Rabbi Yisroel Gabbai’s self-appointed mission is saving Jewish graves all over the world. A rare video shows his visit last year to Iran and the tomb of Queen Esther and Mordechai, the central Jewish figures iin the story of Purim, which Jews celebrate this week.
A member of the Breslov stream of Chassidism and now living in Israel, Rabbi Gabbai travels with a passport from France, where he was born and married. He has visited Gaza and Lebanon during wars and also has been to Damascus. Rabbi Gabbai wears traditional hareidi religious black clothes and a black hat, with his “tzitis” (fringed garment worn by Jews], even in Arab countries.
Airport authorities in Tehran questioned him when he arrived last year and asked what he was doing in Iran. The rabbi replied, “I came to pray,” and he said the authorities asked him, “Pray for us” and then told him they would not charge him for his visa.
The video shows Jews and Muslims praying together in their joint belief in the prophet Daniel, and also offers a rare view of Jews praying in an Iranian synagogue.
He also visited the tomb of Queen Esther and Mordechai, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy. It is located in the city of Hamdan and reportedly is the oldest standing structure in Iran.
Several local Jews visit the tomb every Purim.
Iranian Jews told Rabbi Gabbai that they have spoken with Iranian authorities and told them they pray that HaShem blesses the country’s leaders. “We live with the protection of Muslims and under the Islamic flag. For 3,000 years, we have lived in peace and security,” one Jew said in the video with Rabbi Gabbai.
The rabbis admitted this his travels often are dangerous. He said that the IDF escorted him on one secret trip to the burial site of a Torah sage in Gaza, and that he also traveled to Lebanon during the war in the 1980s in order to save Jewish graves.
He previously has visited Syria and Yemen and is credited with having restored dozens of graves of Jews and Torah sages.