200 attend traditional Jewish procession in Tunisian island

(JTA) — Approximately 200 Jews participated in a traditional festive procession near the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

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The march on Friday — which each year on Lag b’Omer draws Jewish pilgrims from around the world — was preceded by an auction of artifacts and ornaments arranged by the community, which brought in about $1,300, the France24 television news channel reported. After the march, the organizers played the national anthem of Tunisia — a country run by an Islamist government.

In total some 500 jews visited Djerba over the weekend, according to the news site Djerba Salon.

“Tunisia would like to follow Morocco’s footsteps and do more to develop its Jewish heritage sites but right now there are more immediate challenges,” Tunisian lawmaker Fatma Gharbi Mamoghli told JTA. 

She was one of several Muslim politicians and spiritual leaders who last week participated at the Kyiv Interfaith Forum – an annual gathering of representatives from 30 countries for the promotion of tolerance organized by Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian-Jewish philanthropist and lawmaker. 

Mamoghli said Tunisia’s government deployed “substantial forces” on and around the southern island to provide security for the Jewish pilgrims and for members of the local Jewish community of approximately 2,000. 

“Unfortunately, we have seen it is necessary,” Mamoghli said in reference to the 2002 bombing near the synagogue — which several intelligence agencies attributed to al Qaeda terrorists. Twenty-one people were killed in the explosion on April 11 that year.

Although the current building dates from the 19th century, El Ghriba is sometimes cited as North Africa’s oldest synagogue, according to Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, with tradition tracing its origins to exiles fleeing the destruction of the first Temple of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

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