Looking for leadership

The Rothschild Ambassadors program will train 100 young people to be the country’s leaders of the future.

Baroness Ariane de Rothschild (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Baroness Ariane de Rothschild
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 night.
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 Israel.”
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 pilot program.
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 responsibility.”
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.
“About two 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 last week.
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 Wall Street.
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.
Benjamin’s 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 debate.
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.”
When asked 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 sentiment.
“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 us.”
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?”