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.”
Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) Famous for his instrumental role in the establishment of a Jewish state, Jabotinsky first gained fame as a journalist. In Russia, he formed the Jewish Self-Defense Organization to arm Jews to fight back the pogroms, saying it is “better to have a gun and not need it, than to need it and not have it!” Later, he formed the Jewish Legion for the British Army, fighting in several wars, for which he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. A staunch Zionist and freedom fighter, he worked tirelessly for Israel, at one point being arrested and given a 15-year prison term. He also wrote nearly a dozen books. Amazingly, sensing what he called an impending “super-pogrom”, in 1936 Jabotinsky set up an evacuation plan to bring every single Jew from Poland, Hungary and Romania to Israel. All three governments eagerly agreed to the plan. Unfortunately, it was not popular among the Polish Jews. Ultimately, the British vetoed the plan and prevented it from materializing. Today in Israel, there are more streets and parks named after him than any other figure.
Words of the Week
Some people like Jews and some do not; but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.
– Sir Winston Churchill (in an article for the Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920)