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
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
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