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.
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.