My Mother’s Family — Part 10

The years 1891-1898 went by as well as the first two Zionist Congresses but except for a few more colonies which were founded by Baron Edmond Rothschild and several private business enterprises nothing important happened in Israel. Most of the Jews which came to Israel in growing numbers from year to year came through Jaffa and most of them remained there.

Grandfather’s good economical situation was not compatible with the situation of most of these new immigrants who found no work and were getting poorer and hungrier from day to day. The problem was the lack of funds and financing which prevented the development of new business and industry. There were only two banks in Israel at that time which were private banks. The first was the bank of the Valero family in Jerusalem and the other was the bank of the Hamburger family which had branches both in Jerusalem and in Jaffa.

Moritz Schönberg, together with Wilhelm Gross and David Yudilovitz established a cooperative society called “Peulah” (Action). Several hundred members joined this cooperative but out of the 50 founding members only 35 bought a share for one Gold Napoleon (20 Gold Francs). Everybody was drawing food and clothing from the cooperatives’ store but nobody was contributing anything to it. The 10 Gold Francs which the cooperative used to get from the Zionist organization in Odessa every month was not enough to balance the till. The cooperative wrote to Herzl twice asking for help, although they knew that he had a lot of problems as they were. Grandfather who was the President of “Peulah” suggested in his letter to Herzl that it was of urgent importance to establish a Zionist bank in Israel. On December 19, 1901 Herzl replied, from Vienna, that he was going to take with him to the Congress in Basle this last letter which he received and hand it to Z.D. Levontin who was the Director of the “National Treasury” so as to discuss this request and decide about establishing a bank in Israel.

Finally Anglo-Palestine Bank was established in Jaffa but by that time “Peulah” which operated for 3 years: From 1899 to 1902 was gone. My grandfather came out of “Peulah” sorrowful and distressed not due to the fact that he had to mortgage all his property so as to cover and pay back all of the cooperative’s debts but due to the fact that he saw and endured the shameful way in which those who utilized and exploited the cooperative acted – like a horde of schnorrers who swoop down on a soup-kitchen.

The failure of Cooperative “Peulah” did not let -down my grandfather’s spirit. While a great many Jews left Israel during the 19th century due to economical hardships – the opposite trend of incoming Jews marked the start of the 20th century in Jaffa. In 1902, soon after the winding-up of “Peulah” my grandfather discovered a large, empty plot of land in Bustros street. When he measured the plot he concluded that it could hold a building containing 17 shops, each 4 meters wide. Such a project would supply work to Jewish immigrants and then present shops for hire at more convenient prices then were asked by Arab landlords. He found out that the plot belonged to an Arab widow called Elizabeth Bustros who was residing in Beirut. Grandfather traveled to Beirut. The widow agreed to sell the plot of land and did not ask an exaggerated price for it but as was the case in the past – grandfather did not have the sum requested. He therefore asked Mrs Bustros to lease the plot to him for a period of 9 years so that he would build the building containing 17 shops which at the end of the 9 years lease will pass entirely to her ownership. They signed a detailed contract and grandfather returned to Jaffa.

He calculated that the entire project should cost 12,000 Gold Francs. This was a large sum which he did not have and which was difficult to get. He went to his good friend Itzhak Levi who was the director of JCA (Jewish Colonization Association established by Baron Morris Hirsch) who referred him to Albert Enteby in Jerusalem who was the Director of AIU (Alliance Israelite Universelle established by Adolph Cremieux) and had considerable means himself. Enteby agreed to a partnership with grandfather and invested half of the sum required, 6,000 Gold Francs provided that in addition to receiving half of the future income he would receive during the 9 years of the concession 9% interest on his investment. Although this interest was very high at the time grandfather agreed. He succeeded to build the building containing the 17 shops as planned. Succeeding to achieve this project made my grandfather, who was already very renown among Jaffa’s Arabs – even more famous and added ten times more respect and honor to ” Hawajah Moritz”.

In 1902 Sultan Abdul-Hamid the Second was 60 years old and the authorities in Jaffa convened their officials as well as the Muslim and Christian notables of Jaffa to a meeting in Government House. Grandfather was also invited and was the only Jew there. The purpose of the meeting was to decide how to celebrate and how to mark the Sultan’s birthday. Listening to the suggestions that were brought forward grandfather understood that finally the money which will be collected so as to carry out this or that will end up in the pockets of the interested advisers while the public of Jaffa will not get anything out of it. He therefore stood up and proposed to build a tower in the center of town and fix a big clock in the tower with 4 dials facing the 4 sides of the tower, 2 dials with Arabic hour-numerals and 2 dials with Roman hour-numerals. His proposal was accepted and he was asked to carry it out. He engaged a German architect who planned and surveyed the building of the tower and then grandfather installed the clock with the dials as promised. Several days after the clock-tower was ready and functioning the notables of Nablus came to see the latest attraction of Jaffa which made them very jealous. They went to my grandfather and asked him to erect a similar clock-tower in the center of Nablus but with a clock that would sound the hour every hour loud enough so as to be heard within a 3 kilometer radius. Grandfather granted their request and built them an identical clock-tower with an hourly ringing clock which was heard 2 miles around. These two clock-towers were in addition to the seven railway-station-clocks which he erected and maintained 10 years earlier on the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway line for the French Railway Company.


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