26 April 2013 4:49 pm | | 12

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El Ghriba synagogue decorated for the annual pilgrimage. Photo credit: Farah Samti.

Hundreds of Jews from Tunisia and abroad began the annual pilgrimage to El Ghriba today.

“The mood is festive. We felt that a lot of people came this year,” said Rene Trabelsi, the organizer of the pilgrimage to the island of Djerba. “We hope to promote the image of Tunisia as a land of tolerance.”

The pilgrimage marks the end of the Passover holiday and takes place at El Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa. Trabelsi said around 1,500 pilgrims joined in the festivities this year.

The pilgrims were joined by numerous representatives of national and international media outlets, demonstrating the strong interest in this unique minority community.

Members of the media snap pictures at the synagogue. Photo credit: Farah Samti

In the morning, pilgrims visited the prayer room of the synagogue where they read from the Torah. Later on, they gathered in another room in the synagogue, “Oukala,” where a party took place. Adults and children danced and sang as a band played traditional Tunisian music.

Afterward, an auction was held, during which objects of religious value were sold that would later be used to decorate the grand menorah carried in the annual procession.

While the festivities usually last for two days, this year the second day coincides with the Sabbath, and the celebration will thus resume on Sunday.

The pilgrimage is being conducted under the watchful eye of security forces. Police set up several checkpoints on the road from the airport to ensure the safety of visitors to the synagogue.

In 2002, 21 people — foreigners and Tunisians — were killed during an attack on El Ghriba.

Farah Samti contributed reporting.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Nabil says:

    Well said Patrick

  2. Nabil says:

    Wow…. Some of you are comparing apples and oranges. I’m a Tunisian moslem who grew up side by side with Jews and Christians in harmony and respect for each other, and the only difference is the religious believe. Don’t mix us with the problem in the middle- east. I believe in tolerance and respect for all.
    BTW: Tunisian Jews are more Tunisian than any one of us.

  3. Mohamed Benamor says:

    Do not forget “El Kahena” was a Tunisian jewish hero who fought the Arab invasion and stopped them at Kairouan.
    Tunisia was a jewish at first then Christian then Moslems.
    The palestinians sold their land to the jews and now they wnat it back. Actually the Jews modernized and built the area, and giving lobs to the Plestinians, tell me what did the Arabs do but destroy the area and call fo “Jihad”.

  4. L says:

    Please kindly note that the pilgrimage to Djerba marks the Jewish holiday Lag BaOmer, NOT “the end of Passover”

  5. Muslimah says:

    The irony: An Arab/ Muslim country like Tunisia has always respected other faiths living in their lands. As for the Zionist Israeli Apartheid state, respect for people practicing other religions already there, would never happen. Why? Because Jews think they are the CHOSEN people and they can kick out Muslims, Christians and anti-Zionist Jews. I am sure that during this event, Jews form Israel came with little security issues and celebrating and welcomed in Tunisia. In Israel, the reverse is true.

    As for a Muslim/ Arab Tunisian, they would NEVER be let in to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque for an Muslim Holiday or Ramadan. NEVER.


    Really, Jews should respect and thank Allah that the Muslims/ Arabs have been hospitable towards then since Islam started.

    • Publicola says:

      @ Muslimah – your contribution-commment
      on the degree of religious freedom in Israel
      necessitates some corrective modification
      on the basis of publicly verifiable information:

      1 - Al-Aqsa-Mosque:
      Muslim residents of Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are normally allowed to enter and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque without restrictions. Israel occasionally prevents certain groups of Muslims from reaching al-Aqsa; the restrictions vary from time to time. At times restrictions have prevented all men under 50 and women under 45 from entering, but married men over 45 are allowed. Sometimes the restrictions are enforced on the occasion of Friday prayers, other times they are over an extended period of time. Restrictions are most severe for Gazans, followed by restrictions on those from West Bank.
      Israel states that the restrictions are in place for security reasons.

      quoted from: wikipedia – ‘Al-Aqsa Mosque’

      2 - religious freedom
      … freedom of religion is anchored in law. While the Basic Laws of Israel … define the country as a “Jewish state,” these Basic Laws, coupled with Knesset statutes, decisions of the Supreme Court of Israel, and various elements of the common law current in Israel, also protect free practice of religion in the country.
      Legal accommodation of the non-Jewish communities follows the pattern and practice of the Ottoman and British administrations with some important modifications.
      Israeli law officially recognizes five religions, all belonging to the Abrahamic family of religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Druzeism and the Bahá’í Faith.
      Furthermore, the law formally recognizes ten separate sects of Christianity: the Roman, Armenian, Maronite, Greek, Syriac, and Chaldean Catholic Churches; the Eastern Orthodox Greek Orthodox Church; the Oriental Orthodox Syriac Orthodox Church; the Armenian Apostolic Church; and Anglicanism.
      Members of unrecognized religions are free to practice their religion.


    • maria says:

      Muslimah I wish your comment was true because it would mean that there was respect between the so called religions…..The jews have been living in Tunisia for many many years and really should expect to be able to practice in peace. Some of them have even resisted the call of the Israeli government to leave.

      however they have not been left in peace. Remember the bombing in 2002 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghriba_synagogue_bombing. that was horrible and it caused the loss to Tunisia of many tourists that help fund the economies surrounding the resort places.

      Look at this present government it has yet to state how other religions are going to fit into the new tunisia. I am sure you saw the article where people are being quizzed on the Koran before getting a security job….no there is no real hospitality.

      You say’ Arabs have been hospitable towards then since Islam started’. Islam is not a religion full of warm fuzzies and kindness towards those who do not follow Allah. What you say is not true Muslims are taught through the Koran that:

      Verse 7:176 compares unbelievers to “panting dogs” with regard to their idiocy and worthlessness. Verse 7:179 says they are like “cattle” only worse.

      Verse 5:60 even says that Allah transformed Jews of the past into apes and pigs. This is echoed by verses 7:166 and 2:65.

      Jews are also cursed by Allah (5:13), in one of his final pronouncements. The Quran goes on to assure Muslims that Jews are wicked (4:160-162) – so wicked, in fact, that they have somehow managed to do the impossible (18:27) and alter the word of Allah (2:75). Jews are “fond of lies” and “devour the forbidden” (5:42).

      In reality the truth is that there is dislike, misunderstanding, and manipulation on both sides. In the middle there are those that practice and among them there are some nice people who are people first and religious second.

      Please do not think that I am supporting Israel I am only trying to put some balance into what you say is the truth. So many people make statements that just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Tunisia is a lovely country but its in no way clean, just like many other countries in fact.

    • Mohamed Benamor says:

      Mrs Muslimah you are wrong about the events, the Palestinians have been attacking the Jews all the time, suicide bombing, the jews actually are giving jobs to the Palestinians, you know who built the walls of separation? it was the Palestinians labor.
      The Arabs ever gave jobs and/or help to other Arabs?
      The Saudis and Qataris still have poor people in their own countries.

  6. Publicola says:

    Tunisia could take a huge and decisive step forward in pacifying and in the long run avoiding or expelling more or less religious-based conflicts by introducing and insisting upon a clear-cut separation of state and religion in its constitution.

  7. Patrick Batchelder says:

    We are all humans, no matter what we believe. That should be respected in any country that hopes to respect God and Allah.

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