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"Imported Rituals: Zaddiq Veneration in Israel"


"'Rabbi Ifargan is approaching! Please make room to let him pass! Women! Move aside! The Rabbi will not enter the place if you stay so thickly crowded! Please, please…'

The request resonates from the loudspeakers into the forested dark valley in the Galilee region of Israel. Women reluctantly give up their places in front of the big metal fireplace where hundreds of candles are burning. Rabbi Ifargan, a young Jewish orthodox man, clad in a black cloak and a hat comes in followed by a dozen young men. It is slightly after midnight and freezing cold. The 'Tikkun Hazot' ritual is about to begin on a mountain slope by the grave of Zaddiq Yonatan ben Uziel. An elderly man who is holding the microphone starts singing popular religious songs . The crowd joins in loudly. About 300 people are standing on the muddy ground, far away from their warm beds. They are waiting for the Rabbi to start his prayers.

In immigration societies, two different strands constantly intertwine. On the one hand, immigrants seek their special ethnic identity, tending to socialize among themselves, while on the other, they are a part of the larger society, influencing it and influenced by it. In this paper, I will discuss the stories of 5 pilgrims in Israel who currently participate repetitively in rituals held at sites where sacred graves exist. I will show how for second and third-generation Moroccan-immigrants in Israel, such pilgrimages enhance continuity with their ancestor heritage. For other pilgrims it is a new tradition they choose to embrace.

Israel is an immigrant society. By 1948 the Jewish population of Israel was estimated at about 700,000. In 50 years the number has risen to about 5,000,000. Immigration of Jews, in waves, was the main reason for this population increase. In the 50s and 60s, most immigrants were from Northern Africa, especially from Morocco. These immigrants encountered a society composed mainly by people of European origin. The official cultural policy was called 'The melting pot' and aimed to create one cultural entity. The result was that North-African immigrants had to conform to the mainstream ideas and give up many of their traditions. Two decades later, composing about a third of the Jewish population in Israel, the groups of North-African origin started a struggle to recover some of their lost heritage. By the year 2000, the Israeli cultural arena became more diverse. My ethnographic fieldwork was conducted mainly in the years 1998 and 1999, with a few follow-ups during 2000 and 2001. My main focus is on a nightly ceremony conducted in the vicinity of Zaddiq graves in the northern and southern regions of Israel. A Zaddiq is a righteous person who cures ill people and helps those in need. This is accomplished by miracles, attributed to his faith in God and his distinct and holy way of life. In some aspects it is a Jewish parallel to a Christian or a Muslim saint."

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