From Oran in Algiers to Shechem in Eretz Yisrael

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23 Jan 2008

Land of My Birth – Rabbi Avraham Shalush was a rich businessman and a Torah scholar who lived a life of honor and wealth in the port city Oran, in Algeria. But this did not satisfy his agitated soul, since he felt very clearly that he could only reach perfection in Eretz Yisrael.

His enthusiasm infected his friends and colleagues, and they rented a sailing ship which traveled the dangerous route from Oran to Haifa in the year 5600 (1840). They managed to survive the long trip, but when they finally arrived safely close to the port of Haifa, the travelers were forced to pause in their journey and they were only able to see Mount Carmel from a distance. Here is how the historian of Eretz Yisrael, Moshe David Gaon, described their plight:

“While they were still at sea, not far from the coast, a violent storm arose, and their boat was tossed on vicious waves for days. When the sea calmed down, the passengers were taken to the land by rowboat, but one of the boats overturned, and the eighteen men and women aboard sunk to the depths. Among those who drowned were two young sons of Rabbi Avraham Shalush, Yosef, nine, and Eliyahu, seven. The members of his family who arrived safely in Haifa were his daughters Rika and Channah and his son Aharon.”

In Haifa, Shalush found a wretched town, much more like a large village than a bustling port like Oran, from where he had come. After a short stay, he decided on a daring move and settled in Shechem, the city of Yosef the Righteous. At that time, there were about 8,000 inhabitants in the city, with only about fifty Jews. Evidently Rabbi Avraham wanted to establish a respected Jewish community, but “the best made plans…” In spite of his wealth and his many talents, he was not able to find a source of livelihood for his family in the city of Yosef. And then a cholera epidemic broke out in the area, and the local authorities declared a quarantine for six months.

He left Shechem and went to Jerusalem, but here again he failed to find a livelihood, until he went to his final station, Yaffo. At the time the city had a population of 5,000, including about 200 Jews. And here Rabbi Avraham finally found success by returning to the merchandising business which had occupied him abroad. But he did not care only for himself, he supported the Torah and those who studied it. As noted further by Gaon:

“The Shalush family joined the Jews in the city and helped expand the community. In his righteous way, Rabbi Avraham established a yeshiva in his house where he gathered all the Torah scholars in this remote city, so that he could study with them. At the same time, he built a new synagogue, since until that time there had not been a synagogue in the area.”

Rabbi Avraham lived in Yaffo for only a few years. He passed away at the young age of 46. But he left behind many sons and daughters who were able to accomplish much for the benefit of Eretz Yisrael. His son Aharon was involved in purchasing land on which the first new neighborhoods outside of the city limits were built, starting with Neve Tzedek. His grandsons – one named for him, Avraham Chaim, and the other named Yosef Eliyahu, after his two sons who had drowned – continued to expand the Jewish settlement. They were among the founders of the neighborhood of “Achuzat Bayit.” Thus, the family continued to be active in settling the land. As Gaon concludes:

“As the years went on, Rabbi Avraham’s descendents moved from one place to another. And wherever they went, they took along with them their yeshiva and their synagogue.”

Source: Moshe David Gaon, “Jews of the East in Eretz Yisrael,” and others. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute ( Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.