The Baba Sali, Rabbi Israel Abuhazera, whose tomb in the Negev town of Netivot is a magnet for some 600,000 visitors annually, was the scion of a leading rabbinical family in Morocco.
Born in 1889, the Baba Sali (Baba is a nickname that means “Papa” – Sali is short for Israel), came to live in Israel at the age of 70.
He secluded himself in his home in Netivot, where people would gather to receive his blessing, especially for healing.
The centerpiece of the Baba Sali complex is the white-domed tomb, divided into a men’s and a women’s section. On the anniversary of the Baba’s death, 4 Shevat (in January), some 100,000 people flock to the tomb. A visit at this time is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the colorful customs of Israel’s large Moroccan Jewish community.
Worshippers cast whole boxes of candles into a large furnace near the women’s section, and a variety of everyday objects are placed close to the tomb in the hope of receiving a blessing. Women also dance and sing to the rhythm of a drummer.
In contrast to other, more ancient rabbis’ tombs, the sacred tradition here is also a living one, perpetuated by the rabbi’s son, Baba Baruch.