Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

Jews of the Week: Albert, Eliyahu, and Sasson David Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is Part 2. Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 3. 

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons (left to right) Elias, Albert, and Sasson David.

Abdullah David Sassoon (1818-1896), the eldest son of David Sassoon, was born in Baghdad and raised in Bombay, India. He took over as head of the family business when his father passed away. At the same time, he served on Bombay’s Legislative Council, helping to run the bustling city. In 1873, Abdullah took a trip to England and decided to settle there. He formally changed his name to “Albert”, and moved the headquarters of the business to London, leaving the Bombay branch to his younger brother Solomon. In 1874, Albert opened a new subsidiary, Sassoon Spinning and Weaving Company, and the following year built the Sassoon Docks, the first wet docks in Western India, which still operate today in Mumbai. He paid for the reconstruction of the prestigious Elphinstone High School, and turned one of the family homes into India’s first and oldest museum. In 1866 he was awarded the Order of the Star of India, and in 1872 was made a British Knight Companion of the Order of Bath. The Shah of Persia awarded him the Order of Lion and Sun for his work in Persia’s development, and Queen Victoria knighted him and made him a baronet in 1890. He founded the David Sassoon Benevolent Institution, which provided thousands of scholarships to support the education of both Indians and Jews.

The second son of David Sassoon, Eliyahu David Sassoon (1820-1880), was also born in Baghdad and raised in Bombay. At the age of 24, he moved to Guangzhou to start a branch of the family business in China. He later oversaw further expansion across China and into much of Japan. In 1867, Eliyahu (now known more commonly as Elias) decided to break off from the family business and start his own company, E.D. Sassoon & Co. He abandoned the opium trade—which was now showing its unfortunate side-effects—and instead traded in fruits, spices, and teas, as well as silks and metals. He built what is probably the first synagogue in Hong Kong, as well as Maternity Hospital and the Sassoon Infirm Asylum in Pune, India.

The third son, Sasson David Sassoon (1832-1867) was born in Bombay, but sent to study in Baghdad’s illustrious Jewish schools. Despite being born with a heart defect and being chronically ill, Sasson worked hard for the family business and travelled widely. He first ran the Shanghai branch, then in 1858 moved to London to open his own bank. Sasson was renowned for his wisdom and ability to speak multiple languages at ease. In fact, he was the head Hebrew examiner at the London Jews’ Free School, then the world’s largest Jewish school with over 4000 students. He was also on the council of Jews’ College and was the gabbai (warden) of London’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Sasson financially supported all of these institutions, too, among many others in London. He presided over a committee that sent an expedition to the Jews of “China, Abyssinia, and the East”. Sadly, Sasson succumbed to his ill health at the young age of 35.

Left to right: Albert Museum, India’s first and oldest museum, converted from an old Sassoon family home; the Elphinstone High School; Sassoon Docks, the first wet docks in Mumbai.

Words of the Week

Money doesn’t excite me, my ideas excite me.
– Walt Disney 

Click here for Part 3

Jews of the Week: Lionel and Edmond de Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part four of five. Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Lionel de Rothschild

Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) was the eldest son of London’s Nathan Rothschild. After studying in university and apprenticing with family members, he entered the family business at age 28. He helped raise funds for Britain for a number of its wars, including the Crimean War, as well as to help victims of the Great Irish Famine. He would organize the largest private relief fund for the famine (which tragically took the lives of over one million people). Lionel pushed for, and secured funding, for Britain’s pivotal purchasing and construction of the Suez Canal. In 1847, he was elected to the British House of Commons. He was required to take a Christian oath and swear on a Bible, which he refused. The Prime Minister passed a “Jewish Disabilities Bill” to remove the necessity to swear a Christian oath. However, the House of Lords rejected it. Lionel resigned. He won the election again in 1850, but was stifled by the House of Lords once more; then again in 1851 and 1852. It was only in 1858 that the Lords relented, and that year Lionel took an oath on a Tanakh, wearing a kippah, and became the first Jew in British Parliament. He was reelected three more times. In 1885, after previously being refused by Queen Victoria, he was finally elevated to the House of Lords, the first Jew in that house as well.

Edmond de Rothschild

While there were Rothschilds who were vocal anti-Zionists, and some have even refused to visit the State of Israel, one of the greatest Zionists of all time was Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934). Edmond was the youngest son of Paris’ Jacob de Rothschild. He was a noted patron of arts and sciences, and founded multiple biology, chemistry, and physics institutions. He spent vast sums on art, amassing a collection of over 40,000 valued pieces, most of which would be donated to the Louvre. This continued until he was inspired by the Zionist vision, and stirred to action by horrific pogroms in Russia. Henceforth, he spent whatever money he could to reestablish a Jewish state in the Holy Land. It was Edmond’s funds that created Rishon LeZion, the first modern Jewish settlement in Israel, as well as Metulla, Ekron, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya’akov (named after his father). He later established the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, through which he acquired 125,000 acres of land in Israel. Edmond spent another $50 million (equal to some $700 million today) to plant farms and wineries, drain swamps, fight malaria, build schools, synagogues, factories and electrical grids, invest in industry and economic development. He supported the Arab populace as well, affirming that putting “an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.” Beloved by Jews (and many Muslims, too) he was nicknamed “the Famous Benefactor”. Streets and landmarks across Israel are named after him, including Tel Aviv’s central Rothschild Boulevard, the major financial, cultural, and tourist artery of the city. Until 1986, he was on Israel’s 500 shekel note.

This November is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Click here to watch Jacob Rothschild (whose life we shall explore in the final part of the series next week) speak about the Declaration and the Rothschild role in the founding of Israel.

Click here to go to Part Five.

Words of the Week

I doubt that, in the entire history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, a period of 2,000 years, one could ever find a man comparable in stature to the incredible character that was the Baron Edmond de Rothschild – the builder of the Jewish Yishuv in our renewed homeland.
David Ben-Gurion

Edmond de Rothschild on an Israeli 500 Shekel Note (1982)