DJERBA, Tunisia — The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island started Monday without the usual thousands of pilgrims, due to restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
The pilgrimage to Ghriba — the oldest synagogue in Africa — takes place from April 25 to May 2 for the island’s Jewish community and the few faithful able to make the trip from abroad.
Last year it was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year it is taking place — albeit with pilgrims praying individually and wearing face masks.
Former tourism minister Rene Trabelsi, himself Jewish, was in Djerba with about 20 French tourists.
He said that despite restrictions pilgrims could still offer their prayers.
“This year, we pray for the whole world,” Trabelsi said.
Beginning on the holiday of Lag B’Omer, 33 days after the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, the pilgrimage usually attracts huge numbers of Jewish worshippers from across the world.
“We are very happy to be able to say our prayers,” said Elizabeth, an elderly lady from Paris, who gave only her first name.
“There are no festivities this year but it does not matter, we come for prayer. Last year it was impossible.”
Tunisia, with a population of some 12 million people, has recorded over 300,000 cases of Covid-19, including 10,304 deaths.
Tunisian Jews now number around 1,500, compared with an estimated 100,000 living in the North African country when it gained independence in 1956.