Thousands of Jews Flock to Africa's Oldest Synagogue for Pilgrimage

'The security situation is excellent here ... Today we feel safer in Tunisia than in Paris,' says one visitor from France

Reuters
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Go to commentsכתוב תגובה
Pires Trabelsi, the president of the Ghriba synagogue, reads the Torah on May 1, 2018 in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, one day before of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue.
Pires Trabelsi, the president of the Ghriba synagogue, reads the Torah on May 1, 2018 in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, one day before of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue. Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP

Under tight security at Africa’s oldest synagogue, Jewish pilgrims on Wednesday staged their biggest religious ceremony in Tunisia since a 2011 revolution undermined security in the North African country.

Mainly Muslim Tunisia is home to one of North Africa’s largest Jewish communities. Though they now number less than 2,000 people, Jews have lived in Tunisia since Roman times.

In 2011, after the uprising that toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the annual celebration was canceled, and in following years only a few hundred attended, fearing attacks by hardline Islamists.

This year, revelers chanted and danced in a two-day pilgrimage to the El Ghriba synagogue at the popular tourist island resort of Djerba 500 km (310 miles) south of Tunis.

“The security situation is excellent here and this has encouraged us to come back ... Today we feel safer in Tunisia than in Paris,” Isabel Guez, a Jewish visitor from Paris, told Reuters.

A man cleans the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 1, 2018 on the eve of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue.
A man cleans the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerbaon the eve of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue, on May 1, 2018.Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP
A French Jew holds eggs bearing writing expressing her wishes that will be placed in a cave under the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia's Mediterranean resort island of Djerba on the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue on May 2, 2018.
A French Jew holds eggs bearing writing expressing her wishes that will be placed in a cave under the Ghriba synagogue on the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue on May 2, 2018.Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP
Tunisian policemen stand guard in front of the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 1, 2018 one day before of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue.
Tunisian policemen stand guard in front of the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, one day before of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue, May 1, 2018.Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP

“This celebration is a great opportunity for rapprochement between Muslims, Jews and other religions and an opportunity to call for peace and love across the world,” she added.

Some 5,000 pilgrims attended, organizers said, a significant increase on 2,000 last year. Tunisia has not seen a major militant attack since scores of foreigners were killed in two strikes claimed by Islamic State in 2015.

Hundreds of pilgrims prayed, lit candles and wrote wishes on eggs. Others celebrated by sipping glasses of boukha, a liqueur made from figs.

In 2002 militants linked to al Qaeda attacked the synagogue with a truck bomb killing 21 Western tourists.

Authorities took no chances this time with hundreds of police, soldiers and members of anti-terror units patrolling steets. Checkpoints were set up around the synagogue.

“With the good security situation now, the number of visitors exceeds 5,000 from Israel, Russsia and Europe,” said Perez Trabelsi, the head of the Jewish community in Djerba.

The El Ghriba synagogue, home to most of Tunisia’s Jews, is built on the site of a Jewish temple that is believed to date back almost 1,900 years.

Hassen Chalghoumi (L), the administrative responsible of the municipal Drancy mosque in Seine-Saint-Denis, greets Paris' "Synagogue de la victoire" rabbi Moshe Sebbag (C) at the Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018 during the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue thought to be Africa's oldest.
Hassen Chalghoumi (L), the administrative responsible of the municipal Drancy mosque in Seine-Saint-Denis, greets Paris' "Synagogue de la victoire" rabbi Moshe Sebbag (C), Ghriba Synagogue May 2, 2018Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP
Fatma, 85, a Tunisian Muslim woman, visits the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia's Mediterranean resort island of Djerba on the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue on May 2, 2018.
Fatma, 85, a Tunisian Muslim woman, visits the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia's Mediterranean resort island of Djerba on the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue on May 2, 2018.Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP
Jewish pilgrims take part in the annual pilgrimage at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018.
Jewish pilgrims take part in the annual pilgrimage at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018.Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP
Jewish pilgrims take part in the annual pilgrimage at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018.
Jewish pilgrims take part in the annual pilgrimage at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 2, 2018. Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP

Comments