My Mother’s Family — Part 14

1904 was a very tough year for my grandfather. Not only because of the boycott but because on July 3, 1904 Doctor Binyamin-Zeev (Theodore) Herzl passed away. Grandfather’s world darkened. He was convinced that there the long-awaited deliverance was lost. Messiah died. The dream about getting the Jews back to their homeland, gleaning them from all over the diaspora and erecting a Jewish State, was gone. As far as grandfather was concerned all this was dependent on Herzl and was centered in his personality – without Herzl there remained and was nothing. Months long he used to burst out crying, wherever he was, at any time, his soul was tormented with grief. Many years later grandfather told me that even when his youngest son, Yossale died he did not cry as much as he did when Herzl died.

At this time grandfather’s best friend, Yoseph Feinberg died at Jericho, where he went to find relief from his illness. He was 40 years old, lonely, childless and destitute. Feinberg was one of the pioneers who founded and built Rishon-Lezion and had good relations with Baron Rothschild but was also a character who could not stand injustice and deceit and led the revolt against the Baron’s chief clerk Osoviezky. He was punished for it by the Baron who chased him out of Rishon-Lezion. His character was identical to grandfather’s and he was an intimate friend of his. Losing him made life even more unbearable for grandfather.

During this year his oldest son, Boris, reached his 18th anniversary and graduated from the French Boys School. He did not wish to go on studying and asked to be an assistant in his father’s business. Grandfather engaged him in his shop and in the building affairs in Bustros Street and he managed pretty well. This was a great help for my grandfather who did some thinking and came to the conclusion that the time has come to let the dreams about the Zionist Movement as well as the dreams about the Freemasons rest and tend to his business which supplied work to a growing number of Jewish laborers and workers and provided a place for business and dwelling to a growing number of Jewish merchants and businessmen in Jaffa.

The project of building the 17 shops on the land which he leased from Mrs. Elizabeth Bustros for 9 years and with the help of the loan which he received from Albert Entebbi when they became partners – succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The contract with Bustros was signed in 1902 and as soon as four and a half years passed Entebbi had received already the 6,000 Gold Francs which he lent to grandfather at an interest of 9% as well as 6,000 Gold Francs revenue from letting-out the shops. During that period Bustros Street was the main street of Jaffa and there remained one more empty plot in it. Due to the success he had with the initial project grandfather decided that it would be worth to repeat it again and build another 17 shops in the same street. He traveled to Beirut and there he found out that Mrs. Bustros is in Alexandria and therefore he went on and traveled there immediately. Mrs. Bustros signed a contract with my grandfather leasing him the vacant plot of land for 15 years so that he would build a building containing 17 shops on it. The contract allowed him to build flats over these 17 shops as well as above the former 17 shops.

When grandfather returned to Jaffa he was faced with the financing problem. This time a larger sum was needed and grandfather decided that although his partnership with Entebbi was successful and Entebbi was a decent and kind man, and although a much larger sum was required to finance this project, he will not take any partners and will carry it all out by himself. To start he had to apply to a bank and get a loan. It would only be natural that he apply to the Anglo-Palestine Company Bank. But grandfather’s memory was not that short. He remembered two important incidents: The first was the refusal of the Directors of the Jewish Colonial Trust to purchase plots of land in Jaffa and its surroundings so as to facilitate Jewish building and settlement at a place which served as the main gate to Jewish immigration. The second incident was much more recent in his memory and dealt with the boycott which was imposed on him by the Director of the bank, Z.D.Levontin who forbid the bank to give him credit, not even one miserable Franc. Grandfather was not a man who held a grudge but he did not do business with those who tried to bring him and his family to the brink of hunger.

There was in Jaffa a German bank which was much bigger in capital and financial business than the Anglo-Palestine Company Bank. Grandfather went there and applied for a loan. The German Bank had no doubt about the value of grandfather’s business and gave him one loan of 100,000 Gold Franks for building the new 17 shops and 34 flats over all 34 shops (old and new) and a second loan of 25,000 Gold Franks on account of the future revenue incoming from letting these shops and flats. In the concept of those times this was an enormous sum of money. Grandfather started building immediately and finished earlier than he expected and by 1907 all 34 shops and 34 flats were available on these two large plots of land. The paid work provided to the Jewish builders employed by grandfather came right in time. Jewish merchants and businessmen snatched all these shops and flats. Success was over and above his expectations.

While he was dealing with the financing of this project my grandfather found out from sources in Beirut, Jaffa and Alexandria that at the same time that the Anglo-Palestine Company Bank refused to finance the purchase, by Jews, of land-plots in Jaffa (he was one of these Jews) this Zionist bank gave a very large loan to Arab merchants from Beirut who went bankrupt shortly after they received this loan. The conditions of the Ottoman economic policy and laws which existed at that time made it impossible for the Anglo-Palestine Company Bank to get its money back and so Jewish capital which was intended to finance Jews to build their homeland was gone for good.

At the same time that he built the shops and flats on Bustros Street in Jaffa grandfather enlarged and renovated his own house in the suburb of Neve-Zedek. He installed sanitary services within the house. The house became one of the most beautiful houses in the suburb and my grandmother was immensely gratified seeing and using these novelties which she had never seen before, neither in Russia nor here.

