My Mother’s Family — Part 8

While walking from his home to his shop Moritz Schönberg used to pass opposite “Bank Ottoman” by a large plot of land which was totally bare. This land belonged to a Christian-Arab effendy (gentleman) named Taiyan. Moritz went to see him and asked him if he would lease this empty plot to him for several years but Taiyan replied that he had to mortgage this plot as well as many other land areas which he had due to having lost a lot of money during the past year.

This empty plot of land kept disturbing Moritz and so he went back to Taiyan and asked to allow him to build 12 shops on this plot in exchange for 10 Gold Napoleons per year for every single shop. This did not prevent Taiyan from mortgaging the plot so he signed a 3 year contract with Moritz Schönberg. However, Moritz did not know where he could get enough money to build these 12 shops.

He went to his good old friend Yaakov Elhanan Litvinsky who by this time was already a rich wood merchant and proposed partnership to him. Litvinsky refused, saying that partnership should only be made with one’s wife. However , he proposed in return that Moritz build at the corner of the plot one shop for himself and submit the building and letting of the other 11 shops to him. At first Moritz refused. Finally he met with Itzhak Neiman the watchmaker who succeeded in getting enough money to build a shop which served both of them and had an apartment on top of it. Having no other choice Moritz finally submitted the concession for the building of the other 11 shops to Litvinsky who built them immediately, covered within one year the cost of building them and had the rent he received during the two remaining years as net remuneration.

My grandfather went on working in partnership with Neiman in the shop which they built together on Taiyan’s plot and went back to live in Neve-Zedek. Despite the fact that his economical situation grew far better his heart and spirit remained linked to the farmers who were toiling the land in the villages and whenever he had some spare time he used to walk to Rishon-Lezion and visit his relative Itzhak Chernov and his friends Yoseph Feinberg, Shalit and the others. When in Rishon he used to help Chernov to work in the field. He liked ploughing most of all.During one of his visits he took part in defending the village from an attack of Arabs from the neighboring Arab villages. He voiced his opinion saying that it was not good to wait until the Arabs appear and he convinced the Jewish villagers of Rishon to charge forward to the Arab village and strike them on their own land. This tactic was very successful. The Arab felons were taken by surprise and beaten and the Rishon villagers took away with them a large part of the Arab herd as surety. This forced the Sheiks to come and beg forgiveness and promise that never again will any of their men trespass on Rishon-Lezion land.

In 1892 a worthy Sephardi Jew called Yoseph Bey Navon ( no relation to the future President of Israel Itzhak Navon) raised the idea of a railway line between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Navon convinced the Sultan of Turkey of the urgent need and importance of such a railway line and received from the Sultan a “Firman” (concession) to build and operate this railway line. Navon could not find the necessary financial resources and finally sold the concession to a French enterprise. My grandfather was already very well established financially at that time. He left the shop which he had in Ajamy and rented a larger shop close to Government House, opposite Howard Gate. A large group of French engineers arrived in Jaffa to lay the railway line. They looked for local companions with whom they could spend their free time and when they found out that grandfather speaks fluent French and is a free-thinker they started visiting his shop frequently to have a chat, to exchange ideas on world events and events in this small country. They used to come along to grandfather with books of the best French literature, mainly books which had social motives. Grandfather did not return a single book without reading it thoroughly While meeting with these Frenchmen he found out that they started in Jaffa a branch of Freemasons called “Le Temple de Salomon” which was a branch of the Freemason center in Paris. Grandfather had read and knew a little about the Freemasons and asked and questioned them further about their aims and deeds finally asking to join them. He was accepted without any difficulty. He was very impressed by the reception ceremony. He became a very active confrere in this branch which included Christians, Muslims and Jews. He was active to such an extent that at the end of his first year as member he was given the rank of “Master” which is the third rank in their hierarchy and is usually given after several years.

The French engineers did their best so as to help Moritz Schönberg materially so that finally the management of the French Railway Company asked him to fix 7 clocks at the 7 railway stations from Jaffa to Jerusalem and to care for their constant operation. His salary was 40 Gold Francs per month plus one more Franc for every hour’s work and a free railway pass for as long as he lives. Grandfather held this post for 23 years, from 1892 to 1915 when the Turks destroyed this railway line so that the British army would not be able to use it. The French Railway Company had no choice then but to advise my grandfather that since the railway line did not exist anymore it was compelled to fire him.

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