During his lifetime, Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira attracted thousands of pilgrims each year to Netivot, a town in southern Israel between Beersheva and the Gaza border.
Eclectic throngs, including Ashkenazim and Sephardim, chasidim and secular, and sometimes Arabs, came for blessings from the Morocco-born rabbi who was popularly known as the “Baba Sali” (praying father).
In death, the Baba Sali still brings the faithful to Netivot.
On the 29th anniversary of his death last week, an estimated 100,000 men and women, including some above, came to the Baba Sali’s grave.
Rabbi Abuhatzeira, inset, scion of a prominent family of Torah scholars, settled in pre-state Palestine as a young man, lived briefly in Jerusalem, then moved to Netivot, which was established in the Negev in 1956 as a development town for emigrés from North Africa. The rabbi, whose piety and alleged miracles established his reputation, encouraged other Jews from Morocco to make aliyah.
Some 600,000 pilgrims come to the Baba Sali’s tomb, which is divided into men’s and women’s sections, annually.
One of the prominent Israelis who came to pay his respects last week was Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, an Israeli politician and founding member of the Shas religious party, who has angered many haredi Israelis for what they see as liberal positions. Head of the Am Shalem party that ran in this week’s Knesset elections, he was quickly escorted from the Baba Sali’s tomb, according to the yeshivaworld.com website.