A Tel Aviv tale
find the setting of this story in the charming old Rokach house at
number 36 on the eponymous street in the heart of the newly restored
Neve Tzedek quarter of south Tel Aviv. Shimon Rokach, the founder of the
quarter, built the house in 1887, and it was palatial, indeed, right
down to the burnished copper dome designed by his Austrian architect.
Born in Jerusalem,
Rokach was the scion of a famed old family from Safed. He moved to
Jaffa to collect taxes from Jaffa-Jerusalem travelers for the Turks, but
soon branched out into real estate, becoming an important public
figure, of whom contemporary writer Moshe Smilansky said, “He who has
not seen Shimon Rokach, in his white tie and white silk headdress, has
never seen a Jewish prince in his life.” Devoting his spare time to
philanthropy, the “prince” established a library, clinic, charity
society, and the local B’nai B’rith lodge.
Rokach and his wife Rachel had five children – and this story revolves around one of them, Hannah.
all started when Dr. Leon Majarovitz – whom his Arab patients in Lod
called “Dr. Majaro,” for short –wanted to find a bride. When Majaro came
to Lod in 1919, from Odessa,
he acquired an Arab business manager who advised him that he needed a
wife. As the only Jew in town at the time, pickings were slim for Jewish
brides. But in the big city, Tel Aviv, it was said, the most beautiful
girl in town was Rokach’s daughter, Hannah. And so, off he went. But,
too shy to turn up unannounced at the Rokach residence, Majaro headed
for the home of Meir Dizengoff, a fellow Odessan. While Majaro was at
Dizengoff’s home, who should show up but Hannah Rokach,
selling tickets to a charity ball. She and Majaro struck up a
conversation. Hannah, in her pretty pink dress and matching hat, chatted
with him about the piano she had mastered in the Lusanne Conservatory;
he told her he played the violin. The two decided they would get
together soon to make beautiful music.
enough, one Sabbath day, Hannah was standing on the balcony when she
spied Majaro walking up the street, violin tucked under his arm. That
would not sit well with her observant Jewish father, Hannah realized.
But, luckily, the artist Leah Majaro-Mintz, Hannah’s granddaughter, told
Discover Israel, Dad never found out, and the two continued to meet with his blessing.
hen, Majaro’s new position with the Mandate government took him away from Hannah, to el-Arish, Egypt,
where his job was to weed out and stop sick travelers at the border. He
and Hannah kept the relationship going through letters. At one point,
however, Hannah’s letters stopped inexplicably, and Majaro was beside
himself. Without a word to anyone, he hopped the train to Tel Aviv. That
very day, there was an explosion in the border camp. When the good
doctor was nowhere to be found, it was assumed he had died in the blast.
Everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief when they found out romance had
taken him out of harm’s way!
Rokach family saw the young doctor’s escape from death thanks to his
romantic feelings for Hannah as a miracle, and a sign that the young
couple should tie the knot, which they did in 1921.
They eventually moved to Jerusalem’s Old City,
where Leah Majaro-Mintz was born. (By the way, after the 1967 War
reunited Jerusalem, Majaro-Mintz moved back to the Jewish Quarter, where
the sculptures studding her courtyard have been a landmark for some
the years that followed, the Rokach house, like the rest of Neve
Tzedek, fell into disrepair, and was even slated for demolition. Just in
the nick of time, Majaro-Mintz won the legal battle to gain back title
to the house, and she began to work toward its restoration, with her
daughter-in-law Gili helping to perpetuate the family saga. For her
efforts, Majaro-Mintz won a conservation prize from the Israel Council
for Historic Sites and Building and the Henry Ford European Conservation
Rokach House is now open daily to the public, as a museum of the period
and the family. Each room is filled with items that tell the story of
the old days, and sculptures by Majaro-Mintz that focus on women and
their role in society. It also presents a weekly play about the family.
It is a not-to-be missed gem of old Tel Aviv.