They walked up a tree-lined path through stony hills to a square, white building — men in black hats, beards and frock coats; in T-shirts and jeans; in sweaters, slacks and velvet kippot.
They came by the hundreds — 19-year-olds looking for a match, 40-year-olds losing hope that they would ever find one, boys of 15 praying for the unmarried.
They had come for a special ceremony: They would blow 1,000 shofars, encircle the building seven times and recite penitential prayers led by a master of Jewish mysticism. They would scream and they would sing.
They had come to harness the power of a dead rabbi, Yonatan ben Uziel, a man they believed would intercede on their behalf in heaven, granting any Jew a match within the year — as long as they prayed at his tomb or paid a fee.
“This is the bringing-together of all the strengths in the world,” said Meir Levy, a 40-year-old bachelor who had come to join the prayer service on Jan. 27. “This is a very holy place.”
Volunteers distributed standard-issue shofars to anyone who thought he could blow. The cardboard boxes full of rams’ horns emptied as the men stood at the ready, waiting for the kabbalah master Rabbi Yechiel Abuchatzeira to begin the prayers.
Holding a microphone against his white beard, Abuchatzeira chanted, “Prayer, repentance and charity push away the harsh decree!” and waited as the hundreds of men repeated the words taken from the High Holidays liturgy.
The scion of a family of famous Moroccan kabbalists, Abuchatzeira is the head of the Salvation in the Depths Foundation, which runs a yeshiva located in nearby Safed. The ceremony helps raise money for the yeshiva.
In the words of a website dedicated to the event, the ceremony is a “rare and unique” occasion in which the kabbalah masters would perform an “extraordinary corrective measure (to open) all the seven spiritual gates that block your luck and enable you to find your soul mate and get married THIS YEAR!”
“Answer us, shield of David,” sang Abuchatzeira into the microphone, using a phrase usually reserved for the penitential prayers recited in the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur. “Answer us, He who answers at a time of mercy. Answer us, God of the chariot. Answer us, Yonatan ben Uziel.”
The men holding the shofars repeated every line, following the rabbi as he walked in a circle through the tomb. Together they chanted the 13 attributes of God’s mercy. Then, on command, they raised their shofars and blew.
They repeated the ceremony six more times, then moved on to prayers specifically directed toward finding a match. These prayers of the “brokenhearted” asked for “a sensible match able to give birth,” for a “woman of valor, fearing God, possessing intelligence, with good values and good deeds.”
“It’s not that you understand what’s happening, but it’s the fact that you’re participating, that you’re ready to take part and do the right thing,” said Andre Levy, an anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University and an expert on the tradition of praying at the graves of the righteous. “In this model, you’re not supposed to understand. Your participation will make everything be accepted.”
Levy said that despite their financial gain, rabbis like Abuchatzeira generally have genuine faith in their religious acts. But for singles like Eliyahu Hazan, 32, there is added reason to believe.
“I want to build a home in Israel,” Hazan said. “There’s nothing to lose.”