Lord Rothschild: my Jewish roots
Lord Jacob Rothschild has never been a man to rest on his laurels. Now his eye is firmly focused on Waddesdon, and his family’s legacy to Israel and the wider Jewish community.
On Sunday 23 June, former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks put up a mezuzah to commemorate the official opening of The James and Dorothy de Rothschild room to mark the couple’s immense contribution to Israel and the Anglo-Jewish community.
“I thought that we should change the name of the Goodwood room to the James and Dorothy de Rothschild room and within that room have references to all the things they have done,” says Lord Rothschild.
There is a model of the Knesset, the Supreme Court and also one of the new National Library. But Waddesdon also has hidden treasures, such as the exquisite embroideries — probably made in Italy in the early 18th century for a private synagogue — which depict the First and Second Temples, made with untarnished gold and silver threads.
Like his Rothschild relations, Ferdinand, who built Waddesdon, was active in the Anglo-Jewish community. After just a year of marriage to his cousin Evelina, Ferdinand tragically lost his young wife during childbirth. He was inconsolable; “mine was a loss which years cannot repair”.
As Ferdinand never remarried and had no children, he passed the estate to his sister Alice, who in turn left it to her great-nephew James de Rothschild. James, generally known as Jimmy, married British-born Dorothy Pinto in 1913 when he was 35 and she just 17.
“Jimmy and his wife were very active members of the Jewish community.”
Amongst other things, the couple helped to establish Norwood, the Jewish Free School and community centres in Stepney. The couple were close friends of Chaim Weizmann and when James was convalescing from his war injuries, Dorothy forged important contacts for Weizmann and his circle with key members of the British establishment.
These efforts, “were instrumental in bringing about the famous letter dated 2nd November 1917, from foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, head of the British branch of the family.” The letter — the Balfour Declaration — committed the British government to support for a Jewish homeland.
Much to their dismay, Dorothy and James remained childless. During the war they gave Waddesdon to orphanages in London that needed to find refuge and after they heard about the Kindertransport they immediately sponsored 30 boys from a school in Frankfurt to come to the UK.
“They found a house in the village, called Cedar House, where they could stay and in a sense they became her children — they became known as the Cedar Boys and Dorothy followed their lives as they grew up and lived across the world. One became a golf professional and one ended up looking after the estate of an Earl in England.”
After Jimmy’s death, Dorothy took Jacob under her wing. They had dinner together every week and it was Dorothy who took him to Israel for the first time in 1962.
“Fifty-seven years later, through our Foundation Yad Hanadiv, we remain deeply involved supporting Israel with pride and pleasure.“ Dorothy wanted to carry on James’ work. “She made a lasting contribution to Israeli society through the philanthropy of Yad Hanadiv which she founded. She carried out her work as a labour of love, asking for nothing in return,” says Lord Rothschild.
“It is a cardinal factor in Jewish life that we must give back and I am deeply conscious of my Jewish roots,” explains Lord Rothschild. “The Foundation has grown and I have chaired it for 35 years. When I first went to Israel we had a staff of 4. Today we have a staff of more than 36 people working for Yad Hanadiv in Jerusalem.”
It is not surprising that Lord Rothschild now finds himself “busier than ever.” With such a legacy and so much going on in his life — what does he do to switch off?
“I escape to my holiday home in Corfu or spend time with my grandchildren — which I enjoy immensely.”
By Nicola Loftus, written for the Jewish Chronicle.