(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Moshav Ora, which is situated on the outskirts of Jerusalem on the road to Hadassah Hospital, was the site of a very moving ceremony recently. On the 20th of September, a memorial plaque honoring the Isaac and Muriel Newman, the parents of Percy Newman, was rededicated, and a number of inexact details in the plaque's inscription were corrected. Percy Newman's donation to KKL-JNF in 1953 paid for the preparation and development of the land which served as Moshav Ora's foundation. The ceremony was attended by members of the Newman family from Israel and from England, including two of Percy Newman's granddaughters, Marilyn Hyman of Haifa, Israel and Rosalind Schogger of Bournemouth, England.
Percy Newman was born in Leeds in the north of England in 1881, and passed away in 1955. His father Isaac was an immigrant tailor from Poland, who with his wife Esther Cohen, arrived in England in 1868. Percy began working in a small grocery store, but by the 1930s, he had opened a successful steel-tubes manufacturing plant in West Bromwich. In 1953, Percy made a significant donation to KKL-JNF to pay for the preparation of 3,000 dunams of land near Jerusalem in memory of his parents, Isaac and Muriel Newman. Part of the money also went to pay for a synagogue with a memorial stone inset in memory of his wife's parents, Mark and Marion Cohen. This plaque was also rededicated at Tuesday's ceremony.
Mr. Danny Newman, former head of KKL-JNF's British Department, conducted the ceremony on behalf of KKL-JNF: "It is very moving to be standing here today, at a site that only sixty years ago was a tiny tent encampment on a dangerous border," he said "It is also amazing to realize that when KKL-JNF was founded, Percy Newman was only twenty years old. With the perspective we have today, we realize that if not for people like Percy - a person with vision, passion, and a sense of commitment to the Jewish people - we would not be here today. At home, I have a map of Israel on which all the lands that were purchased by KKL-JNF are colored in brown. Those lands are the most populated regions of modern-day Israel, while those areas that KKL-JNF was unable to purchase at the time, due to lack of funds, are almost devoid of Jewish inhabitants today.
"It is important for us to realize that people like Percy Newman were not the multi-millionaires and business tycoons whom we hear about today," Mr. Danny Newman added, "The people who donated money to KKL-JNF to redeem the lands of Israel were hard-working industrialists and small businessmen, for whom the ideal of creating a Jewish state was so paramount that they were willing to donate a substantial amount of their personal assets for this cause.
"When Moshav Ora was built thanks to Percy Newman's donation, new immigrants from Yemen worked alongside KKL-JNF workers from all over the world, to prepare the land and build homes for the new community's residents. This was a real ingathering of the people of Israel. On behalf of KKL-JNF and the state of Israel, I would like to express my gratitude to Percy Newman and his family for making all this possible."
Mr. Yigal Avdar thanked the Newman family on behalf of Moshav Ora: "I came here as a child from Yemen with my parents in 1950. We arrived at what was basically a field of thorns and we were given a few tents," he said. "Things were so difficult that by 1954, there were only thirteen families left, and the government told us that it was not economically feasible to keep us here and that it was also a burden on the army to protect us. Our parents were stubborn and they refused to leave. Eventually, many immigrants from North Africa joined us, and the community thrived. Today Ora has a population of 170 families.
"Our parents were not sufficiently aware of the vital part Percy Newman played in our community's history. We didn't really know what the KKL-JNF memorial plaque was about. It was only when Hadara Edery from KKL-JNF's UK desk approached us about a year ago that we began to understand how indebted we are to Percy and his wife Esther. KKL-JNF cooperated with the moshav and the Newman family to make sure that Percy received the recognition he deserves," he told the audience "Israel is an amazing place, and in spite of all of our country's problems, I believe in our future. It is thanks to the vision of people like your grandparents that Israel is thriving and will continue to thrive. I thank you on behalf of everyone who lives here."
Marilyn Hyman, Percy's granddaughter, spoke on behalf of the Newman family: "I would first like to thank KKL-JNF's Hadara Edery. If not for her efforts, we would not be here today for this ceremony. Although my husband and I have lived in Haifa for the past thirty years, the welfare of the residents of Ora has always been crucial to me. Only two days ago, my niece celebrated her wedding here in Israel, and her name is Naomi Esther Ora. My aunt always talked about Ora, so the question is, what does Moshav Ora have to do with British citizens, the grandchildren of Polish immigrants?"
Marilyn Hyman recounted how her grandfather first became involved in the development of the nascent State of Israel. "It actually all began when my grandfather, Percy Newman, heard a sermon by his rabbi, Haim Perlman, in Birmingham on Rosh Hashanah, 1953. Rabbi Perlman asked his congregants to contribute to the young state of Israel, and my grandfather took his request to heart. His contribution was one of the most considerable donations made by a British Jew, if not the largest ever. 3,000 dumans of land were brought in this area, and if not for my grandfather, KKL-JNF would not have been able to accomplish the basic development of the land.
"I feel that it is very important that young people in Israel learn about the connection between the Diaspora and Israel, and understand how much we need each other," she said, "It is especially critical at this time in history, when there is a sense that 'the whole world is against us.' My uncle Arik, the last of Percy's children who is still with us, very much wanted to be here for the unveiling ceremony of the corrected plaque, but in the end was unable to make the trip. He sent a recording made by the BBC of the 1953 ceremony in England during which my grandparents were awarded a KKL-JNF Inheritance in the Land of Israel certificate, and he gave me a copy of the recording to give to the recently opened Ora Museum. I would like to thank everyone once again and wish you all a good New Year."
Before the unveiling of the newly corrected memorial plaque, Danny Newman showed the audience three old KKL-JNF Blue Boxes, one of which was shaped like a Jewish prayer book. When Percy's granddaughter Rosalind saw the boxes, she was reminded of the Blue Box she used to donate to as a child: "We were given an allowance of one shilling a week, but we always put half a shilling in the Blue Box. This was a very powerful and symbolic act for us, and I am certain that this was the spirit that inspired my grandfather to contribute towards purchasing and redeeming the land of Israel."
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