Hundreds of people in formal attire circled through the buffet lines set up in
the garden of Caesarea’s posh Dan Hotel as a harpist strummed into the
The scene last Sunday was fitting for the gala inauguration of a
new charitable endeavor sponsored by a foundation run by one of the world’s
iconic dynasties: the Rothschilds.
The banquet marked the launching of
the pilot class of the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation’s Rothschild Ambassadors
program. According to the program’s mission statement, it is looking for “young
people interested in becoming the future business and social leaders of
In the pilot year, the program will train 100 student
“ambassadors” in “leadership and social responsibility” and grant a NIS 20,000
scholarship to each participant. The program will also offer training and
workshops with business and political leaders to help provide participants with
the tools to become leaders.
The program and the rest of the charities
run by the Rothschild Foundation will be overseen by Baroness Ariane de
Rothschild, and organizers said they hope that in coming years it will grow and
the number of participants will far surpass the 100 who will take part in the
The baroness said the program is meant to help “young
pioneers who will influence Israel’s society in the coming years,” adding that
she believes it will “help establish a society that will offer equal educational
opportunities, diminish divides and instill greater social
Since she was placed at the head of the Rothschild
foundation by her husband Benjamin, the mother of four daughters aged eight to
15 has sought to apply the foundation’s emphasis on higher education to
improving the opportunities for Israeli students as well.
years ago we saw a report on the state of the education system in Israel which
showed the education gaps here, and really I was astounded to see that so many
high school students were dropping out. To me this was something that I never
pictured happening in Israel.
We saw very high dropout rates; for me the
strength of Israel is brain power,” the baroness told The Jerusalem Post
Born in El Salvador to a German industrialist father and a French
mother, she spent most of her childhood in the Congo, in addition to Bangladesh
and El Salvador. She then moved to Paris, where she lived and worked for four
years before setting off for New York, where she spent six years as a trader on
During her years as a trader, in which she “didn’t sleep
much,” she met her husband Baron Benjamin de Rothschild.
“At the time I
didn’t really know who he was; I didn’t grow up in Europe so the name Rothschild
didn’t mean much to me,” the baroness said when asked how she reacted when she
learned that she had met a member of quite possibly the world’s most famous
dynasty. As their romantic relationship grew, she quickly learned what it meant
to be a Rothschild.
“Of course, it’s a very special family and you have
to learn a lot. You have to get used to all of the values and the habits; it’s a
very complex family.”
Benjamin is from the Paris branch of the
Rothschilds, which along with the success of the Austrian, English and Italian
branches have made the dynasty arguably the wealthiest and most powerful of all
time. Over the years, Rothschild has become synonymous with wealth, and even
inspired the Sholom Aleichem monologue “If I Were a Rothschild,” which was later
perfected by Tevye the milkman on the dirt paths of Anatevka.
great-grandfather Baron Edmond de Rothschild, “Hanadiv,” was one of the earliest
patrons of Zionism, buying hundreds of thousands of dunams of land from the
Ottomans and helping establish Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Metulla and Zichron
Ya’acov, which were among the first modern Jewish settlements in Palestine. The
family later established the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation
in 1962 in cooperation with the State of Israel, which received 50 percent of
the ownership of the foundation.
Though she married into one of the
world’s most identifiable Jewish families, the blonde, blue-eyed baroness was
not born Jewish and did not convert before or after marriage.
“Neither my parents or his parents
were upset that I’m not Jewish. It’s been neither an issue or a
And I must say that even though my father-in-law [Edmond Adolphe
de Rothschild] would say that a Rothschild must be three things: a Jew, a banker
and a philanthropist. The difference though is to be a Jew is about what you do,
what you do on a daily basis.
I’m sure religious people would profoundly
disagree with what I say, but I feel very strongly about it.”
if she feels a connection to Judaism and the Jewish heritage of her family, she
said, “Of course, it’s very important to us, even my eldest daughter when she
was little told me, ‘Anyway, I’m a Rothschild so I’m a Jew.’ For her it was
obvious. They know they will always have a very strong connection and
responsibility to Judaism, it’s in their blood.”
For her part, the
baroness didn’t see the need to convert, saying, “You know there’s no point in
converting if you don’t do it, if you don’t live the lifestyle all the way. I
don’t think you convert for convenience. You should only do it if you feel very
strongly about it.”
Though the Rothschild family’s support of Zionism
began before Israel was a state and the swamps of the Hula Valley had still not
been drained, according to the baroness, support of the State of Israel remains
a priority of the family even as it has reached a level of prosperity
unthinkable in the early days.
“Hanadiv, Edmond de Rothschild, said that
he wanted to help create a place so the Jew would no longer have to wander, but
he never wanted this to create a wandering Arab. He absolutely believed that the
Arabs could coincide with Zionism.”
Though boycotts are spreading, such
moves won’t deter the Rothschilds’ support of Israel, she said, describing how
the family is too well-established and too assimilated in the countries of
Europe where they live to fear the shifting sands of anti-Israel
“The Rothschilds are so well integrated in these countries,
the Rothschilds of France are French, in America they’re American. The
Rothschilds are very much part of European history. Our support of Israel has
never affected us.
“Not only that, we’ve never had an ultra-Zionist
outlook; we’ve always had a reasonable position vis-à-vis Israel and vis-à-vis
the neighboring countries,” she said, describing how the family supports the
two-state solution and that such a sense of balance “is very important for
That said, even as hi-tech startups and $1 million condos sprout
like mushrooms across the once-barren wastelands the Rothschilds helped settle,
some things don’t change for the family.
“One thing that hasn’t changed
is the underlying desire to help Israel, to help build Israel. What has changed
is that now Israeli life is much more complex. Then we were building a country,
and today the country is built, is a mature country.
Now the matter is;
where does Israel want to go from here?”