Sir Moses Montifiore's Dream - Israel's Great Benefactor

    August 1998          
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Moses Montefiore's Dream

By Dovid Rossoff

On the 16th day of this Jewish month of Av, in the year 1885, Sir Moses Montefiore passed away at the age of one hundred. Although historians like to quibble about the "real" motives behind some of the projects he tried to set up, one thing is clear: he was a man who gave himself over to the Jewish people.

As one of the early Jewish philanthropists, Sir Moses used his influence for a wide array of Jewish causes. When Rabbi Mier Liebsh, known as the Malbim, was imprisoned on false charges for defending Torah against the renegade secularists, it was Montefiore who went to personally help to free him. In 1840, when news reached Europe of the Damascus blood libel, it was Sir Moses who traveled to Istanbul to demand from the Sultan to free the imprisoned rabbis and put an end to the devastating curse. Montefiore championed other Jewish causes and earned the respect and admiration of Gentile kings and princes.

Yet closest to his heart was the status of the Jews of the land of Israel. Between 1827 and 1875 Sir Moses visited the Holy Land seven times. On most of his journeys he was escorted by his wife, Lady Judith, and his personal secretary, Dr. Eliezer Loewe. They traveled by all the modern means available at the time: horse and carriage, sail boats across the Mediterranean Sea, camel back, and by foot.

Sir Moses was enamored by the Jews who settled in "G-d's acre," and who obviously struggled under austere conditions. He strove to aid them whenever possible with gifts, work opportunities, and kinds words. As their spokesman to the ruling Turkish government, Montefiore succeeded to change decrees and achieve goals that no one else could possible do. He rallied world Jewry to the plight of the Jews of the Old Yishuv (Jewish settlement of Israel) and collect funds to rescue them during times of plague and drought.

Most of all, Sir Moses loved the Holy City and the Jews who clustered near the ruins of the holy Temple. A sojourn to the Holy Land was incomplete without a visit to Jerusalem. There he met with the rabbinic leaders and laymen. People lined up for hours to have a word with him. To each and every one he showed concern and instilled new courage to face the future.

The Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem
Some of the projects which Montefiore started include the first Jewish printing press in Jerusalem (Beck Press), a shrine over the tomb of Rachel, the windmill, an agricultural farm near Jaffa called Gan Montefiore, and many more.

What awakened this guardian of Jerusalem and the land of Israel to his Divine mission? In 1877 (5637), when Sir Moses was ninety-three years old, one of his relatives, Leonard Montefiore, visited him at his mansion in Ramsgate. During their conversation, Leonard broached the subject.

"It is interesting that you should ask me," answered the revered tzaddik (righteous person). "You are the first person who ever has asked me. Although I've never divulged to anyone how I initially became interested in this cause, I feel that now is the right time."

Sir Moses sat up at the edge of his chair and stretched out his hand. "Do you see this ring?" he said as he removed it from his finger. "Take a good look at it," he added as he handed it to Leonard.

Engraved on the ring were two Hebrew words: χεΙπΖδ δΗλΜΙμ (Possessor of everything).

"I have worn this signet for many years as a reminder of the first wondrous experience which led me to travel to the land of Israel."

Looking warmly at the young man, Sir Moses said, "You are from the younger generation and are apt to view this type of behavior as silly, but really it is only because you never experienced this type of awakening."

Reclining in his chair, he gazed out the window. "It all started from a dream I had one night." Responding to Leonard's raised eyebrow, he continued, "Yes, a whole lifetime's mission began from a simple dream!

"One motzei Shabbos, (Saturday night) while my dear Judith and I were singing 'Eliyahu HaNavi,' (the traditional song about the prophet Eliyahu) we both felt elated, and discussed the idea of visiting the Holy Land and climbing Mount Carmel - as well as other holy sites. Right then and there, I promised her that we would go there someday.

"That night I dreamt that I saw a venerated old man. He showed me a picture of Eliyahu with one hand while pointing in the direction of the land of Israel with the other. He then whispered in my ear, χεΙπΖδ δΗλΜΙμ, 'possessor of everything.'

"I woke up and went back to sleep. Again, I dreamt the same dream and woke with the words χεΙπΖδ δΗλΜΙμ resounding in my ears. Unbelievably, I went back to sleep and a third time I had the same dream!"

Leonard was speechless, hardly believing what he was hearing.

Sir Moses continued, "This dream made such a deep impression on me, that I felt compelled to act on the promise I had just made Judith much sooner than I had thought to. In fact, I immediately let all my other commitments fall to the side and prepared for the journey with my wife without delay. We wanted to see how our fellow Jews were faring in the Holy Land."

Sir Moses looked at Leonard piercingly with a twinkle in his eye. "Whether or not you feel that the dream was ridiculous, you cannot deny that there is a lot for you and me to do for the land of Israel!"


from the August 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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