Hanan Leon

By Benny Leon

 Mr. Leon Hanan, Assitant Gabbai and a dedicated member of the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Zimbabwe, celebrated his eightieth birthday amidst family and friends in October, 2000

 Leon Hanan was born in Rhodes Island in 1920, and was the second youngest of a family of eight, one of which died in infancy.  It was a large family of five brothers and two sisters.  The youngest brother together with his parents perished in Auschwitz.  At an early age he wanted to become a rabbi, but was unsuccessful in obtaining a bursary to study.  Later on he regarded this as a blessing in disguise – otherwise he may have perished in Auschwitz.

 He remembers playing the trumpet in  a band in his youth and would team up with the Italians in parades.  There was friendship and trust with the Italians, until 1938, when the governor of Rhodes was replaced with an anti-Semetic fascist.   Anti-Semitic articles began to appear on the front pages of newspapers.

 His father Musani (Maurice) Hanan was a very enterprising man, who made wooden clogs, violins and Shofars.  Of note, is that the Shofar used in the synagogue on high festivals, was made by his father and is thought to be 100 years old!  His grandfather Joseph, later changed his name to   Mercado Hanan, was wealthy and built the Hanan Synagogue in Rhodes for the poorer section of the community who could not afford to attend the other synagogues.  (There were six synagogues in Rhodes).

 Leon Hanan saw no future in Rhodes, and contacted his elder brothers Jack and Joe, who had left for Southern Rhodesia in 1924, when Mr. B. S. Leon, a first cousin, to his mother Miriam Leon, had brought them out from Rhodes.

 The Hanan Brothers had trading stores and a farm in the Hartley (Chegutu) area.  When the young Leon Hanan, aged eighteen, arrived in 1938, he was given a store to run in the Mondoro reserve.  He was the only white person  in the area, and  served there for six years.  Like so many others of his countrymen, he slept on the store counter and used blankets from the shelves.  Food at one time was a problem, until he bought a few chickens, which in time multiplied to a fifty in number. He also had a supply of eggs.  He remembers that the chickens were free to forage for themselves, and were well fed from the seeds and grains that spilled from stocks of mealie meal and grain that came in and out of the shop.  Life was very simple in those days. Often a stock of blankets was left outside on the verandah day and night.  Neither the chickens nor the blankets went missing!

 He had a visit from the native commissioner, and was very embarrassed because he could speak neither Shona nor English.  Later on in private, the commissioner conversed with him in Chilapalapa.  Soon after that Leon Hanan purchased a book from a near by school.  It had sixty words of Shona and English and illustrated with drawings.  He learnt the basic words of  the two languages.  During weekends he would drive to the farm near Hartley to see his brothers.  In 1945, he moved to Hartley (Chegutu), and became manager running the family stores.

 Later, in 1952, he moved to Salisbury, and together with his brother Albert, opened a store in Charter Road.  As the years went by they opened a soap factory, and later a sweet factory.  In 1960, they purchased a property in Pioneer Street (Kaguvi Street).

 In 1953, he married Rachel Hougnu, who had just arrived in the country after surviving the ordeal and horrors of Auschwitz.  They have two married sons, Maurice and Ronnie, who live in Johannesburg.

 Assistant Gabbai  Leon Hanan, a humble man with a strong singing voice founded the Sephardi Choir.  Their first performance was at the corner stone laying ceremony of the synagogue in 1957.  Over the years it flourished until a rabbi, of another congregation, declared that females were not allowed to participate, and numbers were reduced.  In recent years the choir has ceased to exist.

 Leon Hanan, at the age of 80, is the only surviving brother.  He has a sister Ester   Arenson in Harare, and another sister Rosa, who married Joe Mallel, who live in Rome.