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Yemenite spice shop owner, 102, oldest ever to light Independence Day torch

Spiritual mentor Yaish Giat will wish that ‘our nation love one another, that people will respect one another’

Yaish Giat, a Yemen-born Mori and spice shop owner, will serve as the torchbearer for Israel's 73rd Independence Day Ceremony. (Courtesy)
Yaish Giat, a Yemen-born Mori and spice shop owner, will serve as the torchbearer for Israel's 73rd Independence Day Ceremony. (Courtesy)

Yaish Giat, a 102-year-old spice shop owner, will serve as torchbearer for Israel’s 73rd Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony, one of the annual highlights of the national holiday.

The beacons at next week’s event will be dedicated to immigrants from Yemen, cabinet ministers announced in a statement Monday.

Giat termed the news a “big surprise.”

“People say it is a great honor. I do not know,” he told the Ynet news site. “When I raise the torch I will wish that our nation love one another, that people will respect one another for the benefit of the Land of Israel.”

Giat, who was born in Yemen, is a “mori” (a religious teacher and spiritual mentor) and Torah scholar, as well as the owner of a spice shop in Ashkelon where he dispenses natural medicines.

Giat’s medicinal expertise is acquired from ancient methods, passed along through the generations. He bases his remedies off the practices of Maimonides, the influential medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher and physician.

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

The 102-year-old serves as a guide to those who turn to him for advice, expertise and blessings. He continued to work during the pandemic, inviting people into his home, where he provided spiritual assistance to many in accordance with the unique tradition of Yemenite Jews.

Giat also volunteers as a Torah scribe and many of his Torah scrolls have been donated to synagogues across the country.

Giat explained his “secret” to living a long life. “First of all, it comes from the blessed Holy One,” he told Ynet.

He added: “You should relax and divide the day into three parts: eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours to eat and drink. You don’t need to worry about anything. I am always free.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev visits the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on February 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two cabinet ministers in charge of the ceremony — Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Culture Minister Chili Tropper — explained their decision in an announcement.

“Giat, a representative of the older generation, a native of Yemen, symbolizes the pioneering, influential and overflowing aliyah of all Yemenite Jewry to Israel,” they said.

“He is a representative of the generation of grandparents, who symbolizes the eternal light of the generation of founders who immigrated to Israel, built and were built within it,” the announcement added.

“His material and human spices, the materials from which true love is made, along with his volunteer work as Jewish scribe, express the Israeli spirit, in all its virtues,” they said.

Screen capture of Renee Abitbul, 92, lighting a torch during the annual torchlighting ceremony at the start of Independence Day, April 28, 2020. (Twitter)

Last year, a 92-year-old great-great-grandmother Renee Abitbul, cheerfully lit a torch while being honored for her 18 years of volunteer service at a Jerusalem hospital.

The 2020 event, which was prerecorded in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions, honored 12 outstanding individuals for their contribution to the country and focused on saluting medical staff fighting the virus. Abitbul and Yasmin Mazawi, who was 18 at the time of the ceremony, were representing hospital volunteers and volunteer medics, young and old.

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