Discovering Rothschild's Surprising Weakness Helped Zionists Get a Donation

A forgotten 10-page letter exposes the method with which Zionist pioneers persuaded Baron de Rothschild to give them money

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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The secret that was uncovered this week in a Tel Aviv archive was kept for 138 years. This forgotten, surprising story, told in a 10-page letter in Hebrew, could have proved very embarrassing to certain people, tarnishing the reputation of Zionist pioneers in pre-state Palestine.

The author of the archival document is known today mainly for the eponymous street in Tel Aviv, “the first Jewish city.” Zalman David Levontin was a Russian-born Hasidic Jew, a small-scale banker who immigrated to Palestine as part of the so-called First Aliyah, from 1881 to 1903. A pioneer of Jewish settlement, he was among the 10 founders of Rishon Letzion, the second Jewish farm settlement established in Ottoman Palestine in the 19th century, after Petah Tikva.