and a decent quality of life. They also built a series of large dams which created natural lakes. From the outlet of one of the lakes, the water cascaded a colossal 27 meters down through 3 huge pipes onto rotating turbines. 

And then there was light! 

The Jewish homeland was lit up by electricity, everywhere that is, except in Jerusalem.

Although he built other power plants in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Tiberias, the British had protected their geo-political interests with the Arabs by refusing Jerusalem to be part of the deal. But in 1942, in the middle of World War II, their own British-Jerusalem Electric Corporation failed to supply the demands of the city. Thus out of necessity, the Brits  changed their mind and came to Rutenberg begging him to supply electricity to Jerusalem.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1948, the Iraqi army made haste for the electricity plant. Knowing that this would give them the power they need, the Israelis blew up some of the generators and escaped. With the plant deserted, the Iraqis then captured it. Releasing there was nothing to gain, they did their looting and destroyed what remained. 

In Israel Pinhas is cherished for his tenacity and ingenuity. The Israeli city of Ashkelon named its huge power plant after him. Not long after the British came begging for electricity, Pinhas died in Jerusalem, the eternal electrified capital of the Jewish people.