The Jews of Libya

June 14, 2011 9:47 pm 2 comments

Reconciled identity: David Gerbi with the director of the Museum of Libyan Jews, in front of the Israeli, Italian and Libyan flags

Following his recent trip to Libya, psychoanalyst and former Libyan refugee David Gerbi met with members of the World Organization of Libyan Jews in Jerusalem and was appointed their official representative in public affairs. The Organization which was established in 1982 aims to provide a platform for Libyan Jews who were exiled from their native country following pogroms and political and religious oppression which culminated following the Six Day War of 1967. Furthermore, the Organization advocates for Libyan Jews to have the possibility of revisiting their homeland to rebuild and restore desecrated Jewish holy sites such as cemeteries and synagogues. Gerbi hopes to play an active role in facilitating dialogue between the World Organization of Libyan Jews and other parties who share their values.

In an article published earlier this year  in The Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Gerbi discussed his struggle to regain and redefine his cultural identity after his family was exiled to Italy following the mass expulsion of Libyan Jews in 1967. After a curfew was imposed on the Jews, similar to the beginning of the Holocaust, Gerbi recalls his mother sending him out to collect food for him and his five siblings. “From one day to the next we lost our societal status.” Gerbi’s family was forced to hide in their apartment for weeks, surviving on minimal rations supplied by kind neigbours and Gerbi’s own nightly feats.

His more permanent trauma however, was caused following his abrupt relocation to Italy. He describes his paradoxical identity crisis; while he felt hated and repelled by the Arab World, he still felt inherently connected to his Mediterranean roots. The phenomenon of being stateless affected thousands as they struggled to reestablish their identities on foreign soil.
Gerbi speaks of the ‘collective trauma’ caused by the fear of retaliation. “If people are afraid to speak out against injustice, they strengthen the oppressor. It is a vicious cycle that becomes harder and harder to break out of. It took me years to finally address what had happened to me and my family.” He describes himself as a part of the generation of the Children of Silence.

In 2002, while helping his mother to renew her passport, Gerbi discovered that his aunt was still living in a nursing home in Tripoli. She was at the time, the last Jew known to reside in Libya. He immediately decided to take action in trying to reunite her with her family.  Through what he describes as a meaningful coincidence, the Libyan Ambassador to Italy was a regular customer in his sister’s store and was able to help Gerbi in his endeavor to return home for the purpose of bringing his aunt to Italy. Gerbi was the first Jew granted a visa to return to Libya in thirty six years.

His first return to his home country was both cathartic and sparked Gerbi to take an active role in preserving the Libyan Jewish legacy and taking the platform geo-politcally. He returned to the USA with messages of peace from Qaddafi. “I felt I had established a basis for a future development of cordial relations and I felt grateful to the Italian Consulate as well as the Libyan government, ” Gerbi writes.  In 2007 Gerbi returned to Libya and was invited  by Qaddafi on the premise of helping to normalize the relationship with the Western World, however upon arriving in Tripoli, Gerbi was arrested and searched, and all of his belongings, including his religious items were confiscated. Gerbi was escorted to an airplane of which he had no idea as to the destination. He was flown to Malta from where he returned home to Italy. Feeling disappointed and traumatized yet again by his country, Gerbi spent many months in silence and finally spoke out in an interview with the Jerusalem Report.

Despite these set backs, Gerbi says he believes in “the theory of small footsteps.” Together with the World Organization of Libyan Jews, Gerbi hopes to work towards an open free Libya, where Jews have the oppertunity to return to visit and reconnect with their Middle Eastern heritage. David Gerbi has worked hard to reconcile his identy and now says “I know how important it is not to live in conflict, but in harmony, which for me is the Mediterranean identity of Jewish-Italian-Libyan.”

Dr. Gerbi training mental health professionals in Tripoli, Libya

The World Organization of Libyan Jews holds its base in, Israel. The reason for this says Gerbi, is that Israel is not only the center of monotheistic religions but also a democratic state, and in this respect a paragon for what the people of Libya are now demanding from their own country. While there are no Jews living in Libya today, the Organization has clearly expressed its solidarity with the Libyan people who are fighting for freedom from Qaddafi’s four decade long rule.

Gerbi now visits Libya regularly to train mental health professionals to address and treat Libyan civilians who are, now forty years later, suffering from the same phenomenon of the fear of retaliation. Gerbi hopes to help to strengthen the people, help them overcome their fears and work together with them to build an open country through justice and peace.

2 Comments

  • Lybian World, organisation of ifiots. Do not interfere!

    jews have no business to even talk with muslim al qaeda there,,,idiots! i hope they will keep u there,,,and do not ask Israel to get u out! idiots!

  • Akram Ben Younis

    يسعد ويبعد

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Education Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    JNS.org – Low enlistment rates in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). High rates of poverty. Communal resistance to traditional schooling. Difficulty finding employment or a lack of motivation to be employed. These conditions are shared by two sectors of the Israeli population that the casual observer likely wouldn’t group together: haredi Jews and Bedouin. Through its operation of schools for each population, however, the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network seeks to give haredim and Bedouin a brighter future in the Jewish [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.