Thousands of Jews reach Djerba for pilgrimage

Thousands of Jews reach Djerba for pilgrimage

Visitors, among them several Israeli citizens, receive blessing from rabbi at oldest African synagogue as police up security

The entrance to the 2,000-year-old Djerba synagogue (photo credit: CC BY upyernoz/Flikr)
The entrance to the 2,000-year-old Djerba synagogue (photo credit: CC BY upyernoz/Flikr)

Thousands of Jews, including several Israeli citizens, arrived on the Tunisian island of Djerba Friday for an annual pilgrimage to the local synagogue, the oldest in Africa.

Throughout the week, Tunisian police upped security on the island, ahead of the anticipated arrival of hundreds of Jewish pilgrims. Over a dozen military trucks were stationed on the island, and police checkpoints were set up around Jewish neighborhoods and along the road to the airport, AFP reported.

The pilgrimage is set to end on Sunday.

The number of Jewish pilgrims to Djerba fell drastically after 2002, when an al-Qaeda car bomb killed 21 people near the synagogue, and again after the Tunisian revolution of 2011. However, Jews have been slowly returning to the island, which boasts a rich Jewish history going back thousands of years to the First Temple period.

“Thank God this year is as it should be, not like in the last two years. I came then, but out of solidarity. There were no real festivities,” AFP quoted 63-year-old Meyer Sabbagh, a native of Djerba who moved to Paris after the Yom Kippur War, as saying. Sabbagh reportedly added that his Israeli cousin had also joined him for the pilgrimage, which began Friday with a procession into the synagogue, where the faithful received blessings from a rabbi.

The synagogue, which is located in the village of Hara Seghira, or “Er-Riadh,” dates back to 586 BC. In 2002, terrorists blew up a vehicle near the synagogue, killing 21 people.

Over the past few weeks, security forces have arrested a few hundred people suspected of having ties to Muslim extremist groups, the Italian ANSAmed agency reported.

In February, Israel’s Foreign Ministry charged its diplomats with calling on the international community to urge the Tunisian government to protect its Jewish community, Israeli media reported.

The order was issued following several anti-Semitic incidents in Tunisia, which is home to about 2,000 Jews.

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