Lag B’Omer and the Abbo Family Tradition of Safed
years before the first Zionist Congress in
50 years before the settling of the
39 years before the founding of Degania and Kinneret;
12 years before the First Aliya and the founding of Gadera —
the Abbo family of Safed laid the foundations
for Jewish agricultural settlement in the Galilee and the
“No description of the settlements throughout the Galilee can survey the spread of Jewish settlement in that period without bringing in the name of the Abbo family, the Abbo brothers, the sons of Rabbi Shmuel Abbo,” writes Dr. Yoseph Sharvit, a researcher and lecturer in history at Ben-Gurion and Bar Ilan Universities, in his comprehensive essay “France in the Galilee in the 19th Century,” and he devotes a sizeable chapter to the part of the Abbo consular dynasty in encouraging Jewish settlement.
“The historiography of settlement in the
“Broader emphasis should be given to the contribution of the Abbo family, particularly in the preparatory stage of establishing the villages of the First Aliyah but also later,” Dr. Sharvit concludes.
A five-generation tradition of parading the Torah scroll from the Abbo home in Safed to Meron on Lag B’Omer
by Yoseph Abbo Evron
Lag B’Omer Eve, 2004
On the festooned stage in the yard of the old Abbo house in Safed, the current representative of the family declares to the excited capacity crowd in an emotional voice: “I, Yoseph ben Raphael, ben Meir, ben Yaakov, ben Shmuel Abbo, fifth generation in the tradition, am honored to open the Lag B’Omer celebrations in Safed and Meron for this the one hundred seventy first year of the tradition and the
forty-sixth of the State of Israel.”
With such words from the head of the Abbo family, the
traditional celebrations in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai have begun
annually for five successive generations.
Their origin was in the custom of bringing forth the Abbo family’s old
Torah scroll, with much pomp and many spectators, from that same historical
house in the Sephardic quarter of Safed, its foundations laid by the family
forefathers at the start of the 19th century.
On this day the town of
A generation ago, the Galilean writer and journalist Aharon Even-Chen, born in Rosh Pina, described the celebration in this way:
“The festivities in Safed and Meron were the ‘big attraction’ of our younger days, and we looked forward to them throughout those distant years of emptiness and boredom. Granted, the Purim carnival in Tel Aviv excited youthful imaginations in the Upper Galilee settlements, but Tel Aviv was far away, very far away, whereas we would ride to Safed and Meron on a horse or donkey. Of course we never missed the great zafa of Safed. The Sephardim used the Arabic name zafa (pronounced with the Z open and the F relaxed and rounded) for the procession that would gather heat and momentum as it made its way from the Abbo home up the alleys accompanied by a klezmer fanfare of clarinet, drum, and cymbal, the crowd fortified with enthusiasm and dripping with sweat, skipping and dancing with the Torah scroll and singing songs in praise of Bar Yochai in Hebrew, in Yiddish, and yes, in Arabic.
“‘Blessed are you, Bar Yochai! Blessed are you, Bar Yochai!’... We would descend into the Sephardic quarter, reach the Abbo family courtyard, and enter through its whitewashed arch. The courtyard held smells of jasmine flowers, broad beans, mint, and rue, and other fragrances of the east. The head of the family, Rabbi Meir Abbo, had inherited from his father and grandfather the privilege of taking the Torah scroll forth. Bright-eyed and swelling with pleasure, by the gate he greeted alike distinguished Jews and Arabs, officials and governors of the British mandate. The women would sprinkle the visitors with rosewater from oriental flasks, and some would break out in happy ululation.” )Ma’ariv — “Yamim v’Leilot / Days and Nights,” 3.VI.76)
How did the
Abbo family come to be the only one in
Picture 43 The name Abbo is drawn from the Hebrew initials of a phrase in Psalms 111:8: “formed in truth and uprightness.” The history of this special family — from which came rabbis and other great Jewish figures, redeemers and settlers of the land of the Galilee, and defenders of minority rights in the northern Land of Israel during Ottoman rule — makes it worthy of the name.
The first of the line in
When his son Avraham Chaim Abbo visited
It bears noting that in 1952, when the question once more arose — this time in the State of Israel — the country’s chief rabbinate, under Rabbis Nissim and Unterman, based their opinion on that of the rabbis of Safed under Rabbi Shmuel Abbo and reconfirmed the ruling that the Bnei Israel are Jews for all purposes.
