Rivlin visits Mount of Olives project

Grave of Rabbi who led Rivlin's family to Israel recently found.

July 23, 2010 02:16
2 minute read.
Reuven Rivlin

rivlin 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin came to the ancient Ashkenazi section of the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem on Thursday, where he visited the recently rediscovered tomb of Rabbi Sa’adia Mishkelov – a 19th-century leader of religious immigrants to Israel.

During his visit, Rivlin assumed the role of historian, telling reporters at the site that “Rabbi Mishkelov was a student and emissary of the Vilna Gaon, and a leader of a group of the Vilna Gaon’s disciples that came to Israel in 1809.”

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Mishkelov, Rivlin continued, “was the founder of the first Ashkenazi settlement in Jerusalem at the time.”

The Knesset speaker called the rabbi a “legendary figure” and said that “the news that his tomb was found after 197 years, buried under an avalanche of dirt, made me extremely excited.”

Rivlin lit a candle at the rabbi’s tomb and read psalms before adding, “My family also came to Israel by order of the Vilna Gaon, who instructed his followers to come settle in Jerusalem and hasten the coming of the messiah.”

Mishkelov, Rivlin noted, “was the head of that aliya.”

According to the Knesset speaker, “there is an account that he prayed at the Western Wall on behalf of his son, who was very sick. He asked to be made sick instead of his son, and as the story has it, a few days later, Rabbi Sa’adia’s son recovered and he became sick and died. That was in 1812, three years after his arrival in Jerusalem.”

Mishkelov’s tomb was discovered as part of an ongoing project undertaken by the Jerusalem Development Authority, which searches for hidden tombs, many of which were concealed during the era of Jordanian rule in the eastern part of the city, from 1948-1967.

As with all tombs discovered through the project, Mishkelov’s tomb will be cleaned and then entered into an online database of tombs on the Mount of Olives that is sponsored by the Elad association, which enables people to locate the tombs of their loved ones.

The database – the first attempt ever to map out the graves atop the Mount of Olives and record the history of those buried there – was created over the last year, and some tens of thousands of graves on the mount have already been mapped and incorporated into it.

Additionally, the Web site, www.mountofolives.co.il, tells stories of the people buried at the cemetery and, through a simple search window, one can locate the documented graves by name.

(Organizers recommend that the site be navigated using Internet Explorer, as other Web browsers are unable to load all of its functions.)

While more than 25,000 gravestones have already been documented, organizers estimate that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 in the cemetery, which leaves an enormous amount of work to be done.

The graves already documented include those of the reviver of the Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda; Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Shai Agnon; former prime minister Menachem Begin; Hadassah Women’s Organization founder Henrietta Szold; the founder of the Bezalel Art School, Boris Schatz; Rabbi Haim ben Moses ibn Attar, known as the Or Hahaim after his popular commentary on the Torah; and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate.

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