First Rotary Club of Each Country



Brief histories of the first clubs of each geographic region

Rotary Club of Jerusalem, the First Club of Israel

Rotary International District 2490

Part of our History of Rotary in Asia Section 

Unlike some of the other Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey and Egypt, the racial differences in Jerusalem do not seem to have caused any serious problems for establishing Rotary. The local people had a far more international outlook which helped. Davidson found that there was already in existence the nucleus of a Rotary Club brought together by Rotarian Edward Wicher of San Anselmo, California, who at the time was spending a year as a Professor in the American School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Jim Davidson and Wisher were able to bring together Jews, Arabs, British and Turks into a club. Davidson said that the club gave strong evidence of unity and hoped that its influence would spread to other cities in Palestine . Although he left Jerusalem on February 9, 1929, the club was officially chartered on the same day as the Cairo club, March 11, 1929.

Associate Commissioner Willem De Cock Buning made several follow-up visits in 1929/1930 to see how these and other new clubs were progressing. During these visits Buning discussed further developments in their countries; he also presented Rotary flags to Athens, Cairo and Jerusalem as the first clubs in their respective countries.
Above, researched and written by RGHF Senior Historian Basil Lewis (UK) 3 May 2007


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. The first President was J.W. Crowfoot, a British archaeologist; the Secretary was Vladamir Wolfson, manger 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.
The charter members of Jerusalem, in 1929

Indeed, it was a remarkable achievement and a credit to Rotary, that there were both Arab and Jewish members as well. However, the inclusion of such outstanding scholars as Norman Bentwich, Canon Danby and Hugo Bergman among the charter members ensured rapid admission to Rotary International on March 11th, less then seven weeks after the formal organizational meeting.

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.

The Jerusalem Rotary Club began life at a time of sharpened political tensions, shortly before the Hebron program that left many Jewish residents dead. The general situation did not improve. Indeed the five years from 1936 to 1940 where worse still.

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. A second club was established in 1933 in Haifa as a result of Clare Martin's preparatory work.

It was the Jerusalem Club that takes credit for establishing the third club in Tel Aviv-Yaffo through the efforts of two of its members, the architect 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.

During the Second World War, the Club continued to meet regularly and continued to include British, Jewish and Arab members. In 1944 Lars Lind of the Jerusalem Club was elected District Governor, the only member of a club in Palestine so honored during the British Mandate. The Club sustained a membership of nearly 60 Rotarians throughout the war years.

Elie Eliashar, who was Club President in 1946-47, recalled this period:

"Jerusalem was geographically one City uniting Old and New, sacred to Jewish, Christians and Muslims everywhere. the rule was British but political strife was ripe. The more sacred the interests, the more difficult it was to find common ground for meetings and understanding.

"Such a center was the Rotary Club which gathered round the President's Rotary Bell. Britishers in high government employ, members of the Consular Corps, Moslems and Christian Arabs and Jews. Disturbances and riots did not prevent Rotarians from meeting under most difficult conditions. Once around the tables at the King David Hotel or the YMCA, all differences were set aside. Collaboration was intimate and friendly for the good of Jerusalem and in matters of social welfare, the Club often serving as a moderator of public opinion."

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, contact with other clubs in the 89th District (Egypt, Sudan, Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria) was impossible, so Rotary International granted autonomy to the three Israeli clubs in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv-Yaffo.

When the Jerusalem Club was established, its meetings were conducted in English and they still are today. New members from abroad are drawn to the Club partly because of their lack of proficiency in Hebrew. As a result, diplomats, international civil servants and representatives of different religions find a home at Wednesday lunch meetings at the "Y." Visiting Rotarians here as tourists or on short term assignments or attending conferences also find their way to the Club's table knowing that the guest speaker will address the gathering in English.

The international make-up of the Jerusalem Rotary Club and its guests, enables the Club to identify partners for joint ventures in much needed social projects. American Canadian, Dutch, German, Italian and Swedish Rotary Clubs have participated in a variety of such projects during the past decade, benefiting institutions that provide medical equipment to the needy, integrated education to the handicapped, and support for Israel-Arab understanding and cooperation.

Help to the community is a central theme in the activities of the Jerusalem Club, and nothing illustrates this more effectively than the thirty years of non-stop scholarships for Jerusalem's needy secondary school students provided through the Club's Jerusalem Rotary Foundation.

Centennial Bell in Jerusalem in 2003. RGHF board member Irene Lewitt, second from right. Fourth from the right is PDG Yael Lazaros, the second woman DG.

(Source: History of the Jerusalem Rotary Club, Benad Avital, Lucien Harris and Don Edelstein, editors, 1999)

Rotary Global History Day Israel 2009
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