In Which Sir Moses Montefiore Vows to Provide a Helping Hand

Jerusalem Journeys, (excerpt from Chapter 9)

Background Discussion Jewish Solidarity

One of the things that most distinguished Moses Montefiore was the way that he worked tirelessly, to help other Jews, for some sixty years until his death, at the age of over one hundred years.

From the time he retired from full-time work in finance in the City of London, he traveled the world, intervening in different countries, trying to improve the situation of the Jews. He was a one-man diplomatic agency for the Jewish People who was very influential and, on the whole, very successful. In the Damascus blood libel case of 1840, mentioned in the autobiographical piece earlier, he intervened to the great relief of the imprisoned Jews and the Jewish population of the eastern countries generally. He brought relief to the Jews of Morocco and temporary support to the Jews of Russia.

He was not always so successful: an 1859 attempt to intervene with the Pope to secure the release of a young Italian Jewish boy claimed as Christian by the Church and abducted from his family after his Christian nursemaid had baptized him with water, failed to restore the boy to his family or to Judaism.

Until well into his nineties, Montefiore was prepared to go around the world when he felt that his presence was needed. His work is even more remarkable for the fact that it was precisely in this period, the mid-nineteenth century, that many Western European Jews were withdrawing from any involvement in international Jewish affairs, feeling that such activity would conflict with their feelings of patriotism and loyalty to those countries that had newly given them rights.

Sir Moses turned his back on fashion, and walked proudly through the world as a Jew, speaking to monarchs and ministers without a feeling of inferiority. He showed that a Jew " and a religious Jew " had no need to be humbled by power.

Activity Modern Jewish Solidarity

Suitable for all age groups

We suggest that this point of the program is a useful opportunity to examine the question of modern Jewish solidarity, not in theory, but in practice.

- We suggest that a contact should be made with an immigrant Jewish group in the community. There are many Jews who have settled in the West in the last twenty years, especially, but not exclusively, from the territories of the former Soviet Union. If there are no relatively recent Jewish arrivals from other countries in your community, maybe a visit to a larger community can be planned. Alternatively, the same goal can be addressed to an extent, by a meeting with other Jews in the community - such as a group of Jewish senior citizens. The important point, is that it should be the type of group with whom the youth group members normally have only minimal contact.

- Organize at least one (and if possible, more than one) proper face-to-face meeting with a group of immigrants, which will include significant one-on-one time between the members of the group and the immigrants. In this meeting, there should, if possible, be a structured attempt to examine what, if anything, the two people have in common.

- An interesting additional dynamic can be achieved by having another meeting with a similar group (as far as age, economic background, and – if immigrant – time in the host community, are concerned) of non-Jewish people. This group could then be a basis for comparison:

  • What were the common feelings that the members of the group felt towards the two sets of people that they met?
  • What were the differences i.e., what, if any, were the specific feelings felt towards fellow Jews?

- Following this, the group should be debriefed to see if there is any sense of solidarity that they feel with other Jews - and if there is, what is the nature of the bond? Every attempt should be made to get the participants to articulate the connection and put it into words. If there is a connection, on what is it based?

- If some kind of bond is felt, does it only come down to a feeling that they have something in common or does it go one step further?

  • Do they think that Jews should have any responsibility towards each other? There is an old tradition that says; “All Jews have responsibility for each other.” Is that saying meaningful to them?
  • Should Jews feel responsible for other Jews?

- If the answer is positive, is there any willingness on the part of the chanichim to do something with this feeling and to decide on some sort of action to express that responsibility?
If possible, consider a program that the group can run or join to help the immigrant
Jews, and maybe a parallel campaign of some kind to do something for an overseas
Jewish community in distress. A letter campaign for action on Israeli P.O.W.s
(MIA's) springs to mind as an example.

Missing In Action:

There are a number of Israeli soldiers who fell into the hands of different Arab groups at or around the time of the Lebanese war. It is not known whether or not they are still alive. International campaigns have been started to try and secure information on their whereabouts and to arrange for the return of the soldiers or their bodies. More information should be available in your community center or local Israel affairs office. Also see the websites.

- At some point, while this is going on, examine/tell the story/run a project on Moses Montefiore and see how the group relates to him as a figure. Is there anything that we can learn from him as a figure?



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26 Apr 2007 / 8 Iyar 5767 0