For the first time in history, the annual pilgrimage thousands of Jews make to the Tunisian island of Djerba will not happen because of the recent revolution in the country as well as border problems with its Libyan neighbor.
According to Roger Bismuth, the Tunisian Jewish community president, the event which usually takes place at the Al-Ghriba synagogue and attracts thousands from around the world was cancelled after a discussion with the government. According to Bismuth, there is a “fight at the Tunisian border with Libya so the situation is not as we like” and “we [just] had a revolution. The situation is not completely quiet yet so we took precautionary measures.”
Bismuth emphasized that the pilgrimage has taken place every year, regardless of the status of relations between Tunisia and Israel and that the cancellation was not linked to politics, but due to concerns regarding the safety of tourists, even though the government usually provides security for the pilgrimage.
In January, Tunisian dictator Zein ‘Abidin Bin Ali was deposed by local demonstrators. That act sparked the spate of revolutions currently in progress across the Arab world. Currently, NATO’s military intervention in Libya has compounded the Tunisian government’s security problems with thousands of Libyan refugees attempting to escape Libyan dictator Mu’ammar Ghaddafi.
The government also faces the tasks of restoring and keeping Islamists from attacking the small 1,500 member Jewish community like they did in 2002, when Al-Qaeda agents detonated a truck outside the oldest synagogue in Africa and killed 21.
So far, the Jewish community has been spared other than isolated incidents involving public insults and the torching of a makeshift synagogue in southern Tunisia.
The Djerba pilgrimage commemorates several different occasions, including the temporary victory of the Jews over the Romans prior to the destruction of the Second Temple and Lag B’Omer, the date the Talmudic-Era Sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away.
Bismuth expressed his optimism, saying the revolution should be over by the year’s end and the pilgrimage will hopefully resume in 2012.