Graves of important figures are counted among the thousands of graves that were destroyed during Jordanian rule. Their names may no longer sound familiar, but they left their mark on society. One example is Harav Gabriel Mercado Almosnino, who was Chief Rabbi of the community of Sofia in Bulgaria about 130 years ago.
Mordechai Motola speaks about the process of locating gravesites and installing a new gravestone. As part of my PhD on the topic of the location of the graves of Gedolei Yisrael (literally, “great ones of the Jewish people”) who were buried on the Mount of Olives, I often consult books about Gedolei Yisrael. Examples are the books “Toldot Chachmei Yerushalayim” by Harav Aryeh Leib Frumkin and “Yehudei Hamizrach B’Eretz Yisrael” by M.D. Gaon. Such is how I came across the name of Harav Mercado Almosnino z”l, the Rabbi of Bulgaria, and others, who it is said made aliyah to the Land of Israel and passed away in the year 5650 (1890). A quick check in the France family record book that was in my possession confirmed that the Rav was buried on the Mount of Olives on 25 Tevet 5650/ 13 June 1890. The location of said Rav was also known to me as it was written in the record book, as it was in Burak, “the place of rocks”, at the foot of Shlomo Yosef.
Whoever is familiar with the Mount of Olives, and is familiar with concepts of the Frances, is able to easily recognize the Burak section, which is located above the Derech Jericho Road, but the “place of the rocks” is a more comprehensive concept that referred to a place that once was filled with rocks (which is no longer recognizable today, after the restorations). But the most obvious sign was the grave of Harav Shlomo Yosef z”l whose grave I was already familiar with (from the aforementioned PhD). The only thing left to check was that the Rav’s grave was indeed in that location.
From the Mount of Olives Information Center (I did not have internet to check it) I learned that there is no gravestone with the name of the Rav, and that there is a unmarked grave at the foot of Harav Shlomo Yosef’s grave. But still, with extreme caution, one still needs to know that Harav Shlomo Yosef was indeed buried there, as well as the gravestones in the same row. Towards this goal I researched the Chevra Kadisha’s records of the sales of graves (of which a large part have been typed up by me). There I found notes about the row where Harav z”l was buried, which showed that the grave of Shmuel Chulu is in the same row as Harav Gabriel Almosnino z”l, and beside his wife, and at the foot of Bolisa Da Sid. This is the language in the records of the sales of graves:
The Grave of Shmuel Chulu: “On the Mount of Olives, opposite the France’s place, in the row of Harav Gabriel Mercado Almosnino z”l, to the left of Nut, his daughter Sarah, at the foot of Bolisa Da Sid, and near his head, Vida bat David Uziel ‘Alam, Yeuda Zvulun, which is a big rock.”
Additional records were more explicit:
The Grave of Avraham Buton: “On the slope of the Mount of Olives, in the row of Chaim Saragosti, to the right of Harav Gabriel Mercado Almosnino, to the left Nut, his daughter Simcha, at the foot of Harav Shlomo Yosef, which was built opposite an olive that is the place of the France’s.
The Grave of Nut, his daughter Simcha (Buton): “On the Mount of Olives, in the aforementioned row (Chaim Saragosti), to the right, her aforementioned husband (Avraham), to the left, David Alchali, at the foot of Moshe ben Yosef, which is built opposite an olive tree, which is the place of the France’s.”
The France's Records
The records of Avraham Buton and his wife offered us a clearer picture, as it written in the record book of the sale of graves that Avraham Buton purchased his grave next to Harav Gabriel Mercado Almosnino z”l. And he is also buried at the foot of Harav Shlomo Yosef, which tells us that at the foot of the Rav there were two graves that fit the description of “at the foot of Harav Shlomo Yosef”.
The above information provide us with the following illustration of the grave sites:
Translation of the chart to the right (L-R)
Grave of Shlomo Becher Yosef
Grave of Harav Shlomo Yosef
Grave of Simcha Buton
Grave of Avraham Buton
Grave of Mercado Almosnino
After the chart was drawn, it was sent to Harav Moshe Ackerman, (who is working tirelessly to locate graves on the Mount of Olives, along with the Information Center staff and myself) who went up to the place and located all the finds (the grave of Harav Shlomo Yosef at the head of an unmarked grave, as well as the grave of Avraham Buton and his wife Simcha, as well as other finds). This was in the year 5775, in the month of Kislev I believe.
There was a need to find someone who would set up a gravestone. I asked my brother- in-law to search for relatives of the Rav however he could (since as mentioned I don’t have internet…) He searched and searched and in the end found a letter of the Rav’s great-granddaughter, by the name of Naomi Har-Yarok, a religious woman who wrote on her news site about the Rav z”l and about being a descendant of his. He sent in a response to the website. A lack of response for a few days led to a second check of the site which revealed that the last articles uploaded to the site were two years old and that the site was no longer active. Another search revealed that she has Facebook (with a private profile), but with the ability to send a message. I requested that he write to her that his brother in law (me) found the grave of Harav Mercado Almosnino z”l on the Mount of Olives, and to contact me….(this was as 11pm). The following day when I returned from morning prayers I saw three missed calls (two from my brother in law who told me that that morning he already saw a very moving response from Naomi, the descendant of the Rav z”l, regarding the find, filled with blessings and a lot of gratitude). The next phone call I made was to the number that appeared there. It was a very emotional conversation. She really “couldn’t believe it”. She had searched for the grave of the Rav for a number of years and had given up and in one night (morning) came this surprise. Filled with emotion, she spoke about the Rav (additional details which cannot be found by M.D. Gaon) and asked how the grave was located, as well as other questions. I told her about the incredible undertaking to locate graves on the Mount of Olives, and how the Rav’s grave was found. At the end of a pretty long process, she requested (as did the Sephardic Chevra Kadisha in Jerusalem, who are partners in the building of the grave and gravestone) that I come up with the wording to be engraved on the Rav’s gravestone.
I would like to add that at the site of the Rav’s grave, there was a small fragment of a gravestone with the words from Tractate Berakhot mourning the loss of a loved one. Though it was not clear that this gravestone was part of Harav’s gravestone, I decided to incorporate it into the wording of the gravestone, copied below.
With God’s help I was able to place the gravestone at the exact location of the grave.