Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →