Jaffa’s Ups and Downs (New)

Yaffo, once a major gateway to Eretz Yisroel, is probably  the oldest continuously working harbor in the  world except during the times it was destroyed and rebuilt  as was conquered and reconquered by Egyptians,  Assyrians, Persians, Jews, Greeks, Ottomans, Crusaders,  French and more. Yaffo was important because of  its placid harbor and a hill rising nearby to a height of  130 feet, providing a commanding view of the coastline  which gave the town strategic military importance.  From a small collections of buildings on a hill, Yaffo  became the nucleus of the Sharon district of Eretz Yisroel  which contains most of modern Israel’s population  and industry.
Basket Battalion
The town is first mentioned in an ancient papyrus in  the British Museum dating from 1,440 BCE. It relates  how General Djehuty cunningly recaptured the city  after it rebelled against Pharaoh Thutmose. Djehuty  did this by inviting the rebel leader outside the city  walls for a parley and pretending he wanted to surrender.  When the rebel leader asked him to show him  Pharaoh’s scepter, Djehuty knocked him down as he  was examining it and clapped him in irons. Djehuty  then told 200 crack soldiers to climb into 200 baskets  and instructed an additional 300 to carry the baskets  with poles, ordering them: “When you enter the town,  release your companions and seize all the people in the  town and immediately tie them with ropes.”  The charioteer who had brought along the rebel  leader to the encampment was told that Djehuty had  surrendered and was sending his soldiers into Yaffo as  slaves. Once inside, of course, the soldiers leapt out the  baskets with weapons and conquered the city.  This story is a close parallel to the wooden (Trojan)  horse story of King Ulysses of Greece supposed  to have occurred about 200 years later. After besieging  Troy for a long time, Ulysses pretended to sail away.  But first he hid a number of his troops inside a huge  wooden horse left by the city gates. When the Troy  citizens dragged it inside, the soldiers crawled out under  cover of darkness, opened the gates for the other  soldiers, and seized the city.
Razed By Its Rulers
Yaffo played a relatively minor part in Jewish history,  appearing only a few times in the Tanach. It appears  for the first time in the description of the borders of  Don: And the border of their inheritance was… Bnei Brak  and Gas Rimon. And Mei Yarkon and the Rakon, with  the border opposite Yaffo (Yehoshua 19:41-46). In Shlomo  Hamelech’s time, King Chiram promised to send wood  for the Beis Hamikdosh via Yaffo: And we will cut wood  from Levanon as much as you will need, and we will bring  it to as rafts on the sea to Yaffo, and you will take them  up to Yerushalayim (I Divrei Hayomim 2:15). Yonah fled  from Hashem by way of Yaffo (Yonah 1:3).  Finally, sefer Ezra tells us that during the building  of the second Beis Hamikdosh, wood was floated down  to Yaffo once again: They gave money to the hewers and  carpenters, and food and drink to the people of Tzidon and  Tzur, to bring cedar trees from Levanon to the of Yaffo  (Ezra 3:7).
Josephus writes that the Romans massacred 8,400  Yaffo residents during the revolt of the second churban.  But the kehillah recovered to the extent that a number  of tanna’im and amora’im are mentioned as coming  from there including Rav Acha of Yaffo, Rav Pinchos  of Yaffo, Rav Ada from Yaffo, Rav Nachman of Yaffo,  Rav Tanchum of Yaffo, as well as Rav Yudan ben Tarfon  of Yaffo. After passing back and forth from Muslim  to Christian during the Crusades, the traveler Binyomin  of Tudela described it in 1170 as having only one  Jew, a dyer by trade. But in 1333, a Spanish traveler,  Rav Yitzchak Chilo, found a flourishing kehillah.  “We came to Yaffo, the beauty of the sea, with  many wealthy residents making much trade,” he wrote.  “Among the special wares sold are olive oil, combed  cotton, scented soap, glass vessels, dyed cloth, and  dried fruit. The Jews of the town have a beautiful shul  full of very beautiful old sifrei Torah. Next to the shul  is a yeshiva and library. However, there are very few  chachomim in Yaffo and not many visit the yeshiva and  less the library.”
Soon afterwards, Yaffo was razed to the ground by  order of the Egyptian sultan who was concerned Crusaders  might use it’s fortifications to launch another  assault on the Holy Land. In 1481, Meshulam bar  Menachem from Volterra, Italy, wrote, “Yaffo is completely  destroyed” and when the Turks conquered Eretz  Yisroel in 1517 it was still in ruins, although a few solitary  Jews are recorded as living there.
