Al-Ghriba pilgrimage passes without incident

An annual Jewish pilgrimage to
Africa’s oldest synagogue got underway in Tunisia amid heavy security deployed to ward off potential jihadist attacks. The pilgrimage on Lag BaOmer passed off without incident. The Daily Mail reports:

 A pilgrim at the Al-Ghriba synagogue (Photo: Fethi Belaid AFP)

Small
groups of pilgrims including families with children began arriving in
the searing heat at the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba in
southern Tunisia for the Lag BaOmer festival.

Organisers
expect up to 2,000 people to visit over two days, despite heightened
worries about security following a string of jihadist attacks in the
North African country.

Police and soldiers were out in
force while a helicopter flew overhead. The island’s Jewish district
Hara Kbira was cordoned off and visitors were required to undergo
searches.

The number of
pilgrims visiting the synagogue has fallen sharply since a suicide
bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda struck Ghriba just before the 2002
pilgrimage, killing 21 people.

Before then the event attracted as many as 8, 000 people.

Believed
to have been founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the
Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the Ghriba synagogue has long been a
destination for pilgrims, especially for Jews of Tunisian descent.

Around
1, 500 Jews live in Tunisia, down sharply from an estimated 100, 000
before the country won independence from France in 1956.

Pilgrims visit the tombs of famous rabbis, pray, light candles and write wishes on eggs.
As usual, many pilgrims prayed for the health or careers of their relatives.

wife was seriously ill and, with the grace of God, the year after
visiting Ghriba there was a great improvement,” said French pilgrim
David Slama.

 Perez Trabelsi, Djerba Jewish community leader and businessman prays in the synagogue (Fethi Belaid AFP)

 

Faced
with extremism, it is “our duty to tell everyone that we have to pass
on a message of love, peace and respect for others,” said religious
affairs minister Mohamed Khalil in Djerba.

His tourism counterpart Selma Elloumi Rekik said it was important for Tunisia to hold the pilgrimage.

“You
came here for this festive occasion and you confirm that Tunisia will
remain a land of friendship and joy despite the challenges of violence
and hatred,” she said.

Traditionally
participants have come from Europe, the United States and Israel, but
the number of foreigners attending has diminished considerably since the
2002 bombing.

Tunisia’s
tourism industry is also reeling from attacks last year claimed by the
Islamic State group on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis and a beach
resort that killed a total of 60 people, all but one of them foreigners.

Israel this month advised its citizens to avoid visiting the country because of a “high threat level against Jewish targets”.

Last year’s Lag BaOmer passed without incident, despite a similar warning from Israel.

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