The settlers of the First Aliyah experienced great hardship in the settlements. Not only weren’t they professionally trained, but they also weren’t used to the difficult conditions in the Land of Israel. They faced a harsh climate, disease, a lack of water, attacks by Bedouin tribes and a lack of financial support from “Hovevi Zion” in the Diaspora. If all these hardships weren’t enough, they also suffered from loneliness and homesickness. They missed their native land and their families which they left behind. The settlers of the First Aliyah understood that they needed help.
What Can be Done?
In 1982 three people, Karl Netter, the principal of Mikve Israel, Rabbi Samuel Mohilever and Joseph Feinberg turned to Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild, known as “The Famous Benefactor” and the “Father of the Settlement”. They asked him for financial aid for the new moshavot. The Baron agreed and a collective sigh of relief was heard from the settlers of the First Aliyah. The Baron set a number of conditions: transferring the property to his legal guardianship, meaning that he was responsible for the land in the moshavot, following all his orders and, surprisingly, he asked to remain anonymous. In order to fulfil his conditions, he set up an administrative body of clerks which reached each and every settlement and began to manage them.
So Who Was Rothschild?
Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild (October 19, 1845 – November 2, 1934), a son of the French branch of the Rothschild family, was a Jewish patriot and benefactor. He was a major supporter of the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. During the period of the First Aliyah, he was known as “The Famous Benefactor” and the “Father of the Yishuv”.
Rothschild was a Zionist. Upon hearing of the situations of the Jews of the First Aliyah, he felt sorry for them and decided to help. Any profits which were to be reaped from his investments in The Land of Israel were to be reinvested for the good of the Jews living there. Villages like Zichron Ya’akov, Rishon LeZion and Yesod Hama’ala were on the verge of financial collapse because the settlers did not know enough about farming and found it very difficult to adjust to the physical labor and the climate conditions.
At first, the Baron helped Rishon LeZion, and later Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’akov. The only one that was managed by an elected committee was Rosh Pina until disagreements arose One year later they too asked for clerks to run the moshava, as happened in other settlements.
The Contribution of the Baron
Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild’s contribution was great. It included establishing wineries and other plants and the donation of 40 million French francs. Despite the problems surrounding the administrative body, the Baron’s involvement prevented the collapse of the moshavot and contributed in many ways to the development of settlement in the Land of Israel. He purchased lands adjacent to the settlements and gave them to the settlers and he purchased the products produced by the settlers. His money funded the drying of the swamplands in Hadera. Moreover, he initiated the founding of additional moshavot, including Akron, Bat Shlomo and Meir Shfeya. In addition to wineries, he also established a glass factory in Tantura and attempted to set up a perfume and silk industry. He set up public institutions in the moshavot: synagogues, schools, health clinics and hospitals. He built infrastructures, such as roads, and water supply systems. He founded agricultural settlements and farms in Houran. His administrators brought about changes in the lifestyle and work of the settlers – they improved the methods of farming, introduced modern methods of administration and created advanced systems of public services in the areas of health and education. They also succeeded in softening the representatives of the Turkish government through bribes and negotiations in Istanbul (Kushta).
If I Were Rothschild….
The Baron’s support of the Hebrew moshavot in the Land of Israel, in the format of legal guardianship, continued for 17 years, ending in 1900, when he transferred the management of the moshavot to the Jewish Colonization Association, a Jewish settlement organization that was formed in 1891 by the Baron Hirsch. During this period, the moshavot developed and some of them even became financially profitable. The Baron Rothschild continued to support community institutions all over the Land of Israel. Even after the transfer of the moshavot to the Jewish Colonization Association, the Baron Rothschild continued to donate to the Jewish Yishuv.