Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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1 Sivan 5765 - June 8, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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4,000 Jews at Lag BaOmer Events in Djerba

By S. Fried

A charter plane brought Israeli Jews on the first direct flight from Israel to Tunisia, where they participated in Lag BaOmer events in Djerba and then continued on a 10-day "journey to their roots." The travel agency that organized the trip rented ten hotels on the island and kashered them for the large group.

A total of 4,000 Jews originally from Tunisia traveled to Djerba—1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Jews now living in other parts of North Africa, France, the US and other countries.

For decades Israelis were barred from traveling to Tunisia. Other Jews, however, visited Tunisia every year until the 2002 bombing by al Qaeda, which claimed the lives of 14 non- Jewish tourists from Germany as well as of local security guards. Apparently due to the relative calm in Israel this year, Jews started going back to Djerba.

Lag BaOmer events are held annually at Beit Knesset Al- Gariba, situated between two cities that were inhabited only by Jews for many years. One town was home to only Kohanim and the other only to Yisroelim, but over the years the two intermingled. No Levi'im resided in Djerba. According to the local tradition any Levi there did not live out the year due to a curse by Ezra Hasofer.

Djerba had many lomdei Torah and notable talmidei chachomim. All of the Jews on the island kept Torah and mitzvos. While the secular education introduced by Kol Yisrael Chaverim (Alliance Israelite Universelle) and other organizations devastated North African Jewry it was unable to gain any foothold in Djerba. Djerba also had a Hebrew printing house.

According to an article published in 5724 (1964) in Machanayim by Professor L.Y. Rabinovitz, who researched Jewish tradition in Djerba, these events on Lag BaOmer have no foundation. He says during a visit to the island he observed that only the masses took part in the events, but not the talmidei chachomim.

The beis knesses itself was built in the 19th century on the foundations of a very old beis knesses from the period following the destruction of the First Temple or the Second Temple according to the local tradition. It has two rooms and in the inner room is an aron kodesh containing 60 sifrei Torah. Beside it was a building that served as a lodge for visitors.

Most of the Jews of Djerba, like other Tunisian Jews, made aliya after the founding of the State of Israel. Today 2,000 Jews live in Tunisia, half in Djerba. Twelve botei knesses are active on the island and there is one kosher butcher shop. Eight hundred Jews live in the capital city of Tunis.


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