Sir Moses Montefiore was born in 1784 to an Italian-British family, and grew up in London. As a young man he went into business and quickly earned a reputation for being very fair and honest. He was so successful that by the age of forty he was able to retire, and he spent the rest of his life devoted to philanthropy and public service. Montefiore traveled to the land of Israel for the first time in 1827, soon after he retired.and then visited it six more times through his long life, despite the difficulties of the journey in those days, when international travel was made by ship and carriage.
Sir Moses Montefiore’s contribution to the land of Israel and the Jews who lived there was beyond measure. He sponsored not only the building of new synagogues, and institutions, but of entire neighborhoods and towns. He also funded a project to clean up the Western Wall, which at the time was being used as a garbage dump by the local Arabs.
Not limited to the land of Israel, Montefiore was considered a “Minister of Defense” for Jews world-wide. When a blood-libel broke out in Damascus in 1840 in which Jews were falsely accused of slaughtering Christian children to use their blood to make Matzah for Pessach. Seven Jews were arrested; two of them died under torture, one of them converted to Islam in order to be spared and the others were made to “confess.” The authorities also seized 63 Jewish children so as to extort the hiding place of the victims’ blood from their mothers. Montefiore traveled to the Turkish Sultan and persuaded him to declare that the blood-libel was false and may not be renewed. In different circumstances, Montefiore travelled to Russia, Rome and other places in advocate on behalf of the persecuted Jews.
Moses Montefiore and his wife Judith were not blessed with children, but they nevertheless left behind an immense legacy. When he died at the age of 100, in 1885, Sir Moses Montefiore had laid the groundwork for the transformation of Jerusalem into the modern, bustling and thriving city you see today. There are no less than five neighborhoods of Jerusalem named for him!
- Ohel Moshe – founded in 1883 for the Sephardic residents of the Old City looking to move outside of the Old City walls. Now it can be found in the Nachlaot neighborhood near the center of town.
- Mazkeret Moshe – Founded in 1883 for the Ashkenazi residents of the Old City looking to move outside of the Old City walls. Now it can be found in the Nachlaot neighborhood near the center of town.
- Yemin Moshe – Located opposite Mount Zion, adjacent to Mishkenot She’ananim, the first neighborhood built outside the Old City walls. It was founded in 1892, and its first residents were members of the poverty stricken community within the Old City walls.
- Zichron Moshe – Located near the city center, near the neighborhood of Mea She’arim , it was founded in 1906. At the time, many of the Jewish community of Jerusalem’s wealthy and intellectually elite settled there.
- Kiryat Moshe – founded in 1923 on the west side of the city, the founders were national-religious and it was originally cordoned off on Shabbat so people could not drive through it.