December 8, 1885
Joseph Sprinzak, who would serve as the first Speaker of the Knesset and twice as Interim President, is born in Moscow, Russia. His family was forced to leave Moscow, when Jews were expelled in 1891, eventually settling in Warsaw. Sprinzak’s father was an active Zionist and the family home in Warsaw was often a gathering place for Hebrew and Zionist writers and thinkers. Joseph became active in organizing Zionist groups throughout Poland and Southern Russia and emerged as a leader among Zionists in Eastern Europe. He participated in the 8th Zionist Congress in the Netherlands in 1907.
In 1910, while studying medicine at the American University in Beirut, he was asked by Hapoel Hatzair (The Young Worker Movement) to serve as the secretary of the organization in the Land of Israel. Sprinzak terminated his studies, accepted the position and made aliyah. Upon his arrival, he became active in absorbing immigrants from Yemen and making sure that they had sufficient work. In 1911, he organized forty-one delegates to participate in the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna. Among them, those from Hapoel Hatzair and Zeirei Zion (Youth of Zion), a socialist leaning Zionist youth group which he had founded in 1905. During World War I, Sprinzak remained in the Land of Israel and organized relief and aid for unemployed Jewish workers. After the war, he took a lead role in establishing the Histadrut Labor Federation and became one of the most important leaders in the organization, serving as Secretary General and on the Executive Committee.
Sprinzak was elected to serve on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in 1921. He would serve in that role until 1928 as both head of the Labor Department and Aliyah Department. Sprinzak played a key role in establishing many of the important organizations in pre-state Israel that helped lay the foundation for Israeli democracy including the Assembly of Representatives, National Committee and Bank Hapoalim.
On July 15, 1948, he became the Chairman of the Provisional State Council. After the elections to Israel Constituent Assembly which later was named the Knesset, Sprinzak was elected to be its first Speaker. He served as a Speaker for three consecutive terms until his death in 1959. Known for his sense of humor, brevity and cigar smoking, Sprinzak was one of the most important leaders in developing both the Labor movement and political institutions of Israel.
Photo Credit: Joseph Sprinzak