Tag Archives: Morocco

Jew of the Week: Baba Sali

A Modern Miracle Worker

Rabbi Israel Abuhatzeira (1889-1984) was born on Rosh Hashanah in Tafilalt, Morocco to a long line of Sephardic rabbis and miracle-workers. (His grandfather was the famed Abir Yakov, who was himself a grandson of Rabbi Shmuel Abuhatzeira, who had studied with Rabbi Chaim Vital, a disciple of the great Arizal.) The young Israel grew up on an estate that included a yeshiva and a beit din (the local Jewish courthouse), surrounded by wise scholars, judges, and mystics. By the age of 12, Israel was recognized as a child prodigy, and already began living the life of a mystic – fasting regularly, rising at midnight to pray and meditate – while hiding it all from his parents. He married at 16. After his father passed away and his older brother was murdered, the community begged him to take over as the town rabbi. Although only 22 years old, and exceedingly humble and modest, he eventually accepted. Within a decade, he was famous across Morocco, and as far as Israel, as a wise rabbi, a saint and a miracle-worker. On his first trip to the Holy Land, it is said that he reopened the Arizal’s ancient synagogue, which had been sealed off for years due to an apparent curse. Though he wished to stay in the Holy Land, Rabbi Abuhatzeira returned to Morocco to take care of his community. When the conditions for Jews in Morocco deteriorated even further after the founding of the State of Israel, Rabbi Abuhatzeira took it upon himself to facilitate Moroccan Jewry’s migration back to their Promised Land. He made the move himself in 1950. By then, he carried a new title: Because his prayers and blessings were known to always came true, he was referred to as Baba Sali, the “Praying Father”. The main possessions that he brought over from Morocco were 30 crates of books and manuscripts, together with thousands of pages of his own holy writings. He is considered one of the greatest kabbalists and holiest rabbis of recent decades. He was sought after not only by Jews, but by Arabs as well, and stories of his miracles abound. He took ill several months after his 94th birthday, and passed away soon after. The Baba Sali’s funeral was attended by over 100,000 people, and his grave in the town of Netivot is now a popular pilgrimage site. His yahrzeit begins tonight.

24 Amazing Torah Prophecies That Came True

Words of the Week

A man’s kind deeds are used by God as seeds for the planting of trees in the Garden of Eden; thus, each man creates his own Paradise. The reverse is true when he commits transgressions.
– Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch

Jew of the Week: Gad Elmaleh

“The French Jerry Seinfeld”

Gad Elmaleh (b. 1971) was born in Casablanca, Morocco to a traditional Sephardic family. He went to a religious Jewish school (the only one that would have him after being expelled from everywhere else), and spent summers at a Chabad camp. After high school, he studied political science at the University of Montreal. Having grown up in a family of performers, and acting since he was a child, Elmaleh decided to pursue his passion for drama instead. At age 21, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the Cours Florent, one of France’s most prestigious acting schools. Elmaleh became a comedian, and his first stand-up show was a huge success. His second, performed in Paris’ famous Olympia, was even bigger, while his third show drew 300,000 spectators and sold 1.5 million DVDs. His fifth show, in 2007, sold out for weeks, selling over a million tickets. That same year, he was voted the funniest man in France. Elmaleh has been credited with bringing American-style stand-up to the country, and has been called “the French Jerry Seinfeld”. Indeed, Seinfeld was Elmaleh’s greatest inspiration, and the latter would go on to appear on Seinfeld’s show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. (Elmaleh was also the voice of Seinfeld in the French version of Bee Movie.) In 2015, Elmaleh moved to New York and went on his first American tour, “Oh My Gad”. In the past two years, he has had two Netflix specials, in French and in English. He has also performed in Hebrew and in Arabic. Elmaleh has appeared in dozens of films, was awarded the Order of France and the National Order of Quebec, has a child with a European princess (and another with a famous French actress), and is a good friend of (former Jew of the WeekDiane von Fürstenberg. See Elmaleh describe his embarrassing first encounter with Jerry Seinfeld here.

The Origins and Kabbalah of Kaddish

Words of the Week

Though Jews presently constitute 3 percent of the total American population, the number of Jews imprisoned for crimes of violence is but one tenth of one percent of the prison population… This tremendous disproportion in the statistic continually amazes sociologists.
– Max I. DimontJews, God and History

Elmaleh meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a young man, and more recently alongside Jerry Seinfeld.

Jews of the Week: Moses Levy and David Levy Yulee

The Abolition of Slavery and the First Jewish Senator 

David Levy Yulee

David Levy Yulee

Moshe Eliyahu Levy Yulee (1782-1854) was born in Morocco to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family. His father was a prominent figure in the Ottoman Empire, and an adviser to the Sultan. Moshe went off on his own across the Atlantic, settling in the US Virgin Islands, and dropping the family name of “Yulee”, now going by Moses Elias Levy. He made his own fortune in the lumber and merchant trades, then moved the whole family to Florida. There, he purchased 100,000 acres of land and established it as a refuge for persecuted European Jews. He also planned for a 50,000 acre “New Jerusalem” in Florida. Levy has been described as a “proto-Zionist”, as he sought to re-establish a Jewish homeland in Israel long before the official Zionist movement began. Though he originally owned slaves, Levy soon joined the anti-slavery movement, and in 1828 published the popular treatise A Plan For the Abolition of Slavery. Levy’s work was instrumental in abolishing slavery in both the United States and across the British Empire. In 1835, Levy’s fortunes soured with the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, which devastated his land in Florida, destroyed the refuge, and strained his finances. In poor health, Levy retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he slowly rebuilt his wealth.

His son, David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1841. When Florida became a state in 1845, he became the first Jew in the US Senate. The following year, he married into a prominent Kentucky family, and to do so, had to convert to Christianity. Though he only did this in name at the request of his wife, the move drove a wedge between David and his father, and the two became permanently estranged. After failing to win re-election in 1850, David turned to business, first opening a sugar plantation, and then spearheading the construction of railroads across Florida. Yulee returned to the Senate in 1855, after his father’s death. When the Civil War began, he joined the Confederates, for which he was imprisoned following the war. After being released, Yulee continued his railroad ventures, and went on to be nicknamed the “Father of Florida Railroads”. The town of Yulee and Yulee County in Florida are named after him, and he was selected as one of the “Greatest Floridians” in 2000.

Words of the Week

You are not as great as you think, and the world is not as bad as it seems.
– Rabbi Wolf of Strikov