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Thousands Commemorate the 'Baba Sali'

40,000 Jews participated in the ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the Moroccan Kabbalist, the ‘Baba Sali.’
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 1/19/2010, 12:07 PM

Ten of thousands of Jews streamed into the southern Israeli town of Netivot on Monday night and Tuesday to mark the 26th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known to thousands as the “Baba Sali” ["praying father"]. 

It was feared that stormy weather conditions would prevent people from reaching the area, but nonetheless they poured in throughout the day on Tuesday.

Chief Rabbi Amar and Shas party chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai came Tuesday evening to join Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, known as the Baba Baruch, the son of the Baba Sali for a special “hilula” ceremony celebrating the rise of the Moroccan Kabbalist's soul into the highest reaches of the heavens.

One of the traditions carried out at the tomb in past years involved the casting of candles by hundreds of men and women in unison, as a special blessing and talisman. This year, organizers made special arrangements to ensure that men and women were in separate areas when the ritual was conducted.

Some 400 police officers and 220 ushers staffed the event area and helped maintain public order. A special force was assigned to control traffic and coordinate vehicle parking.

Born in 1890, the Baba Sali was the descendant of a famous rabbinic family and was renowned throughout the Jewish world for his holiness, piety and mystical abilities. He lived a spartan life, devoid of material interests, often fasting and praying throughout the day. He was also one of the main leaders of the immigration to Israel, and helped bring nearly the entire Jewish community from Morocco to live in the Holy Land. His home in Netivot was a site for pilgrimages of people seeking his blessing and advice during his lifetime and more than 100,000 people attended his funeral in 1984; since that time, his tomb has become a shrine for pilgrims and petitioners who come often to pray for assistance and intervention in their daily troubles. Many bring their three year old sons to his tomb  for the traditional "chalaka", i.e. first hair cutting.