The capital came to a veritable standstill Monday evening as at least 800,000 men, women and children from across the nation descended upon Jerusalem to mourn the death earlier in the day of Shas spiritual leader, and former chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, in the largest funeral in the nation’s history.
Police helicopters hovered above the city and Light Rail trains reached maximum capacity due to multiple road closings, as hundreds of thousands rushed to attend the 6 pm funeral at the Sanhedria Cemetery.
According to Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, hundreds of officers were deployed throughout the city to ensure order.
Meanwhile, dozens of chartered buses that were able to navigate the numerous street closings – as well as sections of Highway 1 – were parked, some haphazardly, around Ammunition Hill’s sidewalks and parking lots.
Teenager Alon Meiri traveled on one of the buses from Netanya with 50 other men to attend the funeral.
“He’s my rabbi, my teacher,” said Meiri of Yosef, as dozens of men prayed next to his bus in a parking lot. “He knew the Halacha better than anyone and knew things on a scale that no one else does. If you asked him a question he would answer immediately and give you the sources.”
Meiri added that he believes Yosef is irreplaceable.
“It will be impossible to fill his shoes,” he said. “This is a huge loss for us.”
Ron Rafaeli, of Ashdod, also expressed sorrow as he and thousands of others hurriedly walked to the site of the funeral.
“Our greatest rabbi has left us,” he said.
Asked what made Yosef such an exceptional leader, Rafaeli cited Yosef’s unusual connection with the common man.
“He was great because he spoke in the peoples’ language and never acted like he was above them,” he replied. “He acted like he was of them.”
Indeed, Yigal Masika, who traveled from outside of Netanya, said that although Yosef was among the most erudite rabbis in the world, he was still “the rabbi of everybody.”
“He was the greatest rabbi of his generation – a great leader and one of the last holy men of Israel,” said Masika. “He loved all the Jewish people, no matter who they were, and united Jews and rabbis from across the world.”
Masika added, “No one comes close to his knowledge.”
Michael Simantor said he traveled with his young son from Ma’aleh Adumim to attend the funeral.
“He was the greatest rabbi in Israel,” he said. “In his body and mind he was a living Torah. He designed the way we live here today as Jews.”
Noting the gravity of the funeral, Simantor said he told his son that he will never forget the day’s phenomenon.
“I said that one day he will tell his son and grandson that he took part in this significant event,” he said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement mourning the loss of Yosef.
“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a part of the Jerusalem landscape for many decades,” Barkat wrote. “He was a spiritual leader, a respected scholar, an influential author and a halachic authority for hundreds of thousands of people in Israel and around the world.”
He continued, “Jerusalem mourns with all of Israel and sends condolences to Rabbi Yosef’s family.”
Barkat added that the Jerusalem Municipality will coordinate an official commemoration of Yosef’s legacy in the coming months.