Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush

< Tammuz 5784 July 2024 >

A Short Tribute

Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush was born to Sarah and Mr. Aharon Shlush in Jaffa, in 1870. His father, one of the leaders of the Jaffa Sephardi community who had immigrated to the Land of Israel from Oran, Algeria, and his mother, who had emigrated from Baghdad, raised him on Torah and fear of God. He studied at the Tiferet Israel Talmud Torah and school in Beirut. His parent's home in Jaffa was a meeting place for Torah scholars; his father had an additional level built in their home to serve as a synagogue and Beit Midrash for the Jews of Jaffa.

In 1887 Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush married Freikha Moyal, and the couple had seven children.

He was forced to halt his studies to help in financially supporting his family and turned to commerce. In 1891 he jointly founded a construction materials business with his two brothers and became a contractor for construction and real estate affairs. He dealt in redeeming land in the Land of Israel and was among the first founders of Tel Aviv. He and his father built the houses of Neve Tzeddek, one of the first Jewish neighborhoods established outside Jaffa, and in 1910 built the first houses of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, from which Tel Aviv later developed. Among the more famous houses he built one counts the Feingold houses (1904), the Kol Israel Haverim School in Neve Tzeddek (1917) and the Herzliah Gymnasium of the same year.

In 1917, during the First World War, the military governor of the Land of Israel, Ahmed Kamel Pascha, signed a writ of expulsion that was imposed on the Jews of Tel Aviv – Jaffa. Some 5,000 Jews were forced to leave the area, including Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush's community, who moved to Jamal, the Arab village in Western Samaria where they remained until the end of the war.

In 1918, towards the end of the First World War, he was elected to the first municipal council of Tel Aviv – Jaffa. Being native born, he was familiar with Arabic and with Arab culture, and often served as the city's leadership representative in negotiating with the Arabs on various issues. He had the ability of mediating with the Arabs and maintaining good relations even during times of crisis.

Towards the end of his life, Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush became less involved in the temporal world, yet continued to express his ideas on the directions the Jewish settlement should take, on the general state of the Jewish nation, and on Israel – Arab relations. He had his articles published in both the Hebrew and Arabic press and, among other things, was critical of the condescending attitude the builders of the Jewish settlement (yishuv) of the Zionist Movement held towards the Arabs and called for true coexistence based on mutual recognition of the two peoples' cultures and for humane relations between them. His activities, as well as his father's, their part in building the first Hebrew city, as Tel Aviv has been called, are instructive of the role the Sephardim filled in the Zionist Movement's old yishuv and in the building of the Land of Israel.

Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush authored a book entitled Parshat Hayay, in which he reviews his memories, from his childhood years in Jaffa to the riots of 1929, and integrates philosophical matters with rare and unique stories about the yishuv's history. It was first published in 1931 and then, in a renewed edition, in 2005.

Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush passed away on 11 Av 5694 (1934), three months after his wife's death. Mr. Yoseph Eliyahu Shlush was not ordained to the rabbinate, nor did he officiate as Hacham despite leading his community; his deeds testify to his wisdom.

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