>>>The Baron and the Moshavot
The Baron and the Moshavot 2018-02-19T22:12:01+00:00

The Baron Rothschild and the Moshavot

The Godfather (The Famous Benefactor)

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.

I want to create an agricultural settlement that will serve as a model to many others, that will have an impact…We must open a window, as much as possible, and as soon as possible, to help our suffering brothers in the Diaspora.”
From the words of Rothschild after the Pogroms in Russia (“Storms in the Negev”)

The Legal Guardianship System

The meaning of the words “legal guardianship” is assuming responsibility for someone who is unable to take care of his interests on his own. That is how the Baron Rothschild viewed the people of the moshavot and so he assumed financial and spiritual responsibility for them.

The lands were registered in the names of his representatives and not in the names of the farmers. An army of clerks and advisors were sent to organize life in the moshavot. The supervision of the Baron’s administrators enabled a sophisticated system of services and even the conducting of expensive agricultural experiments. They controlled every aspect of life in the moshavot, resulting in deep alienation between the French clerks and the farmers, whose culture and ideology were very different. The French clerks were educated on French culture and looked down on the “primitive” farmers. The clerk was Jewish, but he was not a Zionist. The only thing that interested him was proper management of the moshav and satisfying the Baron. The farmers were lacking in initiative because they received a monthly salary. Sometimes there were grave results; the farmer stopped working and his work would be done by Arab workers.
rotschild

a site tour

The Baron Rothschild and his wife, Adelaide, touring the orchards of Zichron Ya’akov in 1914

The Jewish Colonization Association

The J.C.A. (Jewish Colonization Association) was a society that was founded by the Baron Hirsch in 1891. Its aim was to assist Jewish immigrant settlements in America, primarily in Argentina. “Hovevi Zion” tried to convince the Baron Hirsch to help immigration to the Land of Israel. However, at that time, the Land of Israel was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and was not a favored destination for the Baron.

He decided to establish his settlements in Argentina and the United States. Thousands of Jewish immigrants from Russia moved to his settlements where they enjoyed community life and learned farming. On January 1, 1900, the Baron Hirsch withdrew his support and involvement in the settlements and transferred the management to the Jewish Colonization Association, whose policies were based purely on financial interests. They supported those farmers who were financially independent.

“Beit Yad Labanim” in Rishon-Lezion – originally used by the baron’s officials
Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA)

PICA was founded by the Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild in 1923. This organization replaced the Jewish Colonization Association in supporting the settlers. After Britain conquered the Land of Israel, Rothschild saw a need to increase his assistance to the settlement of the Land of Israel.

The Baron Rothschild appointed his son, James de Rothschild to head the organization. The Baron transferred all the lands of the Jewish Colonization Association to PICA. PICA purchased tracts of land in the Land of Israel and built settlements on them, including Mishmar Hashlosha, Ma’ayan Zvi, Be’it Keshet and Ginnosar. The organization was active in many areas. It dried swamps around Petach Tikva and Hadera, it took part in establishing factories, including the power station at Naharaim, which was founded by Pinhas Rutenberg, the cement plant in Nesher and the salt plant in Atlit. PICA also planted trees on its land.

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