Rabbi Avraham Chaim continued constantly monitoring the
implementation of the ruling regarding the Jewishness of the Bnei Israel in
French Patronage over the Jews of
The Jews of Safed at the beginning of the 19th century lived
in misery and want. No one, including
the government, had the power to defend them against attacks from their Arab
neighbors. Rabbi Shmuel Abbo stepped in
and requested that the Jews be allowed to arm themselves for defense. Obtaining no answer, he traveled to
His first act as consul was to gather the lion’s share of the Safed and Tiberias Jewish communities under the protection of the French government, by registering them as subjects. As foreign subjects they were accorded extra privileges, and the Abbo house quickly became a refuge for all the harassed and persecuted, regardless of religion and nationality. The Ottoman authorities never dared enter, because of diplomatic immunity.
Rabbi Shmuel was notably courageous, and not to be cowed by
threats from Arabs who sought violence.
He chased away from Safed more than a few bandits who had terrorized the
vicinity, and once he even brought a firman (an official authorization) from
The Great Safed Earthquake
On January 1, 1837, Safed experienced one of the most
severe earthquakes the
Surprisingly, an old friendship with Emir Abdel Kader, from
Rabbi Shmuel Abbo’s youth in
After the revolt in
See also “The Abbo Family and the Emir,” by Yitzhak Ziv-Av, in Ma’ariv.
of the Bar-Yochai Celebration
and the Jewish settlement in Meron
As far back as the first half of the 19th century, a few years
after arriving in
This settlement campaign predated by decades the Zionist
pioneer settlements in the
Rabbi Shmuel Abbo served as chief rabbi and consul in the
The second generation of the tradition
Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo
Yaakov Chai, second in the generations of the Abbo dynasty in Israel, was born in Safed in 1842 and would carry on in the footsteps of his father, Rabbi Shmuel Abbo, both as chief rabbi and as French consul in the Galilee, and above all in keeping and strengthening the tradition of the Lag B’Omer celebration at the Abbo home in Safed.
He became a rabbi and also helped his father manage the consular
and large-scale business affairs, including redemption of land in the
vicinity. He married Esther Malka, the
daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen of
The romance of the
and the son of the rabbi consul from Safed
“One day in the early 1870s, my grandfather saw a caravan
of camels proceeding along the street, and riding the camels were tourists in
European dress. While he was looking
with curiosity at the image passing before his gate, one of the camels suddenly
bucked, and down from its hump tumbled a pretty young lady. We carried her into the house to recover, and
at that time we learned that the tourists were none other than the family of
the chief rabbi of
Redeeming Galilee Lands
Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo continued in the footsteps of his
father, as a redeemer of lands and a patron of the
The Founding of Rosh Pina
and the Bloodletting that Threatened to Destroy It
In the year 5642 (1881–1882), Rabbi and Consul Yaakov Chai Abbo helped David Shuv, one of the primary founders of Rosh Pina, to buy land. He was named honorary president of the first council while his brother Yitzhak Mordechai was named an “esteemed member” of the council.
The first of Tevet 5643 (1883) appears in the records of the town of Rosh Pina as the day the young settlement was saved from destruction thanks to the Rabbi and Consul from Safed.
That morning, the settlers were plowing. These were the first furrows in the community’s earth and the enthusiasm was boundless. Around noon, they were about to celebrate the marriage of a young couple who, in a lottery, had won one of the first homes. While the festivities were still under preparation, an accidental shot from the pistol of one of the young people hit an Arab builder from Safed, killing him on the spot. Immediately the news took wing and a crowd of excited Arabs from Safed, armed with clubs and knives, began mounting the hill and crying for revenge, for the destruction of the Jewish settlement and extermination of the settlers. The sheikh of Ja’uni, the neighboring village, quickly summoned his villagers and led by Haj Ali Jilboud, they stood as a barrier protecting the Jews with their own bodies. Meanwhile, David Shuv sent a young man named Zipris riding off to Safed to tell the French consul, Yaakov Chai Abbo, what was happening and request his help. The consul came immediately, with his two brothers Avraham Chaim and Yitzhak Mordechai, accompanied by guards from the consulate and a military detachment. They dispersed the attackers, took up the body of the victim, and arrested the young man who was accused of the shooting. Gradually calm returned, and the peasants from Ja’uni, not allowing the marriage to be halted, joined their Jewish neighbors in a night-long celebration.
