Letter from the Jews of Jerusalem to Sir Moses Montefiore
A letter sent to Sir Moses Montefiore by Jewish residents of Jerusalem in the second half of the nineteenth century. This letter describes the difficult economic situation facing the Jewish community of Jerusalem at that time:"how shall we keep our wives and children alive? …the souls of our young ones are surrounded by starvation…"
The letter states that the Jewish community is asking not for charity but rather for help providing employment opportunities. It ends with a promise to work hard at any job they are offered.
This letter gives an understanding of the difficulties that the Jewish residents of Jerusalem faced in the nineteenth century under Turkish rule. During this time, 16,000 people, among them more than 7,000 Jews, lived in the Old City of Jerusalem. They suffered from crowded conditions, sanitary problems and disease. The Jewish people suffered in addition from restrictions imposed by the Ottoman rulers.
During these hard times Sir Moses Montefiore, a British Jewish banker, activist and philanthropist, had given hope to many oppressed Jews throughout the world, and for this reason this letter was addressed to him. He donated large sums of money to promote industry, economic development and welfare among Jewish communities in Israel and around the Jewish world. His money enabled the building of the Mishkanot Shaananim neighbourhood, the first neighbourhood in Jerusalem beyond the walls of the Old City. Montefiore’s connections to Jerusalem and Israel were very strong, and during his long life he and his wife visited Israel seven times. To this day, the carriage that brought him to Jerusalem is displayed next to Mishkanot Shaananim — the neighbourhood he founded.
How were the living conditions of the Jewish community in the Old City of Jerusalem during the nineteenth century?
Based on the information you gathered, what was the motivation for writing this letter?
Who was Sir Moses Montefiore?
Why do you think the Jewish residents of Jerusalem wrote this letter to him?
Why do you think the writers of the letter asked for help in creating places of work rather than for charity?
Sir Moses Montefiore is famous for helping the Jewish people of Jerusalem. In what other ways did he help Jews in communities around the world?
Have you visited Mishkanot Shaananim or Yemin Moshe (another old neighbourhood that was named after Montefiore)?
Look up pictures of the neighbourhood on the internet. Describe the area – what characteristics of the neighbourhood prove that is a historic neighbourhood?
In the days when Mishkanot Shaananim was built, Jews were scared to leave the Old City and start a new life beyond the protection of the walls. Can you imagine why? So why do you think Montefiore established the neighbourhood there?