Monday, May 30, 2016

Over this past week, there were two major pilgrimages to Jewish shrines in Arab nations.

The most famous one was to  Tunisia, where hundreds of Jews went on an annual visit to the ancient synagogue in Djerba.

It is the top story in The Arab Weekly, a beta site of what is apparently a new English-language newspaper:
More than 2,000 pil­grims gathered at Africa’s oldest syna­gogue on the south­ern Tunisian island of Djerba despite a warning by the Israeli government that the Jewish festival could be targeted by terror­ists.

In an event unique in the Arab world, pilgrims, especially Jews of Tunisian descent from around the world, take part every year in the Lag Ba’omar festival at Djerba’s Ghriba synagogue. Pilgrims pay re­spect at tombs of famous rabbis, make vows, light candles and en­gage in celebrations.

Braving searing heat and secu­rity concerns, pilgrims danced and chanted amid heavy security meas­ures aimed at warding off potential jihadist assaults.

Approximately 1,500 Jews live in Tunisia, down sharply from an esti­mated 100,000 before the country won independence from France in 1956.

“The way Tunisia treats its Jew­ish citizens and all its minorities serves as a strong positive model for the rest of the world,” said Knox Thames, US State Department spe­cial adviser for religious minorities. Thames participated in some parts of the pilgrimage ritual.

The Jewish community of Djerba is said to date back around 2,600 years ago. The Ghriba synagogue was built in 587BC.

The synagogue became the site of an annual pilgrimage of Jews from Tunisia and abroad. Known as the Hiloula, which translates as “cel­ebration”, the event takes place on the holiday of Lag Ba’omer in com­memoration of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, a legal scholar re­puted to have performed miracles.
The event isn't quite unique, because there was another Hiloula festival in Morocco as well for Lag B'Omer. From Morocco World News:
Hundreds of Jewish pilgrims from around the world gathered on Thursday in the city of Ouazzane (north) to celebrate the Hilloula.

On this occasion, a ceremony was organized by the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco in the mausoleum of rabbi Amrane Ben Diwane and was attended by pilgrims from Morocco and abroad.

The ceremony was held in the presence of several Moroccan officials as well as by civilian and military figures.

Aloun Sami, a member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, told MAP that the celebration of this annual religious ceremony showcases the attachment of Moroccan Jews to their homeland, where they enjoy full respect.
There is an element of Tunisia and Morocco bending over backwards to show their support for Jews to the West, but that doesn't mean that their efforts are unappreciated. Indeed, those two countries are anomalous in the Arab world as to how they protect their tiny remaining Jewish communities.

A Moroccan news site had a 10-minute feature on these pilgrimages a couple of years ago, where it gathered over 350,000 views with much debate in the comments between those who support Jews and the (much noisier) blatant antisemites.

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