Consul Abbo gathered the victim’s relatives and reached an agreement with them on a “suspension of hostility.”
Eventually, with the help of Baron Benjamin (Edmund) Rothschild and with the payment of compensation and a proper sulha, peace was achieved between the two camps and the settlement’s life returned to normal.
At great effort, in the year 5643 (1882–83) Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo and his brother bought the land for the settlement of Yesud HaMaalah, to be populated by immigrants from Mesrich; and in 5650 (1889–90) for Mishmar HaYarden, to be populated by immigrants from Poland and Germany. Later they stood by the settlers in times of trouble and hardship. Great tracts of land in the family’s possession were sold to the Baron’s administration for Jewish settlement.
The Abbo Family Lays the Foundations
for Settlement in Yesud HaMaalah and Mishmar HaYarden
The redemption of the land of the fertile Hula Valley and of the flat land along the Jordan southeast of the Bnot Yaakov Bridge, where Mishmar HaYarden and Yesud HaMaalah were built, was made possible by the praiseworthy initiative of the Abbo family and was achieved while Rabbi Shmuel Abbo was still alive, thanks largely to the complete trust with which the local Arab villagers viewed the family. In the book Pioneers of the Hula (p. 11), A.M. Harisman tells of the background leading to the purchase:
“At that time, the peasants — and particularly the
Bedouin cultivating the earth of the
Mei Merom — Predecessor of Yesud HaMaalah
On the land that had been purchased, Yaakov Chai Abbo and the
brothers Shlomo and Shaul Mizrachi erected a “colony” with the name Mei Merom
Some ten years later, Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo transferred some
Moreover, in order to express his support and his faith in
the future of the settlement, he formed a family tie with one of the settler
pioneers, marrying his only daughter, Masouda, to Mordechai Lubovsky. At the time of the signing of the agreement between
the Abbo family and the Mesrich immigrants, while the buyers were still milling
around their potential properly, suddenly diggers discovered a stone with
Aramaic writing saying “May all who dwell here be remembered with favor.” Evidently more than anything else, this
stone, which seems later to have found its way to a
The beginning of the
“The land for Mishmar HaYarden belonged to Meron village, at the foot of the beautiful, historic Jarmaq hill, and the Arabs from Meron village would go down at the start of winter with animals and seeds to plow their distant fields, like the Arabs of the other hill villages who would go down to plow in the valley. They would live in the caves that today are still there among the rocks, left from the days of the Canaanites and the Jews. They would return to the village after finishing the sowing, and go back down to harvest. The problem with this practice was that the neighboring Bedouin would make trouble in the villagers’ absence, ruining the fields with their flocks while there was no one to impede them. This was the situation throughout the flatlands, including of course the Mishmar HaYarden land. Malaria also took its toll, killing many of the peasants because they did not know how to maintain their health in this climate. Accordingly, the peasants sold their land, including rights over it, to Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo, of Safed, who served as French consul there.”
In September 1884 Mordechai Lubovsky arrived in
It seems that he wanted to set up an American-style cattle ranch, but after two years of failed attempts, he abandoned the idea and settled in Yesud HaMaalah.
Some years later, in 1890, he sold most of the land — 450 acres — to the Jewish Colonization Association. The deal was struck at the initiative of David Shuv, one of the founders of Rosh Pina, who divided the area into small units and settled agricultural laborers from Safed there. Since then, the place has been called Mishmar HaYarden.
The abandonment of Shoshanat HaYarden saddened Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo, who had spared no efforts in helping Lubovsky maintain himself there. Abbo refused to reconcile himself to despair in a place intended to become a thriving Jewish community, where instead shepherds and Bedouin were trespassing with their flocks and wiping out the new vegetation. David Shuv’s intervention and his attempt to revive the community with the help of the Jewish Colonization Association were doubtless influenced by the attitude of his friend Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo.
