Rabbi Franco - Founder of Beit Hadassah

The clinic he founded served Hebron Jews and Arabs alike for decades.

20.8.17, 19:10
Rabbi Haim Rahamim Yosef Franco (sometimes spelled Franko) was a leader of the Sephardic community of Hebron and the founder of Beit Hadassah. he was often known by his acronym, the HARIF.

He was born in Rhodes, Greece in 1835 and immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1868 with his wife Esther Mazel-Tov and his three children, Ben-Zion, Meir, and Clara and settled in Jerusalem. 
Once in the Jewish homeland, he was appointed as member of the Beit Din headed by the revered Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elyashar and Rabbi Shalom Moshe Chai Gagin author of  Sameach Nefesh.
One of the many controversial issues he dealt with was the loss of a large courtyard in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Adjacent to the city's churches, the Jewish community was forced to sell the land. As a representative of the Jewish community he traveled to Turkey and Austria. During his visit to Vienna, he was granted audience with Franz Josef I of Austria and succeeded in his mission to have the courtyard once again returned to the Jewish community
In the year 1875 he traveled to Algeria, Tunis and Libya.
In 1878 he was appointed chief rabbi of the Sephardi community in Hebron and was one of the pioneers of leaving the walls of the Jewish Quarter in Hebron, and encouraged other Jews to follow him.
In 1893 he established the "Chesed L'Avraham" hospital named after Rabbi Abraham Azulai (1570–1643), author of Kabalistic work Chesed L'Avraham and the revered long-time Chief Rabbi of the city. The hospital would later be renamed Beit Hadassah after the Hadassah organization took charge. 
Before being built, the rabbi headed the committee for the establishment of the hospital in which he sought donations from Jewish communities the world over. The American Jewish Archives has a handwritten letter in English from Rabbi Franco to Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, the prominent American rabbi requesting donations from the American Jewish community.
Beit Hadassah went on to be a respected medical clinic that offered free service to both Arabs and Jews. A pharmacist's office was built adjacent to the building.
Rabbi Franco also authored several books on Jewish thought including "Shnot Yamim," "Kavod Yaakov," and "Ben Yamin."
Rabbi Franco passed away in 1901 and was buried in the ancient cemetery of Hebron. 
Although most of the tombstone were vandalized during the Jordanian occupation of 1948 - 1967, Rabbi Franco's final resting place has since been refurbished and can be visited today.
The famous Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini was recruited to replace Rabbi Franco as chief rabbi of Hebron community. Rabbi Medini finished his magnus opus, the Sde Hemed, an encyclopedia of the Talmud, in the city.
His daughter Clara Hasson was known for her charitable deeds among the poor and for her love and compassion. His son-in-law Rabbi Hanoch Hasson was a member of the Sephardic Judicial Court in Hebron. A very learned man and community fundraiser, he also owned a large collection of antique writings on Hebron and its history. 
Both were brutally murdered in the Hebron Massacre of 1929. The mob burned Rabbi Hasson's library. Beit Hadassah, once a center for healing, became the site of some of the most vicious attacks and was looted. During the Jordanian occupation, it was used as an Arab school called Al-Dabboia and later fell into disrepair. 
His grandson was Avraham Franco, who was instrumental in helping revive the community after the Six Day War of 1967 liberated Judea, Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.
Born in Hebron, Avraham Franco, served as Attorney General and the Secretary of the Jerusalem municipality for many years, being awarded a special prize in 1979 by the city.
Fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, he studied to be a pharmacist at the University of Beirut in Lebanon. He also worked as a butcher in Hebron and Beersheva. During World War I he served in the Turkish army and was briefly arrested by Australian soldiers. He later helped form a group that represented Sephardic Jews and other community organizations.
After the gruesome Hebron Massacre of 1929, Franco attempted to save many documents including Ottoman land deeds that attested to the legal purchase of land including his grandfather's Beit Hadassah building.
He was one of the many that returned to the decimated city in 1931. But the British authorities who ruled the Land of Israel again expelled the Jewish community in 1936.
After the Six Day War, Hebron was again open to the public and a now 70-year-old Franco rushed to his former hometown. 
Franco gave power-of-attorney for the Turkish land deeds (Kushan) and all other document pertaining to Jewish-owned property in Hebron to Rabbi Moshe Levinger who led a group of young idealistic families to repopulate Hebron.
In 1976 at the 47th anniversary of the Hebron massacre he spoke as a representative of the former residents and called on the Israeli government to return the Jewish property to Jewish hands.
In 1977 he testified before Israeli courts on behalf of the residents of the newly created settlement of Kiryat Arba, a suburb of Hebron, and on behalf of members of the Gush Emunim movement. Eventually, Beit Hadassah, which had for years been a vacant building, was returned to the rightful heirs. After renovation, families moved in and a museum was built on the ground floor.
Avraham Franco passed away on April 9, 1993 (18 Nissan 5713 ) and was buried in Jerusalem.
Today after much struggle Beit Hadassah again thrives with Jewish life, a testament to Rabbi Franco, his children and grandchildren and the spiritual heirs to his tireless work.