The Abu Family of Safad
In 1817 Shmuel Abu left his home in Algeria and made Alia to Safad. The Jewish community of Safad at the time was a poor community and was completely at the mercy of the local Ottoman rulers. Abu found this unacceptable and demanded that the authorities allow the Jewish community to arm and defend themselves. When this demand was not met Abu did not give up. He travelled to Algeria and used the community's' powerful influence to be named the official French Consul to the Galilee. His first order of business was to have many of the Jews of Safad registered by him as French subjects under official French protection. His home became a place of refuge and safety for the Jews of the Galilee. Abu was a successful businessman as well and had the monopoly on import of indigo to Eretz Israel. He was also a pious man and he erected a building over the burial site of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. After an earthquake destroyed Safad on 1837 Abu was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Jewish quarter. As a token of gratitude for his efforts on behalf of the community he was presented with a sefer torah by the community. On the eve of Lag Baomer 1833 the sefer torah was accompanied by the entire community from Abu's home in Safad to the building that he built in Meron. From then on every year this joyous procession takes place. The sefer torah is left in Meron until the holiday of Shavuot and then is returned to its regular resting place in Safad. The original safer torah was replaced by a gold covered one donated by Shmuel Abu's son Isaac. That sefer torah is the one that is brought in the procession on Lag Baomer eve until today.
Because Shmuel Abu was an official French consul the procession was recognized as an official event by the French consulate. Until this very day, protocol calls for representation by a French consular official. In 1879 Shmuel Abu passed away and his son Yaakov became French consul and continued the tradition of the Laf Baomer procession. The honor of leading the procession was passed down to each generation of the family. In 2014 Yoseph Abu passed away after leading the procession for 50 years. This year, Raphael Abu will lead the procession with the sefer torah from Safad to Meron. He will be the 6th generation of the Abu family leading the procession, and this will be the 182nd consecutive year that this joyous procession takes place.
Lag Baomer procession circa 1950