History

Lady Montefiore Visits Hebron's "Sublime Mountain Scenery" in 1828

"The inhabitants are inspired by the knowledge that they are living in the land of their patriarchs," stated Jewish philanthropist Judith Cohen Montefiore

10.3.16, 20:45
Lady Judith Montefiore was the wife of British philanthropist Moses Montefiore, who sponsored numerous projects in the Land of Israel in the 1800s. She joined her husband on five out of his seven trips to the country. Born Judith Cohen in 1784, she married her husband in 1812 and went on to join him in most of his community activism. 
 
She accompanied him on a trip to help the Jewish community in Damascus during the Blood Libel of 1840 and on a mission to assist the Jews of the Russian-Polish border towns in 1846 among many other trips.
 
She is the author of several books, as well as posthumously published diaries about her travels.
 
The work, Notes from a Journal of a visit to Palestine by way of Italy and the Mediterranean, published in London in 1844 contains a chapter about Hebron in which she vividly describes her fondness for the city and landscape. She also paints a picture of a devout but downtrodden Jewish community and a strictness of the Ottoman government which ruled the area from Turkey. Most noteworthy is her group's disappointment in not being able to visit the Tomb of Machpela despite prior assurances from Ottoman officials and the near riot that occurred.
 
The following are excepts from the book. Links for the full version are at Archive.org and the Hebrew University.
 
 
Notes from a Journal of a visit to Palestine by way of Italy and the Mediterranean. London
 
page 297  
June 15. Hebron. Went to the Portuguese synagogue.  The streets of this town, like most others in Syria, are narrow, and full of stones and rubbish. Apparently the houses are built without timber, and no paint is applied, either for use or decoration.
 
But the inhabitants are accustomed to no better dwellings, and the enthusiastic feelings inspired by the knowledge that they are living in the land of their fathers and of the patriarchs, supply a resolution more than sufficient to enable them to support their privations and trials.
...
we asked if the cave of Machpelah could be visited by Franks. He shook his head, and said with great consequence, " Oh, no, impossible ! " There were, however, he said, many other places of great interest to visit the tombs of Abner, Ruth, Jesse, the father of David, and Athniel, the Son of Kenaz. 
 

(Photo: an old Israeli shekel note depicting Moses Monefiore)
 
page 299
The country here is extremely rich in vineyards, and the hills are clothed with olive-trees, pomegranates, figs, tamarinds, and apricots. How greatly should I enjoy having a house in this extensive plain, where our tents are now pitched, and where I could linger as long as I chose, contemplating the sublime mountain scenery, wandering amid the monuments of the founders and teachers of our nation...
 
page 301 - 302
Never was I more deeply impressed with devotional feelings than amid the scenes which here surround us. This is the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ; of Sarah and Leah ; and the water which we drink is drawn from the well of Jacob. How sad it is that the terrors of a despotic government should throw so dark a shade over a region and objects so noble and so sublime! 
...
We have some hopes of visiting the cave of Machpelah to-morrow morning. The sheikh has promised to escort us. 
 
Monday, June 17. Hebron. 
 
Agreeably to our engagement with the governor and the sheikh, they arrived a little before nine, accompanied by their suite, the chiefs of the Portuguese and German synagogues.
 

(Photo: Interior of the Avraham Avinu Synagogue)

page 303
 
On arriving at the gate of the mosque, we found a great crowd assembled, and consisting chiefly of Turks, among whom was a dervish, the sound of whose hideous cries, as he shook his head and tossed his arms furiously about, his whole appearance rendered doubly frightful by a dark grizzly beard, was almost enough to terrify a bolder heart than mine.
 
To his hideous yells, as we continued to approach, were added those of the multitude, but encouraged by the governor and cadi, who led the way, we dismounted and gained an entrance. It was soon apparent, however, that the authority of office exercises little influence here. A turbulent throng of Mussulmans was collected in the interior of the mosque, and they were soon joined by the raving dervish. 

In the meantime the noise outside continued to increase, and the Jews, who were anxiously waiting to obtain a sight of the burying-place of their revered forefathers, experienced the most violent insults. The Moslem, with pale face, pointed to an iron door, saying that it was that which led to the interior of the cave. But the rage of the Turks, and the howling of the dervish now became more violent than ever, and we decided that it would be prudent to retire without attempting a further entrance. We accordingly retreated as we had advanced; the governor and cadi, with their officers, preceding us. Hhasan and Saad-Eddin behaved most valiantly, repulsing with their silver-headed canes those who had assailed our poor brethren, and exultingly challenging a dozen at a time. 
 
 
On leaving this scene of fanatic fury, the governor attempted some apology for what had occurred, observing that it was impossible for him to check the violence of religious enthusiasm. This might be true, but as governor of a town he should have known better the extent and force of his authority, and not have allowed us to encounter so much confusion and alarm. We made  no reply, but rode on to our encampment, thankful and happy that we had escaped without injury.
 
The contrast between the scene which we had just witnessed, and the calm beauty of the Vale of Flowers, with the grandeur and tranquility of the surrounding country, could not but excite in our minds some sad reflections on the fearful opposition which the passions of mankind are ever making to the wisdom and benevolence of the Deity. 
 
... At half-past six we returned to our tents. Many persons visited us during the evening, which did not pass without some feeling of alarm occasionally intruding itself. The fire-arms were carefully examined before we retired to rest, but happily nothing took place to disturb the repose in which we forgot the turmoils of the past day. 
 
page 310

While the fete was being prepared, we rode up the hill to visit some ancient tombs, one of which was that of Jesse, the father of David, and at which we said our evening prayers, joined by eight Israelites who had accompanied us. Returning down the hill, the sight that presented itself to us might well have employed a painter's skill.
 

To make arrangements contact the Jewish community of Hebron:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
 
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