Thousands Honor Moroccan Tzadik, but Crowd at Festival is Shrinking

Thousands gathered Monday to observe the annual Baba Sali festival in Netivot, marking the ninth anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shalom Abuhatzeira.

The Moroccan-born rabbi, better known as Baba Sali, was a religious leader believed to have possessed miraculous powers.

However, as time passes since his death, interest in the festivities seems to be fading.

The attendance hardly attained the 25,000 who took part in the ceremonies last year and was a far cry from the crowds of 200,000 who packed the southern development town in previous years. There was plenty of parking.

Politicians who in the past used to go there to improve contacts with the constituency of the Moroccan community did not show up, partly because general elections still seem to be more than three years away.

But Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, Baba Sali’s son, said it had been his decision, since he wanted to regain the “popular spirit” of the festivities and relinquish the political colors which accompanied it.

The thousands who did come, however, were just as excited as in the past.

They spilled water on Baba Sali’s grave and read Psalms, hoping that the dead tzadik would bless them. They sought spiritual and physical aid from his son, with some recalling the miracles of the father.

One woman recalled how her daughter, wounded in her eyes during military service, regained her eyesight after Baba Sali blessed her.

The plaza around the gravesite looked like a huge market, with vendors selling everything, from garments to holy oil and Scriptures.

Families came equipped with picnic baskets, turning the memorial ceremony into another popular festival of the Moroccan community in Israel.

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