During the 18th century, Yaffo developed into a  walled city with Muslims, Christians, Europeans, and  a few Jews. In 1820, Rav Yeshayahu Adjiman of Constantinople  established a Jewish Khan or guesthouse  for Jews traveling on to the holy cities of Yerushalayim,  Chevron, Teveriah, and Tzefas. With a shul in one of  its rooms, the Dar al-Yehud (the Jew’s House) marked  the beginning of the revival of the town’s Jewish kehillah,  even though it was soon confiscated for twelve years. By  1839, there were about 120 Sefardi Jews resident in the  town. They wrote to Moses Montefiore that they had a  talmud Torah with 45 talmidim, and a yeshiva for baalei  batim, but they wanted to build an impressive shul and  establish a kollel of ten talmidei chachomim. The first  Ashkenazim who arrived at that time joined the Sefardi  kehillah and davened in their shul.  At the end of the 19th century, Yaffo enjoyed the distinction  of being the only town in Eretz Yisroel with a  united Sefardi-Ashkenazi kehillah.
Nightmare Harbor
In modern times the town harbor became a nightmare.  On the one hand, a stone reef parallel to the shore had  always cut off waves and created a quiet backwater, ideal  for visiting ships. On the other hand, as ships became  larger they could no longer squeeze through so that today  it has degenerated into a tiny fishing harbor. Tensof-  thousands of people entering Eretz Yisroel via Yaffo  during the past 150 years found the landing traumatic.  In Eastern Sketches, Ellen Clare Miller wrote what it was  like to disembark there in 1867:
“Our first view of Jaffa was obtained from the deck of  a French steamer, which cast anchor on a stormy morning,  in the early spring, about a mile from the shore,” she  wrote. “There lay the low sand hills, backed by the green  plain, and the far-off mountains; and the compact little  town rose before us, climbing its round hill – the first  glimpse of Palestine.
“No vessel of any size can, especially in a storm, approach  near this dangerous coast: the passengers, goods,  and mails brought by the steamers, must alike be landed  in open boats… At noon, a slight veering of the wind  was announced, presenting a possibility of a landing; and  though the sea had not yet gone down, several small boats  were soon visible, with all hands pulling for the steamer.  When they reached the side of the vessel, there was a  scene even wilder than that often witnessed on these occasions.  Each crew, clamorous for passengers, shouting,  shrieking, fighting with his oars, wrestling together; boat  jostling against boat as each tried to keep beside the vessel,  now rising high on the waves, and grating against her  side, now going down deep towards her keel…
“A boat was chosen and the luggage let down into it…  We were led and one after the other dropped down, as  the boat rose, into the upstretched arms of the vociferous  boatmen… At last the crew succeeded in pushing off  from the ship. Then a mile of hard pulling through the  waves, and we neared the black rampart, within which  the water was smooth… Drenched with sea-water, but  safely brought through danger, we landed on the wharf  at Yaffo.”
She went on to give a description of what Yaffo looked  like at that time.
“The present population of the town is about 5,000;  1,000 of these being Christians, 800 Jews, and the rest  Moslems,” she wrote. “…The rich plain of Sharon, with  its three of four hundred orange gardens, each containing  upwards of one thousand trees, among which finespreading  palms, larger and more numerous than those  in any other part of the country, rise singly or in groups,  stretches away behind the town to the far-off, dreamylooking  hills of Judea… The oranges of the gardens are  the finest in the East; and during the late winter and  early spring, little white-sailed vessels from Greece,  Constantinople, and the islands of the Archipelago, lie  in calm weather at a short distance from the coast, waiting  to carry away the fruit. About ten millions are said to  be annually exported.”
The orchards were watered by hand in the dry season  by means of water wheels, which drew water from deep  wells and poured it into irrigation channels. Yaffo itself,  she says, was not a very pleasant place.  “This chief port of Palestine, with its narrow, filthy  lanes, and steep, ill-paved streets, becoming uneven stairs  as they ascend to the higher part, is certainly not a spot to  be chosen, even among eastern towns, as a desirable residence.  Yet is Jaffa well worthy of a visit, independently of  its being the landing-place for Jerusalem, distant thirtythree  miles amongst the tops of those blue mountains  which bound the eastern horizon. Its quays are crowded  with the merchandise of the East and West, among  which kneels the groaning camel… Here are throngs of  merchants of all ranks and of many nations – Jews, Arabs,  Germans, Turks, Italians, Americans, Ethiopians.
“Its bazaars, like those of all Eastern towns, consist  of narrow streets lined with shops, none very imposing  in size, and some so small that their owners cannot  stand upright, but sit smoking the unfailing nargheelie,  amidst and upon their goods, apparently indifferent as  to whether or not they have any custom [customers],  and rising with manifest reluctance, if at all, to ascertain  whether their stores contain what is wanted…
“Here walk the turbaned old Moslems, with their long  beards and longer pipes; the smart young Arabs, with  their bright cloth suits and many colored girdles…; and  the women, shrouded in white from head to foot… and  with black or colored handkerchiefs closely concealing  their features.”
Between 1806 to 1886, Yaffo’s population skyrocketed  from 2,500 to 17,000 residents and after that it grew  even faster. Next week’s article will iy”H discuss how Yaffo  spread out into the city many frum Jews remember as  “the heavenly Tel Aviv.”

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