Hacham Yochanan HaCohen

A Short Tribute

Hacham Yochanan HaCohen was born to Leah and Hacham Mullah Aaron HaCohen in 1922, in Jerusalem. His parents, born in Bukhara, immigrated to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem on the outskirts of the Bukharim neighborhood (established in 1894), next to the Shoshanim LeDavid Synagogue. He began his Torah studies at the Bnei Zion Talmud Torah, but when his father died in 1932, leaving his mother and her five children penniless, he was forced to move to the Bucharoff Orphanage on Jaffa Road.

Hacham Yochanan HaCohen worked all day in a carpentry, yet he registered for matriculation examinations as an independent student. He studied during the night, completed his schooling and qualified for teacher certification. He taught and was a homeroom teacher in Agudah Israel schools, in the Keshet School in the Musrara neighborhood and in the Bnei Ami School in the Katamon neighborhood. With time, he became a school principal.

In 1959, Hacham Yochanan HaCohen received his rabbinic ordination. He served as a member of the Beit Israel and Bukharim Neighborhood Committee and eventually stood at its helm; he was also a founding member of the Ehad l'Hamesh NGO that supports families with five or more children.

Hacham Yochanan HaCohen published essays and poems under his pen name, H.I. Ben Aaron. In 1964 his book Meitarim MeKinori (Strings from My Violin), a collection of poems dating from pre-state Israel and the War of Independence period, was published. In 1976 his book of poems on heroism and commemoration, 'Alim BaShalechet, was published; Plays and Stories from the History of Our People was published in 1981. In 1985 he wrote a commentary on the Va'Etkhanan Torah Reading Portion as a supplement to a book by Hacham Moshe Baruch, a Bukhari sage. My Neighborhood – Bukharim Streets appeared in 1990, and in 1999 his Jews of Bukhara Diaspora and the Return to Zion was published.

Hacham Yochanan HaCohen passed away on 8 Heshvan, 5763 (2002) and was buried in Jerusalem.

A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Redemption of Israel' in which he teaches that out of love for the Creator, blessed be He, they built a palace toward the coming of the Messiah King

The Jews of Bukhara held a deep and faithful awareness of Divine providence, true believers. The purpose of their coming to the Land of Israel was to raise the Shechina from the dust, to build the Chosen House, the Temple. They awaited the coming of the Messiah and even built him a palace, named the Mullah Elisha Yehudoff z"l Palace. Most of the neighborhood's builders, before building houses for themselves, first undertook building a House of God, a synagogue where they, their children and their progeny could pray. They gave of their money and gold so that others could come to pray at the synagogue they raised. The tradition continues to this day, in particular the netz (dawn) morning prayer, maintained entirely out of a fierce love for the Creator, like their forefathers' tradition in the cities of Bukhara: A tradition sanctified by generations of time, whereby many of the community's members would pay rabbis and teachers full salaries to teach their children Torah, its commandments, laws and statutes.

The Jews' of Bukhara Diaspora and the Return to Zion, pp. 90-91, Rechovot Publishing, Jerusalem, 1994