A living memorial to the life and work of Baron Edmond (Binyamin) de Rothschild and his wife Adelheid (Ada), Ramat Hanadiv initiates and sustains a multitude of projects in environmental education and research, community outreach, and other fields. And virtually every day of the year, visitors make their way to the tomb of the Baron and his wife, at the heart of the Memorial Gardens, to be inspired and energized by the lessons of the Rothschilds' legacy.
This coming April, we will mark the 60th anniversary of Ramat Hanadiv. But the special connection between the Rothschilds and the land of Israel started many more years ago, around the end of 19th century. Twenty years earlier, in the wake of the pogroms against the Jews of Russia, the Baron had offered his assistance to the refugees who fled to France. He was among the Jewish leaders who believed that the Jewish people belong in the land of Israel, and when the first village founded by the Hovevei Zion (a prototypical Zionist organization in Eastern Europe) was threatened by crisis, the representatives of the settlement turned to him for urgent help. The Baron agreed to assist the beleaguered Jewish farmers, and with that began his life-long involvement with what eventually became the state of Israel.
What scene greeted the Baron and his wife when they arrived in Zichron Ya'akov in February, 1914? The ruler of the land, the obstinate and corrupt Ottoman Empire, was dying. War clouds were gathering, here as in the rest of the world; it was the eve of the first World War. The Jewish settlements in the area (Hadera, Atlit, Zichron Ya'akov, Givat Ada, Shefaya, and Bat Shlomo) were few and isolated. The Carmel coastline was mostly covered with swamps.
Amidst the difficulties of the pioneers' daily life, the long-awaited visits of the Rothschilds were incomparably exciting, and 1914 was no exception. Fifteen years had passed since the Rothschilds' previous appearance in Zichron Ya'akov. The Baron had left the settlement then in a dark and gloomy state, convinced that his hopes for the land had been in vain. Hence, as they prepared for his fourth visit, farmers and other settlers made every effort to demonstrate the vast progress they had made -- what they had achieved and produced, and how they had truly overcome their earlier challenges. Before his trip, an encouraging, optimistic report on the condition of the settlement was delivered to the Baron. Despite his advanced age (69) and the hardships of the journey, he decided to set off to see for himself the rapidly developing village.
It was a festive occasion for Zichron Ya'akov. The village council and the Gidonim (the organization of local young people) raised a gate of honour where the Rothschilds would be ceremoniously welcomed; they repaired the streets and roads and laboured long hours over the itinerary for the honoured guests.
On 22 February, after visiting other parts of the land, the Baron's boat docked at Tantura, where a carriage awaited them, decked out with horsemen in white shirts and ties. The Gidonite Itzhak Halperin pronounced a traditional blessing, and tears of excitement filled many an eye. Arabs from the village of Tantura took part in the ceremony alongside their Jewish neighbors. As the crowd approached Zichron Ya'akov, the Baron descended from his carriage and continued on foot towards the village, greeting the residents who came to welcome him and his wife. When they got to Givat zamarin he looked out towards Bat Shlomo and Shefaya, staring at the valley planted with groves of olive trees and grape vines, and asked: How can that swamp [to the south] be dried out? He also inquired about Nahal Taninim, and observed that it wasn't wise to plant only one kind of tree.
In the Ohel Ya'akov Synagogue, named after his father, an elaborate reception was held for the Baron. Alter Albart, the head of the local council, thanked the Rothschilds profusely for the enormous contributions they had made to the Jewish settlement of the land. The Baron responded with a short speech. A few excerpts suffice to show the love, dedication, and vision that guided him and his wife in their efforts. Many of their precepts could be aptly applied today:
'Thank you for your heartfelt welcome. I tell you that I am delighted [to see] the development of the village, and my mind rests easy... Dedicate your hearts to improving, developing, and learning the new operating methods, and do not fear them. I gave my father's name to this village, and I hope that you will honour that name and be worthy of it...Be faithful sons to our land, so that you may be worthy and deserving to occupy the land of our fathers'.
A bit later, he noted: 'The Zionists could not have done what they did without my help...but I realized that it was the Zionist idea that conquered the land of Israel perhaps even more than my wealth'.
Unfortunately, another period of hardship began for the young settlement following the Rothschilds' fourth visit. The World War began at the start of the summer. Many young people left the land; Jews with foreign citizenship were expelled; and others were forced to enlist in the Turkish army. The tragic ending of the local Jewish underground, the Nili group, shocked Zichron Ya'akov and the entire Yishuv (the pre-State Jewish settlement in the land of Israel).
Towards the end of the war, the British captured the land, and in November 1917 proclaimed the Balfour Declaration, addressed to a relative of the Baron's, Lord James Rothschild, the honourary president of the Zionist Federation of Britain. Despite manifold difficulties, another era of development, construction, and absorption of immigrants began.
The deeds and generous financial support of the Baron and his wife played a critical role in the establishment of the Yishuv, and they managed to visit Zichron Ya'akov once again, in 1925. Their life's work, the realization of the Zionist dream, began more than 130 years ago and has continued to the present day through the involvement of new generations of the Rothschild family, who help further the human values and the welfare of the State of Israel's residents.