In 1894 the Freemasons of Jaffa decided to award a medal of honour to the “Grand-Meister” in Paris and requested my grandfather to produce an impressive medal. Once the medal was ready they started looking for a member who would travel to Paris and deliver it. My grandfather thought this was a good opportunity for him to expound some ideas which he had and suggested that he will go to Paris and present the medal to the “Grand-Meister” in the name of all the members of the Jaffa branch. His suggestion was accepted and the members said that they would gladly cover all the journey’s expenses but my grandfather refused to get a single penny for his expenses and since he himself had no savings he sold his shop and all his house furniture and utensils for less than their value and moved his wife and children to his relatives Itzhak and Golda Chernov in Rishon-Lezion, handed grandmother enough money for herself and the children that would last until he got back from his travels and took the Austrian Lloyd ship which sailed from Jaffa to Marseille.
He reached Marseille on July 13, 1894 and took the train, arriving in Paris next day. He met Jules Oslan who was the President of the Freemasons in Paris, handed him the medal which was bestowed by the Freemasons of Jaffa and told him about some of his ideas.
Jules Oslan was very impressed by what he heard from the member who arrived from the forgotten and remote land and decided that he should not remain just a “Meister” and so he bestowed on him the grade 18. ( The Freemasons are an organization which keeps all its grades, protocols and ceremonies strictly secret and therefore coding is very widespread with them). When he heard from grandfather that there were 7 members at the Jaffa branch who could form a “Chapter” which would deal with grandfather’s ideas he raised his grade from 18 to 30. Grandfather considered his Paris visit to be very successful and returned happily to Israel.
Upon his return to Jaffa he dealt with the Freemasons even before taking care of his family and livelihood. The Freemason branch of Jaffa was a branch of the Egyptian formula and branch. The members at Jaffa decided that the Paris branch “Grand Orient de Paris” would suit them and their ideas and needs far better and therefore they requested to be admitted to it and were accepted. They also concluded that the name “Le Temple de Salomon” does not suit them for it smells of a Mission organization and so they changed the name to the Hebrew name: “Barkai” (Morning Star) which was also accepted in Paris. In 1896 grandfather’s savings were exhausted and he had to return to work and provide for his family. He again rented a flat at Neve-Zedek where he installed his family which he brought back from Rishon-Lezion and started working. Another daughter, named Leah, was soon born. Grandfather’s job at the French Railway Company helped him to provide for all of his family’s needs.
Towards the end of 1896 Yoseph Feinberg who was one of my grandfather’s best friends showed up in his shop and handed him a book which he just received , saying: “Here is the answer to your dreams and struggles.” The book was “The Jewish State” by Theodore Herzl in its original language – German. Grandfather did not resume working until he read the book studiously twice. He felt enlightened. Herzl’s way of expression and presentation of the Jewish problem as part of the universal social problem of social injustice and social inequality identified his own thoughts and shook him to the core. He, like many others, was swept by Herzl’s ideas and started devoting more time to them than he had thus far devoted to Freemasonry.
The Zionist idea was not new and Herzl did not invent it. But Herzl succeeded in expressing it in a political tongue and to turn it from a religious movement to a political movement which suited the spirit of that time. A movement striving for the complete sovereignty of a people which woke up from a sleep of ages.
In autumn 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm the Second, Kaiser of Germany, came to visit Israel. Herzl thought this was a wonderful opportunity and hurried to Israel intending to meet the Kaiser and speak with him about the Zionist idea. Herzl hoped that this idea will raise a lot of interest with the Kaiser and that both of them would be able to tour the country and hold a few quasi-political meetings which will influence the Turkish Sultan who was the ruler of Israel. Herzl describes his visit with the words: “the earth was burning under my feet” and it seems that these words in his diary had a double meaning. Herzl met the Kaiser at the gate of the “Mikveh-Israel” School of Agriculture and after they were photographed by Wolfson both Herzl and Wolfson visited Jaffa and went to the shop of the photographer Bernard Eidlstein so as to develop the photo-plates. The photographer’s shop was close to my grandfather’s shop so that he had a chance to take a close and long look at Herzl who was so holy to grandfather that he dared not approach him to shake his hand as many others did.
Herzl’s hopes from this visit did not materialize. As has already happened several times in Jewish history there were some “good Jews” from “our fellow-members” which hurried both to the Turkish as well as the German authorities and insulted Herzl with unfounded pretexts and crude lies. Herzl writes about them in his diary: “either due to a good meaning or a bad one they might have caused me difficulties with the shoddy Turkish government; either so as to save the Jewish nation which was endangered or so as to gain thirty shekels. Either so as to please the Pasha or so as to please the Baron.” (By thirty shekels he alluded to the story of Judas Iscariot and by the Baron he alluded to Rothschild). So as to stop this vile conduct Herzl decided to leave Israel before the end of the Kaiser’s visit. On the day on which he was about to board the ship “Dundee” which carried a cargo of oranges from Jaffa harbor to Europe grandfather saw him again. Herzl writes in his diary: “this was a most unpleasant day” and my grandfather told me several times how he saw Herzl’s sad and moist eyes when he went into the boat which took him to the ship. This was only 10 days after he came to Israel.
Grandfather’s economical situation improved to the point where he bought a plot of 227.4 square meters at Neveh-Zedek which had a house containing 2 rooms. He paid 81 Gold Napoleons for it. He covered the roof with tiles immediately and added a novelty which was not found in any other house in Neveh-Zedek: A bath. Needless to mention that almost all of Neveh-Zedek’s people used to come and bathe in Moritz Schönberg’s bath. In 1898 grandmother and grandfather had another son which they called Emile in honor of the famous French writer Emile Zola who defended Alfred Dreyfus and wrote many other books dealing with social problems. Unfortunately the baby died after several weeks.
Grandfather’s income grew and he spent more time watching and reading Herzl’s actions: His meetings with the Turkish Sultan in Istanbul, his speeches at the Zionist Congresses and his writings. Grandfather subscribed to the paper “Die Velt” and made sure to get all the books and publications which dealt with Zionism.