Some years later, Rabbi Yaakov Chai Abbo was injured in an
accident and did not recover. He died at
his home in Safed on the third of Tevet 5660 (December 1899), at the age of
Safed and the other
His death marked the end of a glorious chapter in the
proto-Zionist Jewish settlement of the
Rabbi Yitzhak Mordechai — The Third Consul from the Abbo Family
When Yaakov Chai Abbo died, his son Meir would have filled his place as consul, just as his father and grandfather had filled the position. However, because Meir was so young, the position passed to his father’s brother Yitzhak Mordechai, who held it until the First World War.
Like his brother the rabbi and consul Yaakov Chai, Yitzhak
Mordechai continued in a broad defense of the rights of Safed’s people and of
He was a proud and observant Jew and fought zealously against the Catholic missionaries who made great efforts to secure converts. He helped restore the synagogue named for Yoseph Banaa (the White Tsaddik), which today still stands in the same location, and he contributed much funding for Safed community needs.
One important contribution of his was a Torah scroll decorated in silver and gold for the traditional Lag B’Omer Eve procession from the Abbo home to the Bar Yochai tomb in Meron. This scroll, with his name emblazoned on it in silver letters, is still the one ceremonially carried from the Abbo home to Meron during the festivities.
He was widowed twice: Sara, his first wife, died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Mazal. His second wife, Nechama, gave him two daughters and a son: Chana, Simcha, and Meir. Three years after Meir’s birth, she died. His third wife, Masouda, bore him a child for his old age and they named him after his uncle Yaakov Chai. Two years later, Yitzhak Mordechai died rich in years and in accomplishment, aged 79.
Yitzhak Mordechai’s son Yaakov Chai was born in 1917 and
orphaned of his father at the age of two.
During the Second World War he served in the French army and fell into
German captivity. After the war he
headed the Jewish community in
The third generation of the tradition
Meir Abbo was born in Safed on the first of Tishrei 5631
(1870), to Yaakov Chai and Esther Malka bat Yitzhak Cohen, the granddaughter of
Rabbi Naftali Cohen-Tseddek of Liverpool.
He studied at a Cheder in Safed and later at the Tiferet Yisrael school
When Meir returned from
When Yaakov Chai Abbo died, his son Meir would have succeeded him as consul (the post held by his father and grandfather), but because of his youth the post passed to his father’s brother Yitzhak Mordechai, who held it until the First World War.
Even though the diplomatic post had passed to his uncle, Meir served as the head of the family for all other purposes. He inherited the historic family home, continued to live there, and scrupulously maintained the Lag B’Omer tradition: every year on Lag B’Omer Eve the festive procession set out for Meron bearing the Torah scroll, with ceremony and in great numbers.
Meir had inherited leadership ability, and he was highly involved in public matters with no thought of personal aggrandizement. He headed the Safed rabbinical court and served many years on the town council (which was composed mostly of Muslim representatives, with Jews as an insignificant minority). Like his fathers, he was sought out by his contemporaries in times of crisis, and more than once he risked his own life in order to save other Jews. Some of the incidents have the ring of legends today. For example, in 1912 an Alexandrian Jew who happened to visit Safed was arrested on suspicion of espionage and Meir snatched him from a certain death.
It happened thus:
Having suffered defeat in their war against
Here is the account from his own diary:
“I knocked and entered. My friend welcomed me but did not disguise his surprise. What brought me to him so late at night through the pouring rain? When he heard what the matter was, his face paled and he told me to cease my involvement before (heaven forbid) it came to touch on me personally. ... I returned home in defeat and sadness, having failed to save this poor Jew, and sleep was refused to my eyes.”
The same night Meir made another attempt, this time through another friend, the chief of police. After much pleading, he won permission to see the prisoner in private. And here Meir found a surprise, as he writes in his diary:
“I looked in his face,
and it was none other than Nissim Mizrachi, a schoolmate from Tiferet Yisrael
An exhausting campaign got under way to save the well-born
young Jew. After much lobbying, Meir
managed to bail him out and bring him to the Abbo home. But after a week, an order arrived summoning
the suspect to
Though it seemed that no more hope remained for the poor man,
Meir Abbo learned by chance that the governor in Acre, Farid Pasha, was related
to Emir Abdel Kader of
The answer was not long in coming: “The letter from my uncle is sent, meeting
and exceeding your wish. Call on me if
you think it necessary and I will come personally to
The whole atmosphere changed as if magically: The governor received Meir Abbo with honors
and personally undertook the young Jew’s questioning. In less than a day the truth was out and the
A much more serious incident occurred in 1915, during the First World War.
