Hurva full circle: Rabbi’s grandson celebrates bar mitzva

The great-great-grandson of the Hurva’s last rabbi before its destruction in the War of Independence became a bar mitzva at the Ashkenazi shul.

By JOSHUA HAMERMAN
March 25, 2011 01:46
2 minute read.
Josh Kotz's bar mitzva at the Hurva synagogue.

Hurva bar mitzva 311. (photo credit: Deborah Kotz)

Thursday was a historic day for the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City: The great-great-grandson of the Hurva’s last rabbi before its destruction during the War of Independence became a bar mitzva at the Ashkenazi shul.

Joshua Kotz of Silver Spring, Maryland, was called to the Torah during the Hurva’s morning minyan. His great-great- grandfather was Rabbi Shlomo David Kahana, who served as rabbi at the Hurva for eight years until it was blown up by Jordanian soldiers on May 27, 1948.

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The Hurva’s rededication ceremony was held on March 15, 2010. The following day, Razel Kotz, Joshua’s grandmother, read a newspaper article about the rededication and told her husband Shmuel. He died in his sleep from a long illness that night.

“My husband and I always said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the shul was reopened in time for the bar mitzva of one of our grandchildren,’” she said. “He died after he found out about the rededication, but at least he knew.”

Kahana led the beit din (rabbinical court) in Warsaw until the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, after which he fled. After his arrival in Palestine, he was appointed rabbi of the Hurva and chief rabbi of the Old City. Following the Jordanian takeover of the Old City and the Hurva’s demise, Kahana continued to live in Jerusalem until his death in the early 1950s, but never again served as a pulpit rabbi. His son Shmuel Zanwil Kahana was director-general of the Ministry of Religion, now the Religious Services Ministry.

Joshua Kotz’s father, David, was appointed inspector-general of the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2007 and previously served as inspector-general of the Peace Corps. His mother, Deborah, is a health reporter at the Boston Globe.

The Hurva was destroyed twice. It was originally built by followers of Judah Hahassid in 1701, but when they were unable to repay debts, their creditors burned the shul to the ground 20 years later. The seven-year construction of the synagogue’s second incarnation was completed in 1864.

“I was very happy to have an aliya [Torah reading] in the same shul where my great-great- grandfather was a rabbi,” said Joshua.

He did not read from the Torah at the Hurva, but on Shabbat he will read at Jerusalem’s Ohel Nehama Synagogue.

Joshua will receive a book about the history of the Hurva as a bar mitzva gift.


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