On May 12, 2020, congregant Ken Ackerman led a book talk about “Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time.” “Founder” is a rich, detailed, and intimate biography of Meyer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the great banking dynasty. In telling its story, the book strips away a layer of world history, revealing both the life of Rothschild himself while providing and a rich glimpse into 18th-century Europe.
Ken led a lively discussion and adapted well given that most participants didn’t have access to the book due to the current quarantine. He started by asking questions of the participants such as “does the name Rothschild have a positive or a negative connotation to you?” and “is it true kings in Europe would not engage in wars without Rothschild’s financial support?” He showed many cartoons and depictions of the Rothschild family, often unflattering and anti-Semitic.
Ken then led us on a virtual tour of 18th-century Frankfurt by showing us maps of the city and 19th century photographs of the Judengasse, the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt am Main in the Holy Roman Empire. As a young man, Rothschild became a dealer in rare coins and won the patronage of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Hesse (who had also earlier patronised his father), gaining the title of “Court Factor” in 1769. Rothschild’s coin business grew to include a number of princely patrons, and then expanded through the provision of banking services to Crown Prince Wilhelm, who became Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel in 1785. Business expanded rapidly following the French Revolution when Rothschild handled payments from Britain for the hire of Hessian mercenaries.
The discussion concluded with a conversation about the role of the Rothschild family in the modern era. There is still considerable wealth in the family, but it is distributed among many different branches of the family tree. Among the activities engaged in by descendents are: banking, wineries, opera, academia, horse breeding, and environmental activism.
Ken Ackerman, a writer and attorney in Washington, D.C. since the 1970s, is a long-time veteran of senior positions both in government and private law. As a writer, Ken has authored five major books on Americana:
Boss Tweed: The Corrupt Pol who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York,
Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield,
Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare,1919-1920,
The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday 1869
Trotsky in New York, 1917: A Radical on the Eve of revolution
Next Event: Virtual Tour of Machane Yehuda (the market) in Jerusalem. Grab your passport and join us online for a virtual tour of Machane Yehuda (aka “the shuk”) in Jerusalem, Israel! Tour guide “Fun” Joel Haber will join us online from Jerusalem and take us through this famous market. He may also add a cooking demonstration or two. When we can travel again, you will know the best stops in the market for fruit, hummos, nuts, baked goods and so much more! Fun Joel!
Please RSVP to Laura Naide. Zoom Link will be provided in the CEH Weekly email.
Thank you to Ken Ackerman, Rabbi Bass, and the Jean Koshar and Samuel Rothstein Memorial Fund.