Hiding on Djerba


El Ghriba synagogue

Well, things must be getting a little uncomfortable in Tripoli, what with the constant NATO bombings and unrelenting efforts of the rebels to overthrow the government; uncomfortable enough for some to flee, yesterday it was the oil minster.  Today, it is being reported than the wife and daughter of Muammar Qaddafi have left the country, too.  They are said to be in Tunisia, on the Isle of Djerba.

Djerba is quiet island off the coast of Tunisia; I spent a week there once, it is a lovely place, painted blue and white like the sea and sky that surround it.  120,000 people live there, it is has its own sect of Islam (Lbadi), a sect of Maltese Roman Catholics  and a small community of Jews (Cohens) ; the Jewish community is 2500 years old and the current attorney general of Israel was born there. Djerba is also the home to El Ghariba synagogue; the synagogue is about 2,000 years old, the oldest synagogue in Africa.  Although in 2002, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a bombing where 14 people, most foreign tourists were killed, it was not destroyed and the Jews remained as they have for centuries.

The Jews still living on Djerba decided this week not to celebrate its annual anniversary, an event that typically draws people from around the world, because of the tense situation in Tunisia.  They said they did not feel right celebrating when their Arab neighbors were suffering through such uncertain times.   Djerba is an island in more sense than just geographically, it is an island politically as well; it is a place where even the wives and children of dictators can feel as safe as a synagogue or a church.  That is true irony, an island in the heart of Islam, in the heart of the Arab Spring and in the heart of Judaism is a safe haven from both the Arab Spring and the oppression of the Arab Winter.

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