Twelve men from notable families of the town were arrested
for attempting to cross the border and volunteer for the French army. The entire group was charged with treason and
faced execution. No one dared intervene
on their behalf. Once more it was Meir
Abbo who risked his life, traveling to
All Saturday he went from one official to another, exerting all his influence, neither resting nor staying silent until he managed to redeem the prisoners and bring them safe back to their families, who greeted him with hugs, kisses, and songs of thanks. Safed was overjoyed.
The Abbo Home in Safed as a Shelter
for Illegal Immigrants in the 1930s
The Abbo home was always a shelter and a lodging for anyone oppressed or persecuted by tyrannical foreign rule — regardless of race or religion. In the early 1930s the home became a way station for Jewish immigrants who were considered illegal by the British. All the family was active: Meir’s son, Raphael, would take the immigrants on foot across the northern border, by paths that were scarcely paths. A song from later years spoke fittingly of “nights of darkened stars,” though the illegal immigration then was the one organized by the Palmach.
The father, Meir, gave them shelter and clothing (since they
generally fled in from
After two years or so, the British, tipped off by an informer, decided to make a surprise search of the Abbo house. On the afternoon of January 24, 1935, British investigators, reinforced by police, knocked at the gate. The place was searched thoroughly. In the body of an old oil lamp, stamps were hidden that had been used in falsifying birth certificates for the immigrants. The chief inspector was about to look into the lamp when suddenly a sheet of paper, yellow with age, fell out of it. The officer spread it out and looked it over in hypnotized curiosity, fixated all the time on the British royal emblem at the top. It was King George’s reply to the congratulations of his schoolmate Meir Abbo on his ascension to the throne.
With measured care, almost with servility, the inspector refolded the note and replaced it in the lamp without further searching. Then he turned to Meir Abbo and said apologetically, “Mister Abbo, I ask your forgiveness. No doubt a terrible mistake has been made...” He assembled his men and left the place. For a long moment, the family was speechless at the miracle they had just witnessed, and Meir Abbo wrote personally inside the cover of his prayer book:
“Dear children, remember the miracle that the Lord wrought for us on the twentieth of Shvat, 5695, when the government searched our house and we were spared all accusation. Make of that day a day of rejoicing, praise Heaven, and give charity to the extent to your ability. So requests your father, who prays for you before the Almighty. Signed, Meir Abbo.”
The Saving of Mishmar HaYarden
from the Corrupt Clerk of the Baron
Encouraging settlement in the
When Lubovsky transferred the lands of Shoshanat HaYarden to the Jewish Colonization Association in 1900 through David Shuv, ownership was temporarily registered for some reason — perhaps in order to eliminate a bureaucratic delay — in the name of the Baron’s clerk.
The Baron dismissed his clerk in 1903, and in Beirut the clerk, a man named Ossovitsky, claimed to the governor that the lands of Mishmar HaYarden were his personal property, so were the buildings there, and the farmers were trespassers who must be evicted. To strengthen his claim, he brought the deed of sale bearing his name.
The governor, who was a friend of Ossovitsky, accepted the
claim and ordered the farmers evicted.
The local governor in Safed at the time, Hashem al-Atassi (later to be
In the end the French ambassador in
Meir died at home in Safed on November 23, 1947,
seventy-seven years old, a few days before the UN resolution recommending the
establishment of the State of Israel.
His death ended another important chapter in the Abbo family’s history
of land redemption and the encouragement of settlement in the
All his life he was accompanied faithfully by his Russian-born wife Rachel née
Julie, Golda, Margalit, and Esther; and one son, Raphael, who was to serve as head of the family, and of the dynasty, in the fourth generation.
The fourth generation of the tradition
Raphael Abbo was born in Safed on November 29, 1899. His father was Meir Abbo and his mother was
born Chaya Rachel Gladstone in
Raphael, a fourth-generation Abbo, was a heroic figure in his own right.
