Friday, December 25, 2009

1827: Moses Montefiore


Moses Haim Montefiore was a British Jew who accumulated great wealth and became one of the most famous Jews of the 19th century. In 1827, Montefiore, accompanied by his wife Judith Cohen, traveled for the first time to Palestine. The couple became very attached to the Holy Land to the extent that they visited Palestine again in 1838, 1849, 1855, 1857, 1866, and 1875. During Montefiore's lifetime, he donated large amounts of money to support the Jewish minorities in the Muslim World by promoting their industry, education and health.

During his first visit to Palestine, Montefiore started planning for a campaign that would organize and promote Jewish settlements in Palestine. Although Jewish immigration to Palestine was restricted by the Ottoman Empire, as the Ottomans were aware of the Zionist plan in creating a Jewish state in Palestine, Montefiore used his wide influences in Britain and France to pressure the Ottoman Empire into allowing the Jews to settle in Palestine.

In 1857, Montefiore built a windmill outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, which later became a famous Jewish landmark, and twelve years later, in 1869, Montefiore Windmill, along with generous donation from the American Jew, Judah Touro, both assisted the new Jewish settlers into building their first Jewish neighborhood in Palestine. The neighborhood was called Mishkenot Sha'ananim. However, Montefiore Windmill proved to be a huge failure since it was designed for European conditions in which it couldn't generate enough wind power for operation and also since the wheat grinding machinery was designed for soft European wheat which was not compatible with local Palestinian wheat. Nevertheless, Mishkenot Sha'ananim, didn't fail in attracting new Jewish settlers to Palestine.

In between his visits to Palestine, and again, using his wide influences, Montefiore called upon the Jewish leaders in Britain, Italy, Romania, Morocco and Russia to collaborate with him into planning and making Palestine a homeland for the Jews of the world.