‘He was a prince of the Jewish people’

Jewish leaders, friends and family, pay tribute to the ‘bold visionary’ Lord Jacob Rothschild, who died this week


Lord Rothschild pictured at Waddesdon Manor, pictured in the Blue Room. Byline John Nguyen/JNVisuals 12/04/2023

V Lord Jacob Rothschild was a “prince of the Jewish people” whose “whose generosity was surpassed only by his humility”, Jewish leaders and friends of the late financier have told the JC following his death on Monday aged 87.

A highly accomplished art collector and renowned philanthropist, Lord Rothschild was a direct descendant of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the German coin dealer who founded the banking dynasty that became the most famous Jewish family in history.

Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum, COO of the investment trust founded by Lord Rothschild and a long-time confidant of the late peer, said it was “a privilege to be in his midst over these years, and he was a dominant figure in the best sense of that word – he provided strong vision, strong leadership”.

Referring to his philanthropy – Lord Rothschild was a former chair of trustees at the National Gallery, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and his family foundation gave Israel the Knesset and the Supreme Court buildings – Lord Kestenbaum said: “Being the bearer of the most legendary name in Jewish history, he wore the mantle of responsibility that comes with being a Rothschild with humility but with great bearing.

“The philanthropic commitments that he made to Jewish causes were as important to him as anything else that he did, and in that sense he really was a prince of the Jewish people.”

His remarks were echoed by the Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, who said: “Lord Jacob Rothschild will be remembered as a most extraordinary philanthropic leader whose generosity was surpassed only by his humility.

“His contribution to our national life here in the UK, Israel and to good causes around the world was immeasurable. May his memory be a blessing.”

His family announced his death in a statement saying: “Our father Jacob was a towering presence in many people’s lives, a superbly accomplished financier, a champion of the arts and culture, a devoted public servant, a passionate supporter of charitable causes in Israel and Jewish culture, a keen environmentalist and much-loved friend, father and grandfather.

“He will be buried in accordance with Jewish custom in a small family ceremony and there will be a memorial at a later date to celebrate his life.”

Lord Rothschild, who was educated at Eton and then Oxford, started his career at the family bank NM Rothschild & Sons in 1963.

He went on to co-found a number of firms including J Rothschild Assurance Group, now St James’s Place, with Sir Mark Weinberg in 1980.

The peer held a number of senior roles in business including deputy chair of BSkyB between 2003 and 2008.

In an interview with the JC in April last year, he explained why he had brought Il Guercino’s portrait of King David to be displayed at one the family’s most famous seats, Waddesdon Manor, saying: “It’s a real masterpiece and it belongs somehow to Waddesdon Manor more than anywhere else.”

There was no doubting the personal significance of this moment for Lord Rothschild.

He said: “Given the long-standing connections we have had with the state of Israel and the Jewish community here that it would be a wonderful thing if it could come here.

“It was a difficult choice, but we made it.”

The Board of Deputies wrote in its tribute: “The Jewish community mourns the death of Lord Rothschild, a giant of Britain’s business and philanthropic worlds, whose positive contribution to so many aspects of British life was incalculable.” Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, author of the The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild, said Lord Rothschild “personified the Rothschild tradition”, noting that he was “first and foremost a bold and visionary financier” but also a devoted philanthropist much like his forebears.

In 2002 Lord Rothschild was awarded the Order of Merit for his service in the field of arts, literature, learning and science. In 2019, he lost his wife Serena to cancer after 58 years of marriage. They had three daughters and a son.

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