For decades he filled a central role in the civic and
cultural life of the town of
His talent for organization, his bravery, and his great
physical strength made him the natural leader of the Jewish boys of the town
and brought respect and admiration from the Arab neighbors as well. Throughout his life Raphael served as a
living symbol of
From boyhood, Raphael devoted most of his time to the defense
of Safed. At eighteen, upon the conquest
Returning to Safed, he embarked on public service with a
particular emphasis on the advancement of sport among youth. To him, mens
The riots of 1929 found Raphael at a position in the center of town. “It was the bullets of the few raining on the Arabs — despite the command for restraint — that turned back the first attack on the commercial center and on the Jewish quarter, saving them from extinction,” he wrote in his diary. Immediately afterward, he turned to rescue work: “Heading a small group of youngsters, I entered the old Jewish quarter, and under a shower of shots and with flames spreading around us, we brought the wounded out from collapsing ruins and led them to the hospital.”
Throughout that night he continued the evacuation — sometimes carrying the wounded on his back — to the government house, which was thought to afford British protection. Later, men of the Jordanian frontier force fired straight into a crowd of evacuees who had gathered there, wounding many.
The memory of the attacks would long remain with him, and the main lesson he drew was that foreign goodwill was no longer to be relied on, but instead a local nucleus of protection must be formed for self-defense. And thus in 1935 he founded the “Association of Hebrew Hunters,” which under cover of sporting and hunting activities assembled roughly a hundred Jewish boys and girls who would openly practice with weapons, bullets, and targets. Each member of the association was required to purchase a hunting rifle, generally automatic, and thus many Jewish families were armed legally.
The first test under fire for the association’s members was on Yom Kippur 1936, at the height of the attacks. There had long been a rumor in town that the Arabs were preparing to surprise the Jews on that holy day. (History would repeat itself thirty-six years later, in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.)
On Yom Kippur 1937, Raphael assembled the hunters and deployed them, armed with rifles, in all the synagogues — particularly those of the old Jewish quarter, which bordered the Arab neighborhoods.
And indeed, as the Jews of Safed, who were fasting, arrived at the final Yom Kippur prayers, bullets rained on the synagogues. Upon Raphael’s command, the hunters returned heavy fire straight at the Arab quarter.
Quickly cries of woe were heard from there, and the firing stopped. The next day it was found that, uncharacteristically, all the wounded this time were on the Arab side. For many weeks there was silence from the rifles that had previously disturbed Safed’s Jewish quarter almost every night.
The same year, Arabs made an attempt on Raphael’s life while he was about to return by bus from Tiberias to Safed. A shower of bullets hit the bus. The driver panicked and almost stopped (which would have made a massacre unavoidable). Only thanks to the steady nerve of Raphael, whose courage was praised the next day in the newspapers, did the bus leave the ambush behind and reach Rosh Pina. While giving first aid to Avraham Mizrachi, a gravely wounded passenger, Raphael made the driver continue. Mizrachi died later of his wounds.
During the Second World War, the British mandate authorities
appointed Raphael to lead civil defense in the Jewish quarter, while at the
same time he was named enemy number one by the
After the UN decision to partition the
leading the Haga civil guard parade in Safed, 1949.
Till his final day he was in command of Haga in the northern district, with the rank of major, and he won many letters of commendation from his commanders. In his book In the Shadow of the Fortress, the commander of the People’s Guard during the siege of Safed, Meir Meibar (Meiberg), called Raphael “A man of courage and a proud Jew, one of the exemplary figures of the town, one of the Sephardic nobility, a man of authoritative, determined bearing. I could always rely on him. After the founding of the State, he was appointed regional Haga commander, and he served in that position till the day he died...”
Throughout the Mandate years, Raphael Abbo served as a government worker. With the founding of the State, he was put at the head of the Minorities Office in Safed, and a year later he was assigned to set up and head a branch of the Ministry of Finance in Safed.
In addition to all his public responsibilities, for sixteen years (until his death) Raphael scrupulously organized the Lag B’Omer celebration of the Abbo family, in every detail, with his wife Laura assisting him. During his time the ceremony took on, in addition to its public and national-religious aspects, an official aspect as well.
With the State of Israel established in his lifetime, Raphael was privileged to see the Torah procession from the Abbo home including, for the first time, presidents and ministers of the State of Israel. He had learned the national anthem and sang it proudly at every public occasion, and its words — a free people in our own land — became flesh and blood before his eyes.
