Jewish pilgrims flock to Bulgarian holy site

2,000 pilgrims fly to the eastern Bulgarian town of Silistra to pay homage at the grave of Rabbi Eliezer Papo.

By
September 22, 2011 22:30
3 minute read.
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto. (photo credit: Ilan Cirota)

 
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A small, drab, Bulgarian port town lying on the banks of the Danube River may not be the first location that springs to mind when thinking of prominent places of pilgrimage in the Jewish world.

But in spite of its unassuming character, 2,000 pilgrims nevertheless flew to the eastern Bulgarian town of Silistra early Wednesday morning to pay homage at the grave of Rabbi Eliezer Papo, a venerated teacher of the movement espousing ethical and spiritual behavior, who served as the town’s communal leader in the early 19th century.

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Led by the revered Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, seven flights in total were chartered out of Israel, America, Argentina and Europe bearing the faithful to the Black Sea city of Varna and then on to Silistra by the busload.

Bemused onlookers watched from the streets and balconies as hundreds upon hundreds of Orthodox men crammed into the small compound where Rabbi Papo rests to dance to the tunes of raucous Jewish music, and pray for success, health and happiness ahead of Rosh Hashana.

“Rabbi Papo had special gifts and abilities, derived from his trait of self-sacrifice,” Pinto told The Jerusalem Post. “He had the ability to raise people up and this spiritual influence is accessible here at his grave. That is why it’s so important to come here to take the opportunity to make use of these spiritual powers and influences.”

Pinto himself is renowned as someone of preternatural abilities, and stories abound of his wisdom and ability to intervene in the lives of those who seek his advice and counsel, among whom are included numerous members of Israel’s social elite, uber-wealthy businessmen and senior politicians.

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Pinto does not deny his ability to influence and understand, but when asked about the nature of these powers told the Post simply, “we cannot say how these influences work.”

“I deeply respect Rabbi Pinto,” said Amos Siksik, a 53- year-old businessman from Lod on his second trip to Silistra.

“When I first came here four years ago I asked Rabbi Pinto if I should set up my business. He gave me a blessing and told me I would be successful and, thank God, my business is working out,” Siksik said, attributing his success to the holiness of the rabbi’s grave and the merit of Pinto’s blessing.

The trip cost pilgrims NIS 2,200 each, many of who came with wives and children, to imbibe the spiritual merit of the holy site and the blessings of Rabbi Pinto.

Slihot, the prayers of penitence said during the lead up to Rosh Hashana, were recited accompanied by shofar blasts and urgent supplications of the assembled worshippers.

“The first time I met Rabbi Pinto I realized he had powers which are impossible to explain,” said Yosef Malachi, 56, of Kiryat Malachi. “He knew things about me which were impossible for him to know,” Malachi explained.

“Now, whatever he says I do and wherever he tells me to go, I go; I follow him with my eyes shut.”

The mass pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Papo, also known as the Pele Yoetz for his seminal work on Jewish ethics, was organized by Kehilot Shuva Yisrael, the network of Torah institutes and charitable centers which Pinto heads.

“We are organizing perhaps the biggest hessed operation in the world,” Pinto told the Post, describing the daily distribution of hot meals to the needy and food packages for poor families over the Jewish holidays.

“Am Yisrael has lost its way,” Pinto said of the problems currently facing Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. “We must stop [negatively] judging each other,” he explained, stating that the way forward was through individual self-improvement.

“This is what the Jewish people needs to be focusing on at the moment.”

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