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Vera Frances Bryce Salomons (1888-1969), the founder of the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem, was the scion of an aristocratic Anglo-Jewish family of enlightened activists in the cause of justice and civil rights. The family patriarch, Sir David Salomons (1797-1873), Vera’s great-uncle, was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament. His battle for granting equal rights to minorities, including his fellow-Jews, did much to advance that cause in Britain.
Vera Salomons herself saw art as a bridge between people, and a way of drawing them together. Her decision to establish a museum, particularly in Jerusalem, which would showcase Islamic art in all its splendor, was intended to lessen the hostility between Jews and Arabs and build a bridge between their cultures. The fund she left for the museum ensures its continued existence, without public funding.
In addition to her creation of the museum, Mrs. Salomons established and funded numerous welfare projects in Israel: homes for the elderly in Jerusalem and the Sharon region, educational facilities for blind children, and housing for new immigrants. In addition, she has supported important cultural and educational institutions in Israel, foremost among them the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Salomons’ family history was intertwined with British politics from the 19th century, alongside leading British Jews like Moses Montefiore and the Rothschild family. Mysteriously, the activities of this important family, and especially of Sir David Salomons, have never been accorded the recognition they deserve.
In a period in which British Jews were still denied full civil rights, the appointment of Salomons to public posts (he was a banker by trade) became possible only because of his unrelenting legal and political battles. Legal limitations imposed on religious groups that were not part of the establishment Church of England had indeed been removed in 1829, but in effect any public office-bearer was still obliged to take an oath “on the true faith of a Christian.” For Jews, this was a red line that could not be crossed.
Sir David’s campaign began in 1835, when he was elected Sheriff of London. Initially he was not able to take office because of his Jewish faith, but he refused to yield. Although Jews were forbidden to enter Parliament, Salomons gave a speech in the House of Commons that created awareness of the issue of religious discrimination, and put it on the parliamentary agenda. At the same time, he successfully argued the case in a court of law in favor of full equality for religious minorities, a victory that led to a change in the law. Sir David Salomons served as Sheriff of London until 1837, paving the way for Sir Moses Montefiore, who was appointed right after him. In 1855, after the change of the law, Salomons was elected Lord Mayor of London. His long, tireless battle culminated in 1890, after his death, with additional legislation that removed all remaining obstacles for Jews to vote, be elected, and fully be involved in the political process.
In 1869, Salomons was awarded the title of baronet. On his death, since he had no children, his knighthood and substantial estate passed to his nephew, David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925), the father of Vera. “Broomhill,” their estate in Kent, is today a museum housing the family’s art collection.
Sir David Lionel Salomons was a lawyer; but his real love was science and technology. He was a colorful personality, an inventor, a collector, a horologist (an expert in timepieces), a talented photographer, and a lover of cars, which were still almost unknown in Britain. Broomhill was one of the first houses in the country to be connected to electricity. In 1882, he married Laura De Stern, who had a reputation as a bold and free-spirited woman, and drove a car (a very unconventional skill for a woman at the time). The couple had four daughters and a son, Reginald David.
Reginald David Salomons was educated at Eton and Cambridge, like his father. As the scion of the illustrious David Salomons family, a great future was predicted for him; but it was not to be. He was a British army officer in the First World War, and drowned in October 1915 when the ship carrying his regiment to Gallipoli sank with great loss of life. Salomons apparently had given his lifejacket to another soldier. His heroism was immortalized in the musical, “The Dreamers,” which was staged in London’s West End on the centennial of the tragedy.
With Reginald’s death, the family title of baronet was discontinued, since there was no male heir. Vera Salomons’ mother and two sisters, Maud and Ethel, died in the years 1931-1937 (another sister, Sibyl, had died in childhood), leaving Vera the sole heir to the family estate and collections. Part of the collection is preserved in the museum at the family estate, and part in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Mrs. Salomons preferred to exhibit the watch and clock collection in the Museum for Islamic Art, in Jerusalem.
While serving as a nurse in the British army in the First World War, Vera Salomons met Lt.-Col. Edward Daniel Bryce, a British officer. They married in 1919, never had children, and later divorced.
Of all the Salomons children, Vera’s personality and interests were closest to her father’s. She was a passionate art-lover all her life, and published three books on 18th-century French illustrations while still in her 20s. She lived her last years in Switzerland, and died in 1969, aged 81.