Making the old city young again


Beit Volero


One of the most respected notables of the mid 19th Century, who was revered by Jews, Christians and Arabs alike, was the famed banker  - Rabbi Yaakov Volero.

Born in Turkey, Volero made Aliyah in 1835 and was initially a very successful schochet in Jerusalem. It was only in 1848, when he established the first bank in Jerusalem, that he became even more acknowledged as a uniquely humble, stately, trustworthy and honest person.

After the Crimean War (1854-56), the Turkish government opened up its doors to foreign governments and private individuals to invest in the Holy Land. Not only did many Jews take the opportunity to buy properties in and around the Old City, but so did various churches and countries themselves invest. It was the perfect time to open a bank and the Volero family reaped the benefits.
He became known as the "Rothschild of Jerusalem".

Yaakov Volero also opened up a branch in Yafo, which was run by his eldest son Moshe. His younger son Chaim-Aharon ran the Jerusalem branch from the early age of 15 and by 1875 was the national general manager of Bank Volero and he took the business to even greater levels. Chaim-Aharon Volero received accolades from everyone in the financial world and due to his integrity and honesty, received medals from the Turkish Sultan and from Russian, Austrian and German rulers.

The Bank itself was located close to the Jaffa Gate on Rechov David, near Rechov HaNotzrim/Christian (Upper Shuk of today) Until the year 1983, one could notice the place of the mezuzah (on the doorpost)of the Volero Bank at Rechov David 25-27. The bank remained functional till the outbreak of WW1 in 1915.

An interesting piece of history linking Volero with Rothschild is discussed in the book written by Shabbtai Zecharia, about the first letter that was sent by "airmail" between France and Israel in 1870. (It took 3 weeks via the air-balloon Gribaldi) In the letter from the philanthropist Albert Cohen to Dr.London (Director of Rothschild Hospital in Jerusalem), he writes that he has asked Mrs. Rothschild from London to send a donation of 5000 francs via Volero (Bank) for the hospital.

One of the main business interests of Volero was the purchase and selling of properties, especially in Jerusalem(In and out of the walled city) and Yafo. In addition to the family's real estate affairs, Chaim Aharon was also instrumental in helping the 'Vaad Edah HaSefaradi'. He donated many properties to build public and community buildings. (Including the Sefardi old age home –"Beit Zekeinim" and the land on which was built the hospital Shaarei Tzedek)
Beit Volero located on Rechov HaTzariach HaAdom, in the Al-Saadiyah neighbourhood, close to the Flowers gate, was the private residence of the Volero family. The property was formally purchased by Moshe Volero (power of attorney from father Yaakov Volero) in 1866.

As has been the story behind hundreds of homes in the Old City, the Jews were driven from their homes in one or other of the pogroms in the 1920's and 1930's. Arab squatters took over many of these properties and in 1967, they were deemed officially to be protected tenants. Over the years, a number of Jewish investors from Israel and abroad have 'effectively' bought again these homes to reclaim old Jewish properties. In some instances the properties have returned to the rightful Jewish heirs, once the protected tenancy rights have ceased. Given the tense situation due to Arab pogroms, aggression and violence towards the Jews, the Volero family were 'effectively forced' to sell their residence to an Arab, around the year 1920.

Over 20 years ago, "Jewish concerns" managed to officially purchase the building from the Arab, but in the early years had to contend with an Arab family who were protected tenants. Once these protected tenancy rights had ceased, the Jewish owners had full right to move into 'their' building. The relevant arrangements were made, the official legal paperwork in hand, and without any need for ‘forcible eviction’ and without any ‘armed settlers’, as certain media outlets and UN representatives falsely claimed, Yeshiva students moved in to the apartments. Due to Arab violence in previous moves such as this, there was a need for some security guards and the Police were of course notified at the appropriate time.

At the time of writing this material, the courts have 'temporarily' ratified the move, and it seems, that there will be some further discussions in the courts over the coming weeks and months, to clarify the status of the last remaining Arab tenant in the original Beit Volero complex.

In total, there are today close to 1000 Jewish residents (Including Yeshiva students) that have returned home to the old Jewish Quarter in the heart of the Old City. (Today's Moslem and Christian Quarters)

It is still a far cry from the "heyday" of the mid to late 19th Century when there was a Jewish majority of 19,000 Jews (Out of total residents of Old city of 29,000) who were living in the walled city, but the Jewish revival is continuing.