A short history of the Jerusalem Rotary Club, 1929 - 1999
(Source: The Jerusalem Rotary Club, Benad Avital, Lucien Harris and Don Edelstein,
editors,1999, compiled for the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the club)
In 1928 James W. (Jim) Davidson, General Commissioner of Rotary International, a past president of the Calgary, Alberta, Rotary Club, answered a call from Rotary International to carry the Rotary ideal to Asia, to the Near East, to southern Asia and to the Far East. The journey took three years and started in Istanbul. Jim's wife and daughter accompanied him on his long odyssey, which covered 12,000 miles and took them to the shores of the Pacific.
The second stop was Athens and from there the Davidson's continued to Cairo where on January 2nd 1929, the Cairo club was founded with 22 charter members, and Clare Martin, manager of Shell Oil, as President.
Jim Davidson then proceeded to Jerusalem by train to join Dr. Edward Wicher, a Rotarian from San Anselmo, California, who, helped by three or four Jerusalem residents, had prepared the ground for a club in the Holy City. The founding meeting of the Jerusalem Rotary Club took place on January 22nd 1929 at the St. John's Hotel in the Old City.
June 1929, the Charter Members
The first President was J.W. Crowfoot, a British archaeologist; the Secretary was Vladamir Wolfson, manager of Shell Oil. There were 21 charter members, most of them British officials; in those tense times the club could not have been founded at all without strong British support.
YMCA Impression by Kosinski
Indeed, it was a remarkable achievement and a credit to Rotary, that there were both Arab and Jewish members as well.
The Cairo Rotary Club, founded just 20 days earlier, sponsored the Jerusalem club and presented it with the Rotary Bell which has served the club every since.
Click to download and view a PowerPoint presentation of the Club history 1929-2013.
The Jerusalem Rotary Club began life at a time of sharpened political tensions, shortly before the Hebron pogrom that left many Jewish residents dead. The general situation did not improve. Indeed the five years from 1936 to 1940 where worse still, with Arab rioting endemic as pressure mounted to halt Jewish immigration. Arab families which advocated moderation were subjected to threats and assassinations by extremists who, by these methods, silenced opposition to their acts of violence.
Nevertheless, the Rotary spirit protected relations within the Jerusalem Rotary Club, and British, Arab and Jewish Rotarians continued their weekly meetings, providing a haven for harmony and free discussion.
The Jerusalem Rotary Club was founded on January 22nd 1929, with 21 Charter Members; and was accepted by Rotary International on March 11th.
Among the Jewish charter members were Hugo Bergman and Norman Bentwich.
Hugo Bergman was born in Germany and was Chief Librarian of the Hebrew University/National Library and subsequently the University’s first Rector.
Norman de Mattos Bentwich was born in England, in 1883. His father, Herbert, was a lawyer; the editor of Law Journal; and also the leader of Hovevei Zion and the Zionist movement in Britain, before settling in Palestine in 1929.
Hugo Bergman Norman Bentwich
Norman Bentwich was the first Attorney-General in Mandated Palestine, serving in that capacity from 1920 – 31. For the next 20 years he was Professor of International Relations at Hebrew University and, from 1933 – 36, Director of the League of Nations Commission for Jewish Refugees from Germany. His wife, Helen, was chairman of L.C.C.(London County Council) in the mid-1950s.
The inclusion of such outstanding scholars ensured rapid admission to Rotary International on March 11th, less than seven weeks after the formal organizational meeting.
A second club was established in 1933 in Haifa as a result of Clare Martin's preparatory work. The Jerusalem Club takes the credit for establishing the third club, this time in Tel Aviv-Yaffo, through the efforts of two of its members, the architects Chaikin and Halabi.
If the general situation was unsettling during those early years, this was mirrored in the Jerusalem Club's quest for a permanent home. From its first "home" in 1929, St. John's Hotel in the Old City, the Club moved to the old Fast Hotel, then to the new Fast Hotel, the Soldier's Hostel on St. Paul's Road, the YMCA in Allenby Square, Darouti's Hotel and the King David Hotel. Finally, in 1953, the Rotary Club moved to its current home, the Jerusalem YMCA on King David Street.