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Photo Essay: Yartzeit of the Baba Sali Attracts Thousands

The rain did not stop the thousands of pilgrims from visiting the tomb of the famed Kabbalist Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, the Baba Sali.
By Ben Bresky
First Publish: 1/9/2011, 3:33 AM / Last Update: 1/9/2011, 3:51 PM

Photo Credit: Ben Bresky

The rain did not stop the thousands of pilgrims from visiting the tomb of the venerated Kabbalist Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, better known as the Baba Sali or "praying father" on the 26th year since his death. The population of the small, mostly working class city of Netivot grows significantly every winter when the anniversary of his passing is marked. A large bonfire burns all night as people throw candles into it. The domed building which houses a synagogue and the burial site of the Baba Sali is packed with worshippers.

A large bonfire burns all night. In the background are the castle-like walls of the complex which houses the tomb of the Baba Sali and a synagogue.

People throw candles into the fire.

Off to the side, tented areas are set up selling religious items such as mezuzot, havdalah candles, and kippot (yarmulkas, or skullcaps). Other items for sale range from musical instruments and Judaica to grilled meats, traditional Moroccan pastries, and more.

    

People pray outside the synagogue. A mix of religious and non-religious Israelis come to pay tribute to the leader.

Although the Baba Sali was believed to have 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.

      

Baklava and other traditional Moroccan pastries are available.

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.

         

A Torah scroll sits on a table in front of the dome of the building which houses the tomb. Traditional Sephardic music is played all night.

A multi-colored van from the Breslov chassidic movement played electronic music.

Rabbi Benayahu Shmueli of the Nahar Shalom Yeshiva is surrounded by friends and supporters.

A man carrying a jembe, or hand drum on his back.

A man carrying a large shofar on his back.

All photos by Ben Bresky.