The Jewish world is scattered with institutions all named after Sir Moses Montefiore—and yet, how many Jews now know who he was? Even Richmond, Virginia, has a Sir Moses Montefiore Cemetery, as do New York; Philadelphia; Las Vegas; Woburn, Massachusetts; and even Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Lowell, Massachusetts; Appleton, Wisconsin; Bloomington, Illinois; and Ramsgate, England all have synagogues named after him. The first synagogue in the New Mexico Territory in 1886 was named after Sir Moses.

In 1902, one of the Jewish agricultural settlements established in Argentina was named the Colonia Montefiore. Attempts were made to start colonies in Kansas in 1884 and in Western Canada in 1910, both of which bore the Montefiore name.

The world-famous Montefiore Medical Center in New York carries his name, as does an organization for the care of the elderly in Cleveland. One of Montreal’s most fashionable social clubs is named after him. Chicago has a public school with his name. As far back as 1864, a Masonic lodge was named after him in London, with numerous lodges following—including Glasgow in 1888 and Tel Aviv in 1996.

The Windmill Man

For anyone who has been to Israel, the name invariably evokes the response, “Oh! The windmill man!”

For anyone who has been to Israel, the name invariably evokes the response, “Oh! The windmill man!” And it is true that for many, the windmill in the Yemin Moshe quarter in Jerusalem, just near the King David Hotel and overlooking the walls of the Old City and Mount Zion, may be the most distinctive memorial to this amazing Jewish man. The windmill is so distinctive that in 1997 the Republic of Azerbaijan issued a stamp commemorating it.

In fact, however, his accomplishments were far greater. He was born in 1784 in Italy, and brought up in London. He became one of the few Jewish members of the London Stock Exchange. He represented the Rothschilds, and in 1812 married into the family.

Between 1827 and 1875 he visited Palestine seven times, usually with his wife. They traveled by horse and carriage, by boat, by camel and on foot. Following his first visit, he became strictly observant. He even built his own synagogue on his estate outside of London.

The windmill at Yemin Moshe
The windmill at Yemin Moshe

He was a man driven by his love for his fellow Jews, especially those who had settled in the land of Israel. He acted as their spokesman to the Ottoman rulers. He rallied Jews worldwide to help those who had made aliyah.

Among his projects was to start the first Jewish printing press in Jerusalem. He built a shrine over the tomb of Rachel; an agricultural farm near Jaffa; and the symbol of his fame—the windmill at Yemin Moshe.

Yemin Moshe

In 1854, with the help of Judah Touro of New Orleans, Sir Moses founded the first residential quarter in Jerusalem outside the walls of the Old City. This included the windmill, for grinding flour.

Designed originally for indigent Jews who lived within the walls, the neighborhood deteriorated over the years, and by the 1960s could only be described as a deplorable slum. It has now been gentrified, and is considered as one of the most fashionable, attractive and expensive quarters in Jerusalem. Nowhere else is the view of Mount Zion and the Old City so breathtaking—especially at sunset. This is the part of town which carries Sir Moses’ Hebrew name, Moshe.

In recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Jews, he was knighted by Queen Victoria

The work of Sir Moses Montefiore became widely known. In 1846, in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Jews, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Montefiore’s activities on behalf of overseas Jews were not restricted to philanthropic projects. He personally went to Russia, Morocco and Romania to plead the cause of Jews with authorities, to alleviate persecution. In many cases his efforts may not have had long-term success, but may have had at least some temporary impact. While he believed in the restoration of the Jewish state, he was not a Zionist in modern terms, since he believed that eventually Jews throughout the world would be emancipated.

His prestige and popularity both in England and abroad, including his personal friendship with Queen Victoria, resulted in worldwide celebrations by Jewish communities on his one-hundredth birthday. Several months later he died, with his name being honored by institutions throughout the Jewish world, from Richmond to Montreal to Cleveland to Jerusalem—and even Grand Forks, North Dakota.