Djerba, island of dreams with a long Jewish history

Ethel Hofman in The Jewish Exponent finds Djerba, with its 2,000-year old Jewish history, an ideal tourist destination:

“According to our taxi driver — dressed in the traditional long, loose, black tunic — we were one of the fortunates to visit “the island of dreams.” Driving past centuries-old olive groves, golden beaches, whitewashed fortress-like architecture and domed mosques, all made brighter by the Mediterranean sun, we were entranced.

“Although the island has been changed by tourism, fishing methods have not changed since the days of the Phoenicians. In villages, you can see the huge, unglazed, terra cotta pots belonging to local fisherman, who still use the ancient technique called gargoulette to catch octopus.

“Then, of course, there’s modern luxury. Hotels where marble lobbies are the backdrop for gentle flowing fountains so that you feel you’ve been whisked into the Arabian nights. At the Khartagi Hotel, our suite filled with sunshine and the scent of jasmine, overlooked an Olympic-sized pool lined with yellow umbrellas and the sparkling Mediterranean.

“But we were drawn to Djerba by the thriving, ancient Jewish community. The site of El Ghriba synagogue, in the village of Hara Srira, is said to go back either to 586 B.C. or from the Roman conquest in A.D. 71, making it the oldest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. The present building was constructed in the early 20th century, with additions made during more recent years.

“Certain historians are convinced that many Djerba Jews are descended from some of the Berbers — Tunisia’s oldest inhabitants, who converted to Judaism. The Jews of Djerba fervently believe that a stone from the altar of the destroyed First Temple in Jerusalem was brought to Djerba by a group of Cohanim (or priests), and now lies under one of the arches of El Ghriba.

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