Family & Education

Naima JPS salutes Balfour heroes and heroines

Lord Rothschild enjoys a celebration of the some of the historic personalities that paved the way for British support of a Jewish homeland


"That was fantastic”, said Lord Rothschild, congratulating the young cast from Naima JPS on their performance.

Children from year five in the independent Sephardi school in Maida School brought last month’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration to a close by acting a series of vignettes to remember some of the people who made it possible.

It was Lord Rothschild’s great uncle Walter and holder of the hereditary title at the time, who received the Declaration from the British government in support of a Jewish national home.

“It was very touching for me to see your top hats and to be reminded of my forebears who dressed like that,” he said.

Taking the stage were characters such as Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore, who visited the Holy Land no fewer than seven times during the 1800’s, inspired by a dream Sir Moses had of Elijah pointing to the land of Israel.

His investment in Jewish projects predated the Zionist movement but even in 1865 the prescient philanthropist was confident Jerusalem was “destined to become the centre of the Jewish people”.

Another Rothschild, Dorothy de Rothschild, also played her part behind the scenes, helping Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann — who regarded himself as an East European “shtetl boy” — to integrate into polite English society in order to further his diplomatic contacts.

Dorothy, who was popularly known as Dolly, was herself from a Sephardi family, the Pintos.

And the children paid tribute too to Haham Moses Gaster, leader of Britain’s Sephardim in the early 20th century, who took up Zionism when much of the Anglo-Jewish establishment rejected it, even risking the wrath of his lay leadership because of his political activity.

It was Haham Gaster who helped to convert Sir Mark Sykes, the influential adviser to the British government on the Middle East, to the Zionist cause.

And it was in the Haham’s house just around the corner from Naima where the first meeting was held in February 1917 that led to the Balfour Declaration nine months later.

When the performance ended on a violin-led rendition of Jerusalem the Golden, headteacher Bill Pratt confessed, “I had a tear in my eye”. He was not alone.

Finally, the guests assembled in the playground as Lord Rothschild unveiled a plaque in memory of that historic meeting at the Haham’s.

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