Zerah Barnett

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Zerah Barnett (Hebrew: זרח ברנט‎; born 1843 in Kaunas – 15 October 1935 in Tel Aviv) was a Zionist pioneer, and one of the first residents of Petah Tikva. In 1890, he founded Neve Shalom, a Jewish neighborhood north of Jaffa.

Biography[edit]

Barnett was born in 1843 in Kaunas (then Kovno), and studied at the Slabodka Yeshiva in the city. He married Rachel Leah HaCohen and moved to London, where he became a fur trader and Torah teacher. In 1872 he moved to Jerusalem and started an unsuccessful business, where he lost his money. He was then involved in building Mea Shearim, one of the first Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the city walls. In 1877 he moved to the land that would become Petah Tikva, joining Yoel Moshe Salomon. His wife refused to join him and asked for a divorce, but was compelled by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shmuel Salant, to follow her husband.

During his residence in Petah Tikva, Barnett traveled to London fifteen times and met twice with Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. Barnett was able to build a public bath house in the town, and donated a Torah scroll to the town's synagogue. In 1880 he finally built a house in Petah Tikva, but the mud brick building was not built for cold winters, and Barnett contracted malaria. He moved to London for five years, and returned in 1885 to build a new stone house—the first two-storey building in town. One year later the house served as a fort in the defense of Petah Tikva against Arab raiders.

In 1890 Barnett sold his Petah Tikva house to buy a plot of land north of Jaffa, where he founded a new Jewish neighborhood. Prominent Jewish residents from Jaffa settled there, including the chief rabbi of the city, Naftali Herz HaLevi. In 1896 Barnett donated the land to an educational-religious organization, and founded a Yeshiva in the neighborhood—named Or Zore'ah Yeshiva in his name.

In 1929, Barnett's daughter Hanna Trager published his and her memoirs. Barnett died in 1935 in Tel Aviv.

Barnett is mentioned in The Ballad of Yoel Moshe Salomon.

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