jewish tunisia

More Than 1,000 Jewish Pilgrims Visit Jerba, Tunisia
More than 1,000 Jews, including dozens of Israelis, gathered in the south-western Tunisian island of Djerba late last week in a rare pilgrimage to an Arab land.
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar), May 17, 2001

The pilgrimage, known as El Ghriba festival, combines faith and legend and is rooted in an old Jewish culture that survives, notwithstanding the state of relations between Arabs and Jews.

El Ghriba drew more than 7,000 Jews last year before the failure of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but only 1,300 attended the event this year, organisers said.

"The turnout this year was a bit low because of the gloomy news coming from the Middle East. But we are happy that the event was not stopped by that," said Ouzifa Trabelsi, one of the organisers, who is a Tunisian Jew living in France.For many participants, the festival took an added meaning this year as a rare occasion for proximity and tolerance between Arab and Jewish cultures.

"With the situation in the Middle East now, this pilgrimage is an occasion and a reminder for both Arabs and Jews to do their utmost to nurture and preserve every inch of understanding between them," a Frenchwoman who flew from Paris to attend the event said.

According to legend, El Ghriba was instituted to celebrate Jewish victory over suffering.

Jews have resided in Tunisia since the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in 586 BC

While this cannot be substantiated by historical evidence, it is known that Tunisia was home to the most important centre of Jewish life in North Africa during the period of the Roman Empire, a study by the Hebron University in Jerusalem said.

The most important and oldest synagogue in Djerba is the Ghriba, built by the Cohanim in the Hara Sghira, the study maintains, adding that the Ghriba synagogue is considered a pilgrimage site throughout North Africa.

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