Israelis Flock to Egypt for Abuhatzeira Pilgrimage
Although history records the miraculous exodus of Israelites from the Land of Egypt about 3400 years ago, a large number of religious Israelis have found a good reason to go back. Hundreds of Jews are flocking to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira for a yearly pilgrimage.
Rabbi Abuhatzeira, also known as the Abir Yaakov, was a revered 19th-century Moroccan rabbi and mystic, the grandfather of the beloved kabbalist and miracle worker, the Baba Sali.
In the winter of 1879, Rabbi Yaakov wound his way from Morocco through Algeria, Tunisia and Libya to the Land of Israel when he passed away in Damanhour, Egypt. He was buried in Nekraha, and is commemorated with a pilgrimage to his burial site on the 19th of the Jewish month of Tevet each year. By Egyptian law, visitors are only allowed at the site during the days surrounding the annual pilgrimage.
Last year, Egypt refused to permit Israelis to come to the gravesite as a result of Israel's counter-terror Operation Cast Lead campaign.
In previous years, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak put a cap on Israelis allowed into the country to visit the gravesite. But Israeli newspapers report that this year Mubarak agreed to unlimited numbers of visitors at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Consul General in Alexandria (which is near Damanhour), Hassan Ka'abia, said at least 600 Israelis have applied for visas to come, with more Jews coming from around the world, especially from France.
There are only about 60 Jews in Egypt today, down from 80,000 in 1948. Those few live in Alexandria and Cairo.
Descendants of Rabbi Yaakov and the Baba Sali have been renowned rabbis and miracle workers, with Rabbis Baruch, Elazar, David, and Yekutiel maintaining large contingents of faithful adherents.