Tranquil Dwellings: The Story Of Mishkenot Sha’ananim
A New Orleans merchant bequeathed $60,000 to the Holy Land and chose Sir Moses Montefiore as his executor. The result: the first modern Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City
Judah Touro was a distinguished 19th century Jewish merchant who made his fortune in New Orleans. During the American-British War of 1812, Touro was seriously wounded and his recovery was slow and painful. But he continued to work and his various businesses and investments paid off handsomely. His financial resources enabled him to contribute heavily to both Jewish and Christian charities.
Touro bequeathed $60,000 to the Jews of the Holy Land in his will — a legacy that would have startling, long-range consequences. Indeed, as a result of his generosity, and because Touro chose Sir Moses (Moshe) Montefiore of England as executor of his estate, the situation of Jerusalem’s Jews was to improve beyond recognition. This Earth-changing transformation began with a tiny neighborhood just outside the walls of the Old City.
Tall and dignified, Montefiore made a fortune in the British stock market while still a very young man. At the age of 40, he retired and devoted himself to good works, becoming active on behalf of Jews all over the world, including the Jewish communities of Syria, Iran, Romania, Morocco, and Russia. And by the time he died, at the ripe old age of 101, he had also helped countless numbers of Jews in the land of Israel.
Montefiore, who was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1838, was granted a baronetcy eight years later in recognition of his humanitarian services. His coat of arms was truly unique: it includes the word “Jerusalem” — written in Hebrew. Perhaps Montefiore, an observant Jew, wanted to carry out the biblical injunction: “Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not raise Jerusalem at the height of my joy” [Psalms 137:6].