16 Ab is the Nahalah of Sir Moses Mentefiore. He passed away on 28 July, 1885 at the age of 100. Sir Moses is arguably the nineteenth century’s most well known Jew. He lived at a time of Jewish communal transition, and was instrumental in much of that change. During his life Europe’s Jews became increasingly enfranchised. Montefiore led numerous campaigns to promote these rights and toleration wherever Jews lived. He met with kings, sultans, tzars and heads of States. While he operated within the old model of the Jewish intercessor (the Court Jew), he also galvanised communal support through the newly emergent Jewish press. He led financial campaigns in times of crisis in support of Jews the world over. His efforts went further in that he also elicited support from England’s non-Jewish community. He repaid that generosity in kind during Christian campaigns in support of other humanitarian causes.
Sir Moses was renowned for his wealth and philanthropy. His most beloved cause, though, was Jewish life in the Holy Land. He traveled there seven times throughout his life. On one occasion he personally distributed charity to every Jew living there. He also led campaigns to introduce agricultural enterprises in Israel, and to construct housing beyond Jerusalem’s walls. His vision would become Israel’s future. He was always joined in these efforts by his beloved Lady Judith.
Montefiore was also a religious Jew who was committed to tradition at a time of growing Reform. He was a Sephardic Portuguese Jew of Livornese extraction and his lifelong synagogue was London’s Bevis Marks. In fact, his seat in the front of the synagogue remains cordoned off in his honour until this day.
He eventually purchased a home in the seaside resort town of Ramsgate where he then built a synagogue. It is located down a long wooded path. After the death of his beloved wife he also established there the Lady Judith Montefiore College for advanced Torah study. While the school no longer remains, its legacy lives on through the Montefiore Endowment which is dedicated to promoting Jewish education and the values of Montefiore.
Lady Judith is laid to rest in a mausoleum which is a replica of the domed Tomb of Rachel. She and Sir Moses had also constructed the original one outside of Bethlehem. Rachel’s tomb was a place of great meaning to Lady Judith. Then, after a very long and productive life, Montefiore was finally laid to rest beside his wife. The mausoleum sits just outside the synagogue.
A Jewish community persisted in Ramsgate for some time, though now very few Jews remain. The synagogue and the mausoleum are therefore only opened on special occasions. These dates include the Sunday of his Nahalah, and the day of an annual spring Jewish music concert which is held at the synagogue for the residents of Ramsgate. I had the pleasure to attend the synagogue at that time. Thankfully, the caretakers also granted me access to the mausoleum so that I could recite the Hashcaba memorial prayer in memory of the Montefiores. In addition, upon the conclusion of the concert I was privileged to also lead Minha according the beloved S&P rite of Sir Moses.
Green, Abigail. ‘Moses Montefiore: Jewish Leader, Imperial Hero.’ Harvard University Press, 201o.