In the footsteps of the mill of Montefiore

In the footsteps of the mill of Montefiore

Hello, I am Léontine Cohen. I am a tour guide in Jerusalem.

I often start or end my walking tours of Jerusalem in front of the windmill built by Sir Moses Montefiore in the 1850-s.

Montefiore jerusalem benefactor

The view of the Old City and the Judean desert is beautiful and on a clear day you can see the Mountains of Moab in Jordan.

A small cafe serves coffee in the morning and wine in the afternoon. 

Today the windmill is a wine bar: it is the perfect place to end the tour, sipping a glass of Israeli wine.

What is the story behind this mill ? Who was Moses Montefiore ? 

Let’s discover this together , following in the footsteps of the Mill of Moses de Montefiore.

Moses Montefiore, the benefactor

Moses Montefiore was born in 1784 in Livorno, in Italy.

His Jewish, Sephardic family came from Spain and Italy, but little Moses grew up in England.

As his family was poor, he started working at the age of 12 in a grocery store.

Growing up, he managed to get a position in the stock exchange and he became one of the first Jewish brokers in England.

In 1812 he married Judith Barent Cohen, who happened to be the sister in law of the London banker Nathan Rothschild.

She also happened to be Ashkenazi, so it was a “ mixed Marriage”, which was very problematic at the time.

But Moses Montefiore became a fervent supporter of mixed marriages and when a mixed marriage took place in his synagogue, he would offer a large sum of money to the newlyweds.

Nathan Rothschild and Moses Montefiore started to work together. Moses became Nathan’s broker and they were extremely successful.

When Moses Montefiore was 40, he was wealthy and retired.

He decided to devote his time and money to people who needed him.

In particular he devoted himself to the difficult life of Jews in the Middle East.

He traveled a lot and visited Palestine 7 times, often with his wife Judith.

In those days the country was poor and miserable and most Jews lived in great poverty.

When Moses Montefiore arrived here for the first time in1827, he took the decision to help these Jews.

But he didn’t just want to give them money, he wanted to build houses, factories, hospitals and help them become farmers and make them financially independent.

After this first trip he also became more observant. From then on he prayed 3 times a week.

He bought himself a large property in South England where he built a private synagogue. His property was next to the property of Queen Victoria. They were very close, so he offered her a golden key that allowed her to enter his gardens anytime she wanted.

In 1860, Moses Montefiore built the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City of Jerusalem . He also built a windmill, so the inhabitants of this neighborhood could bring their own wheat.

Moses Montefiore was 93 when he came to Palestine for the last time. He came alone as his beloved wife Judith had died.

He had built a mausoleum on his property in England that looked just like Rachel’s tomb, near Bethlehem.

This is where in 1855 he was buried, by Judith’s side. He died at the honorable age of 100. 

Moses and Judith didn’t have children, so a nephew inherited Moses’s belongings. The famous history writer Simon Sebag Montefiore, who wrote a book about the history of Jerusalem is one of his descendants.

Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the neighborhood where the windmill stands

Judah Toura, a wealthy Jewish businessman from New Orleans died in 1854. He never married and had no children.

During his life he helped many institutions, hospitals, and people and when he died he left a fortune to Moses Montefiore, with the wish to help the poor Jews in Jerusalem.

Moses Montefiore bought a large piece of land West of the Old City and built a new, modern, clean neighborhood, with apartments.

He called the neighborhood, “ Mishkenot Sha’ananim”, which means “ peaceful dwellings”.

It comes from the book of Isiah, that says : “ And the people will be in peaceful houses, in secure dwellings.” 

He then offered these apartments for free to the Jews that lived in miserable conditions in the Old City. 

But they were afraid to leave the security of the city walls. They were afraid to be robbed and attacked during the night.

Moses Montfiore then built a crenelated wall around the neighborhood, with a Gate that closed during the night, but they still didn’t want to move.

Then Moses Montefiore offered them money if they agreed to come and live there, which they did. But every night they would go back to the Old City where they felt safer.

But a cholera epidemic occurred in the Old City and the Jews that resided in Mishkenot Sha’ananim realized that they remained healthy because they weren’t so often in the Old City anymore. 

So they finally accepted to move to Moses’ neighborhood.

Moses Montefiore built them a windmill, so they could grind their own wheat and obtain their own flower. He also built a printing press and a textile factory to give them work.

Between 1948 and 1967, the neighborhood was opposite the Jordanian occupied Old City , with Jordanian snipers on the City walls. 

Most inhabitants of Mishkenot Sha’ananim left the neighborhood, only very poor people remained there.

From 1973, the houses were restored and it is now a beautiful and peaceful area, where you feel like being in a different world.

The short-long life of the windmill

The windmill only functioned for 20 years. So its working life was short.

But many things happened to the mill in its 160 years of existence.

Like Moses Montefiore, the windmill is British.

All the technical elements of the windmill were made in England, shipped to Jaffa and then brought on the back of camels to Jerusalem.

The mill received four wings.

The outside walls of the mill were made with local Jerusalem stone.

But a few problems occurred.

First of all, the wheat in Israel is harder than the wheat in Europe. So the machinery needed more power to crush the wheat into flour. And that was the problem, there was not enough wind in Jerusalem, so the power was scarce.

And when pieces had to be replaced, they had to come from England, which in that time took a long.

But nevertheless, the windmill functioned for about 20 years.

Jerusalem windmill

From the end of WW I, England obtained the mandate over what was then still called Palestine.

At first the Jews put a lot of hope in the British, but as years went by, a conflict started between the Jews and the Arabs and the Jews and the British.

During the year preceding the Independence of Israel, the Jewish state, there was an armed conflict between Jews and the British in Jerusalem.

The Haganah, the armed wing of the Jewish state to be, chose to install an observation post in the windmill.

The British, who had their own observation position in the nearby Saint Andrew’s church, decided to blow up the mill.

It lay in ruins for many years, until Dutch Christians took the initiative to rebuild the windmill and make it work.

In 2012 it was inaugurated by the Prime Minister and a bag of flour,  produced by a Dutch miller in the Montefiore windmill was handed to him.

Since then, we can see the wings of the mill turning when there is wind, and when we enter the windmill, we can see the restored machinery above our heads.

Today, the windmill has become a wine bar that promotes wine from the surroundings of Jerusalem.

The wines are delicious and the terrace in front of the windmill is the perfect place to taste, enjoy the view and remember Moses Montefiore, whose motto was “ THINK AND THANK “

blue door in jerusalem

Conclusion

If you are interested to contact me for a guided tour in Jerusalem in English or in Dutch 

Please send me your thoughts here :

Email: leontineinisrael@gmail.com

Whatsapp : +972 52-754-9422

Tour guide in Jerusalem – Léontine Cohen