Moshe Chaim Montefiore (1784-1885) was born in Livorno, Italy to a wealthy Sephardic family. Raised in England, he worked as a grocery merchant before earning great wealth in the stock exchange. In 1824, Montefiore retired and dedicated his life to making the world a better place, funding countless schools, hospitals and other institutions. He was a key figure in abolishing slavery, and even raised the money used to compensate angry plantation owners. Montefiore served as Sheriff of London, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his selflessness. In 1827 he travelled to Israel and the experience returned him to his Jewish roots. He became a strictly Torah-observant Jew, so much so that he had a personal shochet travel with him so that he can have kosher meat. Fighting for each individual Jew, Montefiore personally went to Turkey to gain the release of 10 imprisoned Jews. He did the same in trips to Russia, Morocco, Rome and Romania. In 1862 he built a Sephardic yeshiva, in addition to the great Montefiore synagogue, built on the former estate of Queen Caroline. Montefiore would make 7 trips to the Holy Land over his life time (the last at age 91!) setting the ground work for the Zionist movement. He financed much of the early construction projects, including the first printing press and textile factory, established multiple agricultural colonies, and even commissioned several censuses that provide us with important information to this day. Montefiore died childless at the age of 100. His centenary was celebrated as a national holiday. Today, the 13th of Av, is his yahrzeit.
Words of the Week
A wealthy anti-Semite once told Moses Montefiore that he had just returned from Japan, where there are “neither pigs nor Jews.” Sir Moses replied: “then you and I should go there, so that they should have a sample of each.”
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) A descendant of Sephardic Jews from Portugal – which came to Britain by way of Italy – Disraeli was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1874 until 1880. His Conversative Party made great strides for Britain, and it was said he did “more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in fifty.” Disraeli was a staunch imperialist, working hard to spread the borders of the British Empire. He purchased the Suez Canal, invaded Afghanistan, and made Queen Victoria the Empress of India. If that’s not impressive enough, he also wrote 18 novels and 8 non-fiction books. Despite being baptized by his father at a young age, Disraeli always identified as a Jew. On one occasion, while debating in Parliament, a fellow MP attacked him with an anti-Semitic remark, to which Disraeli replied: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honourable Gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon.”
Words of the Week
A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness. – Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi