from personal notes taken by Rick Sopher, a trustee of the Montefiore Endowment,during the Conference
This lively conference was the first ever held on the values and philosophy of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885). Describing the general lack of awareness before the conference, Dr Diana Lipton, who greatly contributed to its organisation and content, explained that while distributing publicity material around Jerusalem, she was asked if Moses Montefiore was one of the speakers. Rabbi Abraham Levy, who convened the conference, observed that tour guides who take hundreds of people past Montefiore’s windmill every day had so little knowledge that they even had to make up stories about him.
At the opening ceremony, a few of us, led by Eliot Alderman and Daniel Halfon, sang some traditional Spanish & Portuguese tunes, including a new and imposing arrangement of Kal Nidre. The solemnity was swiftly swept aside by a lively performance by Galit Giat, a lithe and energetic singer of traditional Ladino tunes, who quite charmingly hopped off the stage to dance into the audience and kiss Itzhak Navon (the only Sephardi President that the State of Israel has ever had) on the forehead. It was a perfect start to an essentially Sephardi conference.
The opening evening set an excited and animated tone for the whole conference, which was attended by some 150 people over the two days. It was a largely secular audience, mainly of interested Jerusalemites, but also included Dayan Basri, who was so helpful in supervising of the study programme.
Abigail Green, Sir Moses´s biographer, a member of the Sebag- Montefiore family and an Oxford don, delivered an incisive account of several themes from her excellent book; David Kroyanker, the Israeli architect and writer on Jerusalem architecture, presented aspects of Montefiore’s social planning in building the Yemin Moshe area outside the walls of old Jerusalem. Dr Francois Guesnet presented the conclusions of his work on testimonials which Montefiore received in his lifetime and especially on his l00th birthday. Prof. Israel Bartal of Hebrew University assessed Montefiore’s particular model of philanthropy; and Prof. Shalom Sabar and Sally Style spoke of connection with Jewish Art. Rabbi Abraham Levy, together with Rabbi David Ebner, head of the yeshiva at which Montefiore scholars now study on their stay in Jerusalem, gave an excellent presentation on Moses Montefiore and halacha – going through some talmudic texts for those who had chosen not to attend the alternative option of looking into Judith Lady Montefiore’s cookbook. An account of the project for the digitization and online publication of the Montefiore Censuses was given; and Sally Style spoke eloquently of her work on the Montefiore Petitions.
There were many other features to enjoy around the conference. Adam Montefiore, responsible for wine development at Carmel Wineries, gave an interesting presentation on Montefiore’s vision of agriculture in Palestine, and traced the development of wine growing in Israel. Speakers were presented with bottles of Montefiore wine from the nascent Montefiore vineyard, founded by two of his children.
Lucien Gubbay’s new book “A Bath of Wine for the Sabbath – The Montefiore Endowment and its Collections”, lavishly illustrated with high-quality images of Montefiore treasures was on sale alongside other books and magazines which included a special edition of Segula, an Israeli magazine covering the conference.
Daily prayers were held during the conference in the same room that Sir Moses had used during visits to Jerusalem, and in which Montefiore scholars studying in Jerusalem are now being taught by the Montefiore Endowment.
One lesson that was learned is that Montefiore’s philanthropy did not end at his death; and that he did indeed leave an important legacy. The attendees must have noted that as a result of the continuing efforts of his Endowment, 15 rabbis have received Semicha in recent years: a gap-year scholarship scheme has been established; and two Montefiore kollels now flourish, one in London and the other in Manchester. All this, and much other activity demonstrate the revitalisation in recent years of the legacy of Sir Moses by the Montefiore Endowment in programs initiated by Rabbi Abraham Levy and Lucien Gubbay.