New Life For Ancient Pilgrimage


In Arabic, the name al ghriba means the strange one or the marvelous one, but the Al Ghriba Synagogue meant death for 21 people four years ago. The synagogue on Djerba, a southern Tunisian island, was the site of an al Qaeda terrorist attack in April 2002, and Jewish pilgrims who had come for centuries for a two-day Lag B’Omer celebration stopped coming.

Tuesday was Lag B’Omer, and the pilgrims came back.

Thousands of Jews, mostly Israeli, mostly Sephardi, joined the annual event. The focus was the Al Ghriba Synagogue, where Rabbi Frazi Mazouz, above, reads a prayer book. In the synagogue, a shrine that supposedly contains a stone from the First Temple in Jerusalem, is filled with eggs by women as an omen for fertility. Outside, a towering wooden monument is wheeled through the streets.

The Djerba pilgrimage is one of the few conducted by Jews in an Arab or Muslim country.

"I’m happy to be in my country for the third successive year," said Hayem Houri, now an Israeli, calling the pilgrimage an "opportunity to fraternize among Jews, Muslims and Christians."

The Tunisian government encourages the festival, and provides security personnel.

Djerba has a dwindling Jewish community, which supports the El-Hara school.

The 2002 terrorist attack was not forgotten. Two weeks ago Spain’s National Court sentenced two men, a Spaniard and a Pakistani, to five-year sentences for collaborating in the bombing.