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Charles Netter

1826 - 1882.

Charles Netter was a French businessman and a founding member of the Alliance Israelite Universelle. He is also known for being the founder of Mikveh Israel, the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement in the Land of Israel.

Charles Netter
Charles Netter in 1850. Source: Wikipedia (AIU Library), public source.

Born in Strasbourg in 1826 to a Rabbinic lineage, Netter's educational journey took him through Strasbourg, Belfort, and later, into the business realms of London, Moscow, and Lille, before ultimately settling in Paris.

In Paris, in May 1860, amidst rising antisemitism, including the Damascus affair where Moshe Montefiore intervened to free falsely accused Jewish prisoners of killing a Christian Monk, Netter joined five others to establish the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU).

One of their objectives was "To create a society of young idealist and militant Jews that feel solidarity with all those who suffer from their condition as Jews or all those who are victims of prejudice, regardless of their religion."

The AIU's motto is "Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Laze". You can explore the dedicated article about this motto and its impact on Israeli society by clicking on the following link.

Netter was appointed general secretary of the newly formed organization.

In 1868, he embarked on his first voyage to the Land of Israel, commissioned by the AIU to assess the needs of the Jewish local population. Propelled by his findings, he advocated for the creation of a new agricultural settlement, intended to serve as an educational hub for Jewish men.

In 1870, Mikveh Israel was established, though its early years were fraught with challenges.

  • The concept of an agricultural school was innovative in the Land of Israel and met with suspicion.

  • Arab neighbors, fearing competition, encroached upon the land, sabotaged it, or stole agricultural equipment.

  • Recruiting agricultural instructors in both Israel and the diaspora proved difficult.

  • The social status of farmers in the Land of Israel was low due to the generally low status of agriculture.

  • Jews of the "Old Yishuv" feared that support for the new school would come at the expense of the Haluka (funds coming from abroad to help the local communities and traditional institutions) and declared a ban on the school, claiming it would be secular.

The name of the school is taken from the Biblical Verse, from the Book of Jeremiah (17:3):

"O Lord, the hope of Israel (Mikve Israel - מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל), all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water."

Netter managed the school until 1873, and he injected personal finances and rallied support from fellow philanthropists (Including Edmond de Rothschild and Cremieux) to maintain the settlement.

He overcame the difficulties of establishing and maintaining the settlement, but after a short period, his health deteriorated.

Heeding medical counsel, Netter returned to Europe but remained ardently engaged in fundraising efforts and AIU initiatives, including safeguarding the Jewish community in Morocco and facilitating the emigration of Russian-Jewish refugees to North America.

In 1882, Netter facilitated the settlement of the Biluim in the Land of Israel and played a pivotal role in educating members of the first Aliyah.

Tragically, during a visit to Mikveh Israel that same year, he passed away in Jaffa on October 2nd. He was laid to rest in Mikveh Israel, his tombstone a testament to his enduring legacy as a pioneer of Jewish agriculture in Israel.

His impact is commemorated through streets bearing his name in Israeli cities like Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Additionally, Kfar Netter, a moshav founded in 1939 by Mikveh Israel graduates, stands as a tribute to his visionary leadership.



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