Four Generations of Shared Living in Jaffa

The Siksik family does not know their grandmother, Aisa's exact age; and maybe it’s actually not that important. She was born in the last century next to the Hasan Beck Mosque, and grew up in the streets that are now lined with fancy boutiques in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. Aisa’s life story is intertwined with the story of Jaffa – she is a beloved figure in the city, known for storytelling and bringing blessing and success to those around her.

In one of Aisa’s many stories, Haya appears, a Jewish girl that lived next to her on Shabazi street in Tel Aviv-Jaffa during the British Mandate. “We would go to the store on Shabazi street together, my mother would give us oranges for the way. We decided that if an Arab person speaks to us, then I would answer, and if a Jewish person comes, then she would answer,” Aisa says with a smile.

Shared living with Jews continues through generations in the family. Today, Aisa’s grandson, Jelal Siksik, is the head of the parents committee in the Hand in Hand Preschool in Jaffa, and the father of Hugo-Baker, who is in the first class of the school.

“The preschool is a very natural setting for us. I come from coexistence and bilingualism. I studied in a French school, which also was mixed. I believe that this is the best way to educate our children from the time they are born. So that they don’t have to wait until they are older in order to learn how to live together."

In the place where the Siksik family’s fields once were, now stands a housing project, next to the house where Jilal grew up. In the shade of one of the orange trees – remnants from a different time – three generations of the family sit to tell their story.

            

Aisa’s family owned orchards and vineyards that today are the neighborhood of Sarona. Later, Aisa’s husband raised horses, which he rented out to tourists near the clock tower. Aisa keeps her husband’s business license and the British mandate passport.

With the battles in Jaffa in 1948, the family escaped to Lod for two years. Aisa’s four brothers went all over the Middle East – to Lebanon, Jordan, and Gaza. During the war, Aisa was already the mother of three children. Her daughter, Ravcha, the eldest, was only four, but still remembers the hardships well.

“It was really hard for us. I remember the grenades exploding – like we see now in pictures from Syria. Every one of my uncles took their family in their car and ran away. We came to Lod – they put us in a hospital and we lived there for two years. My mother worked as a volunteer with the red cross in order to get some food for us. They didn’t want us in Lod because they thought that we were infiltrators.”

The return to Jaffa also left painful memories. “We had nothing”, Ravcha says. “They gave us an apartment in Ajame which had belonged to people who ran away from Jaffa.”

During the war, Aisa’s husband, Halil, tried to return to Jaffa, and was banished to the west bank – then under Jordanian control. The family’s attempts to help him return to Jaffa were met with the refusal from the Israeli authorities, and he died at a young age in Nablus.

But even within this family tragedy there is a reality of shared living and kindness.

“My father would send us letters from Nablus. In 1967 during the war, my neighbor, from the Abotbol family was in the army and offered to look for my father. After the war, we found him and we went to visit him every Saturday”, Ravcha says.

Ravcha married a relative in the Siksik family and moved into a small house on Sderot Ben Tzvi. She talks about how her Jewish neighbor, who just recently moved to be near her daughters outside of Jaffa – helped her raise her children.

When they are asked about the renewal of Jaffa and the demographic changes that are happening, Ravcha and her son say that most of the changes are good but one phenomenon is worrisome. “Jaffa is changing for the better, but there are some people who want to build homes exclusively for Jews, and that scares us.” Ravcha says. “We need to stop that… Jaffa is supposed to be a mixed and integrated city.”

When Ravcha picks up Hugo-Baker from the bilingual preschool, she meets a new-old reality, familiar and beloved. “I welcomed and blessed Hand in Hand when they began in Jaffa. This should have happened a long time ago, the preschool and the community. These are the residents who live here. This is the place of coexistence. I just ask myself why there aren’t more places like this.

                                                      

 

 

 

 

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