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Tears flow as masses mourn Israel’s spiritual leader

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
JERUSALEM (AFP) ― A tidal wave of hundreds of thousands of men and women poured onto Jerusalem’s streets Monday for the funeral procession of Israel’s most influential religious leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

“We are all orphans,” sobbed his son Rabbi Avraham Yosef during the funeral procession attended by 700,000, which police said was the largest ever in Israel.

The packed crowd of predominantly Sephardic Jews, for whom the 93-year-old ultra-Orthodox adjudicator was a spiritual leader and a father figure, listened intently to the eulogies.

“I’ve been crying since I heard the news,” said Aviel Mor, a 24-year-old yeshiva religious seminary student, who like hundreds of others tore the lapel of his shirt as per the Jewish tradition of mourning for immediate family members.

“The Jewish people have lost their leader,” he said.

Prayers recited by leaders of the procession were carried by amplifiers and repeated fervently by the mourners.

While police blocked streets throughout central Jerusalem, thousands of people walked to the Porat Yosef Yeshiva where Yosef had studied in his youth.

Yosef’s body was slowly driven to the cemetery in Sanhedria, a religious neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, where it was to be inhumed.

“He was the rabbi of all the Jewish people, not just of one sector,” said Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.

“Who in the world would have so many people at their funeral?” he asked rhetorically.

“This is a historic moment of unity for the Jewish people,” a middle-aged ultra-Orthodox mourner named Moshe said.

“Hundreds of thousands of Jews from all walks of life gathering to honour Jewish law is a unique event,” he said.

Most visible in the crowd were ultra-Orthodox men in uniform black hats and suits over white shirts, but also women, secular people, soldiers and national-religious men with crocheted skullcaps were part of the massive procession.

“Religious or not, we all lost a father,” said Eliel Hawzi, a soldier and father of two, who came to “pay tribute to the greatest luminary of the Jewish people.”

Thousands of police and volunteers were mobilized from nationwide to secure and ensure order.

Over 150 people were lightly wounded due to the overcrowded streets, according to Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency services. Fifteen were taken to hospital.

One of the last people to deliver a eulogy before the procession began was Arye Deri, leader of the Shas party Yosef founded in the early 1980s, who pledged to “continue his work.”

“You abandoned us in the most difficult time for the religious world, and we don’t know where to turn, who will guide us, who will show us the way,” he said.

Yosef, who was central in forming Israel’s religious and political history for over 50 years, was to be laid to rest in Jerusalem late Monday night.
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