As soon as the preparations for the building of the next 17 shops and 34 flats and the renovation of the house in Neve-Zedek began it became obvious that a very large amount of wood will be required. Buying it from Litvinsky who was a big wood merchant but did not have such a large supply of wood in his stores and would have to order it from abroad – this would have upheld the building. Litvinsky’s commission was high and his wood would be very expensive. Therefore my grandfather decided to travel to Romania, buy all the wood he needed and ship it to Jaffa. He had another idea: His oldest son, Boris had reached the age at which intellectual and respectable Jews marry off their sons. Matchmaking was still in vogue among Jews during that time and grandfather was expected to find a suitable bride for his son. Grandfather had a very good opinion about the Romanian Jewish girls and since he was about to go there about his business he hoped that he would also find a bride for his son. Needless to say that he also intended to look for any of his family and meet them. His mother had already died but some of her brothers and sisters with whom he was acquainted were still alive. Of his father’s family almost none remained.

Grandfather’s shop in Jaffa was not a small wachmaker+goldsmith and silversmith+tombstone engraver+stencil-producer shop anymore, but became a large shop which contained mainly clothing and footwear for men, women and children and in addition there were watches, clocks and jewelry. My uncle Boris worked there for the past three years and grandfather thought that he could manage this business by himself. Most of the merchandise in that shop was imported, mainly from Vienna, Berlin and Paris and grandfather decided that he would include in his travels the purchase of new merchandise for the shop.

In June 1907 grandfather boarded ship and sailed to Romania, the country where he was born and which he left 25 years earlier. On his arrival he went to the Capital – Bucarest where some of his mother’s family lived: Brothers and sisters of his mother with some of their sons and daughters and a few grandsons and granddaughters. The family received him with great respect. 25 years changed completely this family of orthodox Jews. All of them looked older than they really were, bent and wrinkled. Not only they but all the Jews of Romania were in a very bad state. Antisemitism intensified during these last years and the economical and spiritual situation of the Jews became worse from year to year and yet not one of them left and went to Israel. They looked at my grandfather with reverence. They saw a rich man. Here is a rich family member who arrived, would you believe it, from Israel of all places: Israel, the country which everybody says is a place of death and desolation. One of the uncles who was a Major in the Romanian army came all the way from his post to meet grandfather. He, too, looked worn-out and when he spoke you could hear thin bitterness. One of the aunts prepared a rich dinner. Among the diners there was a young lady who was a distant relative of grandfather’s mother’s family. She was very good-looking and had very good manners. She told grandfather that she knew four languages perfectly: Yiddish, Romanian, German and French and that thanks to her studies she obtained the job of accountant in one of the largest department-stores in Bucarest. Grandfather went to see her at her working place and made some investigations about her and her family. He liked everything he saw and heard. He told her about his life and the life of his family in Jaffa and about his son Boris and showed her some pictures. Finally he told her that if she agrees he will finance her travel to Jaffa at a time convenient to her and upon her arrival she will be received by his family and he will introduce her to his son. If they like each other they will marry and he, grandfather, promises her that he will open a shop for them which will not be less large or less beautiful than the one which he owns now. If on the other hand the match between them will not succeed then she will return to her family in Bucarest and all her expenses will be paid by him.

The young lady agreed and grandfather went from Bucarest to Galatz where he bought all the wood which was needed for the building in Bustros Street and shipped all of it to Jaffa. He took the train from Galatz and traveled to Vienna and Berlin, purchased new merchandise for the shop and sent everything to Jaffa. Instead of taking the train from Berlin to the Port of Triyest at the north end of the Adriatic sea and board a ship for Jaffa he returned by train to Bucarest so as to meet again the intended bride and ascertain the information which he had received about her so as to rest assured that she is a suitable match for his son. After this second visit to Bucarest he went to the Port of Constanza where he boarded ship and returned to Jaffa.

In 1908 the young lady called Minna arrived in Jaffa and two years later she married my uncle Boris and became my aunt. During that same year, 1910, my grandfather’s oldest daughter Rachel also got married to Henry (Haim) Amzalek who was the son of one of the most renown and noble sephardi families in Jaffa, grandson of Rabi Haim Amzalek who was the British Vice-Consul and later Vice-Consul of Portugal as well, a title which he transferred to his relative Yoseph Navon (who was not a relative of of I. Navon, President of Israel.) Rabi Haim Amzalek was also the President of the Alliance Israelite Universelle and helped a lot in the founding and defence of the colony of Rishon-Lezion. These two weddings which took place during the same year gave my grandfather and grandmother a lot of happiness

To add to their happiness one week before grandfather intended to sail for Istanbul on business his youngest son, Yoseph (Yosaleh) was born. Therefore he postponed his departure until after the rite of circumcision and boarded ship on November 2 1910.

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One thought on “My Mother’s Family — Part 14

  1. Hi Oded, thanks for writing. You jump from 1907 to 1910. Does that mean you dont have info about 1908 and 1909 or is this coming later? Since your grandfather was close with Levontine in 1903, I was hoping to read about Levontine and events in Jaffa/Ahuzat Bait in May, June 1909.

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