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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Montefiore Windmill©

The picturesque Montefiore’s Windmill is a Jerusalem treasure and one of its best known landmarks. From the Plaza surrounding it, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Old City walls and Mount Zion. Whether in broad daylight or at twilight and from all angles, the iconic windmill makes a beautiful photograph. This photogenic quality draws many brides to come to this historic place before their chupah to use the windmill as a backdrop.

Harav Shmuel Salant encouraged Sir Moses Montefiore, an Anglo-Jewish philanthropist and banker, to do all he could to build outside the walls. So in 1857 Sir Moses Montefiore – with funding from the estate of an American Jew named Judah Touro -- built Mishkenot She’ananim, Jerusalem’s first Jewish neighborhood in the New City.

Standing 18 meters high, the windmill was built to help generate a livelihood for the residents of the new colony. The construction of the mill was part of a broader program to enable the Jews of Palestine to become self-supporting. Sir Montefiore also built a textile factory and a printing press, and helped to finance several agricultural settlements.

A British expert from a firm of millwrights in Canterbury — with all the necessary equipment and instructions to build a windmill — was sent to the Holy Land. Parts were shipped to Jaffa and then the machinery was transported to Jerusalem by camel. The stone for the tower was quarried locally.

The windmill was meant not only to provide a livelihood for many, by providing work, but also to reduce the price of flour for the whole yishuv. (Until this point, the grinding of wheat had been an Arab monopoly, which caused the price of flour to be high).

Unfortunately, wind conditions in Jerusalem were not suited to power the mill, even thought it was built in just the right spot above Jerusalem’s water source and on top of a hill open to the wind. Another problem was that the machinery was designed for European wheat, which was much softer than the hard local Israeli product. Even so, the mill was used for a while until it broke down. The parts, available only in England, were too expensive to replace. Ultra-modern at the time it was built, the windmill became completely obsolete by the year 1891 when steam-powered mills were invented.

Anecdotes about the windmill abound, and here is just a sample.

On one occasion, the local Arab millers sent their kadie to put an evil eye on the windmill. He cursed it that it should be washed away in the first rain. When it survived the rainy season in tact, the Arabs claimed the mill was the work of the devil himself. 

The story goes that the Arabs developed a taste for the lubricating oil on the wings of the mill. They would come in hordes to lick off the oil, and it was feared the mill would burn down from the resulting friction caused by the lack of oil. A leg of pork was placed in the oil barrel, causing the Ishmaelites to stay away.

More recently, a windmill-loving Dutch tourist who travels regularly to Eretz Yisrael, was bothered that the mill wasn’t operative and convinced his friends to help fund its restoration. They raised one million dollars and approached the Jerusalem Foundation to renovate the windmill. The foundation then raised another five million shekels with the help of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Jerusalem Municipality.

The “only person alive” who understands English windmills, was located and asked to undertake the restoration. The English wind generator architect was reluctant to rebuild the mill himself and contracted a Dutch windmill firm to help him out. A British company prepared the parts engineered to be the exact replica used to build the mill in 1857. Most of the work was carried out in a small workshop in Holland by master craftsmen.

Not so many months ago July 25 2012, the mill was reassembled in its entirety in Jerusalem and was converted into a museum dedicated to the life of Sir Moses Montefiore. According to the Jerusalem Foundation, the windmill will operate five days a week and will be the only working mill in the country. The only difference between the windmill of the 1800s and the windmill of the 2000s will be a short video in the entrance explaining the building’s history, and some extra mechanical gears to turn the blades on non-windy days.

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