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April 29, 2013 9:00 am

Jews Welcomed Back to Oldest Synagogue in Tunisia for First Time Since “Arab Spring”

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The El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The oldest synagogue in Tunisia opened its doors Sunday to visitors for the first time since protests broke out in the country in 2011. Jewish pilgrims visited Ghriba, Africa’s oldest synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, where security was high to prevent any violence.

The protests in 2011 eventually led to the ouster of the country’s leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and inspired similar movements in countries throughout the region. But it also proved problematic for the Jewish community in Tunisia, and security concerns prevented the use of Ghriba.

This year the pilgrimage, which started Friday, took place in a festival-like atmosphere with a final procession attended by Tourism Minister Jamel Ghamra and Tunisia’s Grand Rabbi Haim Bitan.

According to legend, the synagogue was founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

“There’s an impressive security presence  which is a positive step that sends a message to the Jews in the world and says Tunisia protects them, although the county’s leadership is Muslim,” Perez Trabelsi, head of the Jewish community in Djerba, was quoted by Israel’s Channel 2 as saying. “Jews in the world should see the effort of the government and understand that they can come back here now and in the coming years.”

Authorities had reinforced security around the ancient mosque and the Jewish quarter of Djerba for the pilgrimage to prevent any attacks by radical Muslim groups, the AFP reported.

Beginning 33 days after the start of the Jewish Passover festival, the Ghriba pilgrimage used to attract thousands of pilgrims and tourists but their number fell dramatically after an April 2002 bombing that killed 21 people.

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  • jerry hersch

    Video on the 2002 synagogue bombing -The 2012 commemoration with Tunisian dignitaries synagogue bombing of 2002

    In scrolling through to this FB there are many articles, photos, and videos of Jewish interest

  • jerry hersch

    This site has excellent links to the Tunisian Jewish diaspora and if you dig into it links to the Mahgrebian Jewish diaspora.

    Down the right column is a photo of Rabbi Bitan-along with a caption calling him a hypocrite for his siding with the Islamists

  • Lynne T

    The Islamist government is simply showing a little more concern about Tunisia’s tourism industry than other franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Mordecai Ben Natan

    Why are there Jews still living in Tunesia, or for that matter, any Muslim country?
    Who is this Grand Rabbi.
    How many Shuls and rabbis and Jews are there in Tunisia?
    It would be interesting to kow

  • Fredric M. London


    • Coggin

      Same difference – it all depends on the preference of the author. Let’s all be tolerant of one another and focus on the big problems confronting us all – like radical Islam.

      • rashid Zaidi

        Who created radical Islam, 65 years ago roughly nothing like this monster existed. Inequality lack of fairness by the people who run this world at large made these little protest in the beginning into full blown out of control entities around the world. Hot spots of the world have to be fixed, namely, the Palestinian issue, Kashmir, and economical opportunity for the deprived, without which we shall all be consumed. Stop using the same yard stick for everywhere, it is a set of different reasons everywhere . Settle issues with sincerity, respect the right of others, it’s now become a monumental task and it will not be easy but the human will can prevail.

  • art frank

    It won’t be long before the savages blow it up. Just hope no one gets hurt.

  • Kerri Feldman

    After seeing the beheading in Tunisia of a Christian convert. I don’t know if I would want to trust anything in Tunisia. It sounds good but I don’t think the Jews are safe. Are they always going to have extra security? Sounds like a trap.

  • jerry hersch

    Beyond Djerba and Tunis and its environs Jewish communities exist in both Sfax and Sousse.
    Some abandoned synagogues have been restored for historic and tourism reasons.On the other hand the Sousse cemetery in Sousse was vandalized this January.
    In the 1940s there were about 110,000 Tunisian Jews-most emigrated about half to Israel ..halff to Freace. Some of those that went to France subsequently moved to North America..there is a Jewish Tunisian community in Quebec.