A Short Tribute
Hacham Yochanan HaCohen was born to Leah and Hacham Mullah Aaron HaCohen in 1922, in Jerusalem. His parents, born in Bukhara, immigrated to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem on the outskirts of the Bukharim neighborhood (established in 1894), next to the Shoshanim LeDavid Synagogue. He began his Torah studies at the Bnei Zion Talmud Torah, but when his father died in 1932, leaving his mother and her five children penniless, he was forced to move to the Bucharoff Orphanage on Jaffa Road.
Hacham Yochanan HaCohen worked all day in a carpentry, yet he registered for matriculation examinations as an independent student. He studied during the night, completed his schooling and qualified for teacher certification. He taught and was a homeroom teacher in Agudah Israel schools, in the Keshet School in the Musrara neighborhood and in the Bnei Ami School in the Katamon neighborhood. With time, he became a school principal.
In 1959, Hacham Yochanan HaCohen received his rabbinic ordination. He served as a member of the Beit Israel and Bukharim Neighborhood Committee and eventually stood at its helm; he was also a founding member of the Ehad l'Hamesh NGO that supports families with five or more children.
Hacham Yochanan HaCohen published essays and poems under his pen name, H.I. Ben Aaron. In 1964 his book Meitarim MeKinori (Strings from My Violin), a collection of poems dating from pre-state Israel and the War of Independence period, was published. In 1976 his book of poems on heroism and commemoration, 'Alim BaShalechet, was published; Plays and Stories from the History of Our People was published in 1981. In 1985 he wrote a commentary on the Va'Etkhanan Torah Reading Portion as a supplement to a book by Hacham Moshe Baruch, a Bukhari sage. My Neighborhood – Bukharim Streets appeared in 1990, and in 1999 his Jews of Bukhara Diaspora and the Return to Zion was published.
Hacham Yochanan HaCohen passed away on 8 Heshvan, 5763 (2002) and was buried in Jerusalem.