Hiloula (Pilgrimage Festival) of

Saint Rabbi Habib Mizrahi

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In June 1992, I joined the Jewish community of Marrakesh for the hiloula of Saint Rabbi Habib Mizrahi.  The Rabbi’s tomb is located in a village at the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh.  Inspired by a dream, a member of the Jewish community constructed the sanctuary.  He hosted the community at the hiloula.  

The sanctuary is part of the Jewish cemetery. At one time, a large percentage of the village was Jewish, but no Jews remain today.  The village inhabitants, all Muslim, welcomed the pilgrims to the sanctuary.   

The sanctuary, built on a hill, holds the tomb of the Rabbi in a narrow room.  It also has a courtyard and some meeting and prayer rooms.  

The courtyard was decorated with the photograph of King Hassan II and a picture of the Saint.  It also had the banner of the Marrakesh Jewish Community’s summer camp, Camp Habad.  

The tomb has Hebrew inscriptions.  It is a raised horizontal marble slab, with an iron stove at its head. Candles floating on oil sit at the head of the tomb.  

As part of their prayer, pilgrims lit candles and put them in the stove.  Men and women bowed down before the tomb and some kissed it.  A Chazzan (cantor) chanted prayers.  

Moroccan Government officials were invited to visit the Hiloula. The Jewish Community welcomed them in the traditional Moroccan way, providing them with milk and dates.  The Camp Habad children sang such Hebrew songs as Haveinu Shalom Aleichem. The officials entered the sanctuary, prayed at the tomb and lit candles, while the Chazzan chanted.  

Later, men and women celebrated in separate rooms with a festive lunch.  The men chanted prayers and piyutim, liturgical poems. Many of them were written by Jews living in Andalucian Spain prior to the 15th century expulsion of both Jews and Muslims.  Moroccan Jews have their own traditional melodies for the piyutim.  

Jewish community leaders gave speeches and collected money for the upkeep of the sanctuary.  Camp Habad children chanted religious slogans.  

To me, the hiloula showed the amazing commitment of the Jews of Marrakesh to expressing their Moroccan-Jewish identity.  It also demonstrated the Moroccan Government’s commitment to affirming the right of Jews to practice their religion and traditions.