Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Funeral of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt"l

Yesterday I took part in the biggest funeral in the history of the State of Israel. I do not know how many people were there. Some say 700,000. Same say 1,000,000. But there is no question that more people participated in this funeral than in any previous one.

Unity! When was the last time that we witnessed so many different people from so many different sectors and walks in life sectors coming together for a united purpose? Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Hasidim, National Religious, tradtional and even secular Jews all devoted their precious time for the privilege to escort this great Torah scholar and leader on his final journey in This World.

It is important to understand that Rabbi Ovadiah's halachic influence was felt well beyond the world of Mizrahi Jews, most of whom accept his judgements as binding. His books are considered important to the entire Torah world. For example, I remember one of my rabbis saying, "If you want to know what the halacha is, see what Rabba Ovadiah has to say." What he meant was that sometimes there are stringencies in Jewish law which are the result of local customs, kabalah, or the desire to fulfil the law even according to a minority opinion. This is all good and fine. However, there are situations where you need to know what the Torah requires of us, period, without added chumrot. Rabbi Ovadiah was known as having that ability to define the letter of the law.

His dedication to learning Torah and teaching Torah are legendary. Who can count the number of Torah lessons he gave in syangogues all over Jerusalem and all over the country? Who can gauge the influence of all of those lessons that were broadcasted over the radio? A rabbi that I met during the levaya said that when he was growing the Sabbath preparations in his house were made while listening to Rabbi Ovadiah's lessons on the radio. And yes, he is an Ashkenazi.

Back to the levaya: I left my home at about 20 minutes to 6 stocked with a bottle of juice, some chocolate and a digital camera, all stuffed into the pockets of a double sided fleece jacket. This jacket was a pain at the start, much too hot. By the end of the night I was very thankful that I had brought it. Winter is here and it gets cold at night.

As I approached the Porat Yosef Yeshiva the crowd got bigger. At a certain point I saw a friend walking in the opposite direction. He warned me that it was too crowded near the Yeshiva. So I walked down to Yirmiyahu Street with many others, hoping to be able to catch the levaya (=funeral procession)there and accompanying Rav Ovadia zt"l at least for dalet amot (=4 cubits, about 2 meters or 6 feet). I had no intention of going all the way down to Sanhedria, where I anticipated that the crowding would be unbearable.

I found a window ledge where I could sit and wait. I could not hear the eulogies from where I was and I had no idea what was happening over at Porat Yosef. A young man with a knitted kipah sat down next to me. He had an mp3 player which was also a radio. In an "only in Israel" moment, he offered, without me asking, to let me listen to the eulogies through one of his earphones.

I had brought something to eat and drink but there were many others who did not. The stores all along the funeral route did some very good business that night.

It was getting late. As time went by and the car with Rabbi Ovadiah zt"l nowhere in sight I decided that I might as well walk further up Yirmiyahu Street and catch the levaya there. I saw a group of young men davening ma'ariv, and I realized that I had forgotten to do so myself. I found another group that had just started saying the evening prayers and joined them.

When I made it to the Beit Midrash of Gur I noticed that the people in the street were looking up in the direction of the Beit Midrash. The Rebbe was there, not in the Beit Midrash but seated behind a fence above the street. This was the first time that I had seen him in person.

A few minutes later, it finally happened. The car with Rav Ovadiah arrived and stopped in front of the Beit Midrash. The Hassidim tried to create a path for the Rebbe to come down and approach the car. However, this was an impossible task. The hundreds of thousands of people marching down Yirmiyahu Street continued to push forward. Shema Yisrael! If someone had fallen down at this point they might have been trampled to death, God forbid.

The car continued down Yirmiyahu Street and I finally got my wish. I was now an integral part of the procession, one in 700,000. I did my dalet amot and then some. Now the name of the game keeping my balance and finding a way to get out of this human tidal wave. I had been in this situation before. To make a long story short, I made it home in one piece, along with my camera and eyeglasses. Others were not so fortunate:

Over 70 people received treatment for injuries during overcrowding at the procession to the funeral of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef .

Of these, eight had to be evacuated by ambulances and mobile intensive care units to Jerusalem hospitals, including one woman who went into labor.

Among the medical problems of the people, all of whom were in good condition, were fainting, bruises and weakness.

Jerusalem after Rav Ovadiah zt"l is not the same place. He will sorely be missed.

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