Raphael Abbo died in Safed on February 7, 1964. With the news, great mourning descended on the town. One after another the shops closed, and the workshops fell silent. Everyone spontaneously set off to the funeral. Raphael’s Haga soldiers, accustomed to seeing him at the head of every parade, reported this time with no need for orders and walked with his coffin, heads lowered. A whole town came out to pay its last respects to one of its dearest sons.
His children from his first wife, Anna Virginia Mercedes, were the two sons Yoseph and Zvi; and from his second wife, Laura Harari, a daughter, Atzmona.
With his passing, the Lag B’Omer tradition descended to his eldest son, Yoseph.
The fifth generation of the tradition
Raphael left two sons, Yoseph
and Zvi, and the tradition was intended to pass to them. He died suddenly, very close to Lag B’Omer,
when Zvi the younger son was studying in the
Zvi Abbo — Fighter and educator
The younger son of Virginia and Raphael Abbo, Zvi, was born in 1928. He was among the defenders of Safed during the siege in 1948, and one of the more courageous fighters. More than once he risked his life in order to turn back attacks on the Jewish quarter at one of the most dangerous and sensitive points. In his book In the Shadow of the Fortress, Meir Meivar, who was commander in Safed during the siege, praised the courage Zvi showed during one of the more difficult moments, when the Arabs almost managed to penetrate:
“Zvika Abbo, still a boy, who was accompanying the section commander, ran toward the enemy fire with a grenade in his hand and shouted, ‘It won’t happen! They won’t enter!’ and indeed by throwing that grenade, while exposing himself to the attacking enemy at the risk of his life, he halted the Arabs and the Jewish quarter was saved.”
After the liberation of Safed, Zvi fought under the IDF and
was wounded in Operation Ten Plagues in the
After the war, he enrolled in the law
In 1964 he married Sheila Rothschild, whom he had met in the
Zvi returned to
His untimely death was a heavy blow to his family and to the
Meira, the elder daughter of Sheila and Zvi Abbo, and her husband Benny Knoll.
Michal Abbo, daughter of Sheila and Zvi Abbo.
Rafi Abbo, sixth generation, son of Sheila and Zvi Abbo.
Atzila Abbo, wife of Rafi Abbo.
Yoseph Abbo Evron — Continuing the tradition
in the fifth generation
Yoseph Abbo Evron, a writer and journalist from the fifth Abbo generation of Safed, has been continuing the Lag B’Omer tradition for the past forty years, since the death of Raphael his father.
Yoseph’s work as a journalist has struck many echoes. His political interviews in the 1960s on “Haboker” daily paper and in the weekly “New Look” (Mabath Hadash) have been extensively quoted in the Israeli and international media. He has also worked as a military writer, and his articles on air battles
of the Six Day War won him a personal letter of commendation from air force headquarters.
In the years 1969–1991 he served as spokesman for the Israel
Military Industries. He founded and
edited its newsletter, B’Taas. His books On a
Rainy Day (published by Otpaz, 1969) and New Look at Suez (published
by Modan, 1986) added an important historical layer to the research into the
causes of the Suez Campaign. The books The
Security Industry in Israel (Israel Ministry of Defense, 1980) and Shield
and Spear (Israel Ministry of Defense, 1991) detail the history of military
The book Gidi – The Campaign for Removing the British from
the Land of Israel (Israel Ministry of Defense, 1980) throws new light on
dramatic events of the underground period such as the
From his earliest youth he volunteered to serve the nation: in a platoon commander’s course with the Hagana (in Geva, 1944); as a guardsman in the Jewish settlement police (1945); and when the British Mandate authorities invaded Moshav Biria on 27 February 1946 and jailed its defenders, he led some 500 Gadna youths along hidden wadi paths under the noses of the British, straight to the occupied hill of Biria to set up a new position there. Later he joined the Palmach navy at Givat HaShlosha.
