Dr David Gerbi has failed to restore the Dar al-Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, but he should not have worried unduly. Diarna, a project to digitise the neglected and abandoned Jewish sites of the Middle East and North Africa, has ridden to the rescue, with a virtual reconstruction (with thanks: Gina) :
Media reports abound about the efforts of Dr. David Gerbi to restore the dilapidated Dar Bishi Synagogue, a former fixture of Tripoli’s Hara Kebira (old Jewish Quarter). Gerbi, a Libyan Jew who has lived in exile since 1967, returned to his ancestral home this past spring. Remaining after the fall of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, he single-handedly re-opened Dar Bishi for prayer—his own, as the last member of the disbanded indigenous Jewish community died in 2003—and began restoring the synagogue by clearing decades of accumulated debris.
The work was abruptly put on indefinite hold on October 8th, Yom Kippur, when hundreds of protesters gathered in Tripoli and Bengazi to assert “There is no place for the Jews in Libya.” Gerbi was prevailed upon to leave the country after protesters attempted to storm his hotel and disagreements arose with the provisional government about whether he had received the proper authorizations.
While there is no telling when he might be able to return or if the synagogue will ever be restored, Diarna has created a digital reconstruction of Dar Bishi and a video tour featuring our 3-D model intermixed with archival and contemporary photographs.
This incident is a brusque reminder of the precariousness of physical preservation. Political and inter-religious strife too often render historic Jewish sites inaccessible to visit, no less preserve, in perpetuity. Diarna‘s digital preservation work may be the only way to ensure untrammeled virtual access to forgotten and endangered Middle Eastern Jewish sites (schools, cemeteries, synagogues, shrines).