While taking a walk along the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, a rectangular area with 2 stone markers rests in Clore Garden. This is the locale of Shmerling Court, the first Jewish building outside of Jaffa. In 1876, one individual, Chaim Shmerling, a Lubavitch Hasid, purchased the plot and built 3 small houses and dug a well.
Chaim Shmerling was born in 1825 in Hebron, where his father, Shimon Shmerling, was sent by Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch to establish the first Chabad community in the Land of Israel. Chaim grew up learning Jewish studies and Hasidic thought. Arabic, which he learned from the streets, served him well when he started a business in transporting goods between Hebron and Jerusalem.
After moving to Jaffa around the year 1866, he broadened his business horizons and opened a customs house at the port.
Chaim Shmerling was a proud Jew who tried to build in Jaffa bridges between the Sefardi and Ashkenazi communities as well serving in the burial society. He moved out of the cramped, disease-ridden city and eventually built around himself Jewish institutions like the Shaar Zion hospital.
But very often people’s characters are seen not only in their big projects, but also in what they do for one individual.
One young couple, Rav Moshe and Dena Salant, opened a grocery store in the Old City of Jerusalem after they got married. Unfortunately, the grocery store went bankrupt and they found work in the Kamenitz Hotel in Jerusalem. Alas, even the income they earned from the hotel was not sufficient; so they packed their belongings and set off for Jaffa with the intent to get on the next boat heading back to Europe. Upon their arrival in Jaffa, they met with Chaim Shmerling. Shmerling made it a point to open his home to all Jews in need of assistance. He advised them, with their experience in the hotel industry, to open a hotel in Jaffa to service the port. The couple took his advice and through the years, Moshe and Dina’s hotel got a good name servicing travelers and merchants alike.
Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Kislev is most famous for the holiday of Hanukkah, but for me it is also the month my dad died. My dad had a framed picture in his office with the following quote:
Give a man a fish
And he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish
And he will never be hungry.
Empowering others is one of the ideals I hold highly. Chaim Shmerling did just that.
- Old City of Jaffa
- Ottoman Train Station of Jaffa
- Neve Tzedek neighborhood