Late in 1946, when the Hebrew rebellion movement broke up, he left the Palmach and joined the IZL (Irgoun Zvai Leumi) in Tel Aviv. In 1947 he published an open letter to his Palmach friends, “Letter from a Soldier to a Soldier,” which brought an answer from the Hagana, followed by an “Answer to an Answer” from Menachem Begin, who described the letter as “The IZL’s best broadside.” (The whole episode is mentioned in Begin’s book In the Underground, vol 3 p. 40.) Afterward,he published a pamphlet called The Voice of Freedom, printed by stencil in 1947 by direct order of IZL commander Menachem Begin, who sent the author a personal letter of commendation.
Yoseph participated in various IZL operations, including intelligence operations under the direct command of “Gidi” (the code name of the IZL operations chief, Amichai Paglin).
As the War of Independence approached, he participated in
battles for the conquest of
In the framework of the Israel Defense Forces, he took part
in the liberation of the
For forty one years (to this day) Yoseph has been carrying on
the family tradition with the help of his wife Yehudit. Every Lag B’Omer, like his forefathers,
Yoseph scrupulously observes the commandment of bringing the family Torah
scroll from the Abbo home in Safed to Meron in a festive procession. And in keeping with the tradition, he always
invites representatives from the French Embassy in
In 1987 French ambassador Alain Pierret surprised
Yoseph by awarding him, in the name of French President François
Mitterrand, the title “Chevalier of
the Legion of Honor” “for conscientiously keeping and fostering the
tradition and the friendly ties between
Five years later, on Lag B’Omer Eve 2002, on the occasion of the festive departure of the Torah scroll from the Abbo home, Oded Hameiri, who was then the mayor of Safed, presented Yoseph Abbo Evron with a certificate of honorary citizenship in Safed “for keeping the tradition and continuity.”
 A document remaining from that time says:
“My heart wails like the pipes, for more than two thousand souls are entombed beneath the walls of their own homes. My heart, my heart is with the victims. Synagogues and schools fell to the ground; so did the whole great school building that is named for the holy Maran, with more than ten thousand books inside, a precious collection honoring the religion and documenting the community. ... Then up rose our rabbi and teacher Shmuel Abbo, God grant him long life, one of the remaining great students of nature and builders of the community, and his destiny was as no man’s before: the great earthquake had brought the city to the ground and homes, synagogues, and schools were destroyed, kings would not have believed that in a hundred years a community could be rebuilt in that city of God’s, but the rabbi, wise beyond his tender years, was touched with the spirit of God, undertook the role of savior at the risk of his life, his heart like the lion’s and his voice in the ears of kings, and he marshaled assistance from the community. Within a short time he built a number of synagogues and a number of schools, and working with all the strength God gave him, and with his own two hands, from underground he brought back to the light of day Torah scrolls and schoolbooks and commentaries and all the holy writings, may his merit protect us.
“I was in the Galilee at the time, and I have seen God’s works but this was a most memorable thing, and within a short time a proper city of Israel was built, a large city of scholars and of writers and of rabbis great in number and stature. This much will all be told.
“Thus may one see the awesome works of the everlastingly faithful Fount who chose the arm of Abraham...
(from History of Safed, by Natan Schor, p. 186)
For more than a hundred years now, the stone has been an important item in the
history of Yesud HaMaalah. When visiting
 After Meir Abbo’s death, his daughter Margalit recounted: “As Father was lying before us and psalms were being said for him, suddenly an old woman arrived. So bent over she was that she seemed to be crawling. ... She approached the dead man, uncovered his face, brought her mouth to his ear, and shouted, “Meir Yitzhak! When you reach the throne of the Almighty, don’t forget to mention you saved twelve boys from hanging, and one was my son.”
 During the British mandate, the northern checkpoint and customs station was at the road crossing for Rosh Pina, Safed, and Tiberias. Laura Abbo, the wife of Raphael, recounts: “On an immigration night, my husband would organize a bus of young men and women from Safed, as if they were off to a dance in Yesud HaMaalah or in Metulla. They would pass in a great crowd through the customs station at Rosh Pina, and Raphael, who was well known to the policemen, would greet them and invite them to attend the big party. ... And in fact on that night there would be a noisy ball at Yesud HaMaalah, and late in the night the partygoers would return exhausted and ‘drunk’ from their ‘revels.’ When the bus reached the customs station on its way to Safed, my husband would wave to the policemen and they would wave back, gesturing the driver through without bothering to check inside where new immigrants had taken the places of Safed’s veteran residents.