For the JC May 2021
The Marquess of Reading and his wife have decided to take Israeli citizenship — a move which he says is “needed now more than ever”.
Lord Reading, a passionate supporter of Israel, says he hopes to secure full citizenship in October when he next visits the country. “We will sign the requisite papers and then we will receive our Israeli passports”, he said.
The marquess’s extraordinary action is in many ways a “reclaiming of my heritage”, as he puts it. He is the great-grandson of Alfred Mond, later the first Baron Melchett, a pioneering industrialist who was active in early Zionist politics.
Alfred Mond’s daughter Eva — the present Lord Reading’s grandmother — was even more of an active Zionist. She married the second Marquess of Reading and for long periods between the 1920s and the 1970s, she lived in a house on the Sea of Galilee, which became known as the Villa Melchett. She entertained people such as David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizman at the villa, which is about three miles from Tiberias.
“My grandmother became chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress”, says Lord Reading, adding that she was “a notable Zionist” and that he “hoped to carry the baton for her”.
The family’s chequered history has swung between Judaism and Christianity for almost 100 years. The first Marquess of Reading, Rufus Isaacs, for whom the title was created, was Jewish — the marquisate was the highest title in the British peerage ever attained by a Jew. But Eva, who married his son, was baptised into her mother’s Anglican faith — even though her father was Jewish. But in 1933 Eva converted to Judaism.
The present Marquess, Simon, Lord Reading, is not Jewish, but he is a devoted supporter of Israel and has become even stronger over the years.
Now, he says, he wants to emulate his grandmother by using the Villa Melchett as a base for bringing like-minded supporters to Israel. The villa is no longer in family hands, but Lord Reading has become friends with its present owners, the Eisenberg family, and hopes to bring interested individuals from all over the world to visit and brainstorm on the shores of Lake Kinneret. “The new owners have embraced my vision”, he says.
Even the recent fighting between Israel and Gaza has not deterred Lord Reading, a banker and philanthropist. He says his taking of Israeli citizenship “is needed now more than ever and I am even more determined”. He says his wife, Melinda, (known as Mindy), who is also taking citizenship, “is 100 per cent behind me — she’s caught the vision, too”.
His family also support the move, says the marquess. “We should display our heritage. In a way, I am reconnecting with my Jewish roots”.