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Police bar annual mass memorial at kabbalist’s grave over safety concerns

Months after Mount Meron disaster, police take cautious approach to event that usually attracts tens of thousands; opposition MK says hundreds of thousands will still show

Jewish worshippers pray at the gravesite of the Baba Sali during the annual pilgrimage held in his memory in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on January 30, 2017. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
Jewish worshippers pray at the gravesite of the Baba Sali during the annual pilgrimage held in his memory in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on January 30, 2017. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

Israel Police issued an injunction on Wednesday prohibiting the holding of an annual mass memorial gathering at the grave of a revered kabbalist in the southern town of Netivot.

The injunction said police would not be able to ensure safety protocols at the memorial event for Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known as Baba Sali, which traditionally attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims.

Baba Sali is considered a man of miracles by many Jews around the world. His followers include a wide range of Jews from all sorts of religious backgrounds. His grave is one of Israel’s most visited Jewish holy sites.

The memorial gathering was slated to take place next week.

Police warned that “any violation of the order” would lead officers to “take the necessary measures to prevent the entry of the general public and any public gathering in the compound.”

It was not clear why the event had been able to go forward until this year, but police appeared to be putting greater emphasis on safety protocols following the tragedy at Mount Meron in May, when 45 people were crushed to death during the annual Lag B’Omer gathering.

Opposition lawmakers blasted the decision, with Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich questioning why police were allowing New Year’s Eve celebrations to go forward while preventing the Baba Sali memorial event from taking place.

Shas MK Yaakov Ya’akov Margi said in the Knesset Wednesday that the public will not respect the injunction and that hundreds of thousands of worshippers will converge on Netivot.

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