Annual Pilgrimage in Djerba Island brings together Jews and Muslims
Tunis – On May 6 and 7 and June 6 and 7, 2015, Djerba sent Tunisians a message of peace and tolerance, characteristics that have long distinguished this historic island.
“In 2015, the world became more unsecure. And Tunisia has been greatly affected by the wave of terrorism from both inside and outside the country. We want to fight terrorism together. Todaywe must beunited and tolerant to deal with the terrorist threat,” Perez Trabelsi, President of the Ghriba synagogue, told us.
United Colors of religions
On June 6 and 7, Djerba hosted the second “Djerba, a land of peace and tolerance” event, which was organized by the “Djerba Ulysse” association. On the shores of the sea, Muslims and Jews formed a long humanchain, and hand in hand they sung about peace and tolerance.
This multicultural mosaic allowed exchange in a very festive atmosphere.The participants also celebrated the start of the summerseason.
One month before, on May 6 and 7,Jews from Tunisia and all over the world have returned their annual tradition: the hiloula (pilgrimage) to Ghriba, an old synagogue that was decorated 17 dayslater, during the feast of Shavuot.
The manager in charge of the Ghriba synagogue, KhudirHania, described for us the rituals performed during this pilgrimage. The pilgrims light candles, do processions, and make donations. The presence of women becomes much more important on this occasion :women meditate in the cave tour, reserved for them to deposit eggs as a ritual to express wishes.
The Jews were not the only ones to go to Djerba to experience this festive atmosphere. Imam Hassen Chalghoumi and the Tunisian Minister of Religious Affairs were also among the religious personalities who went to the Ghriba. This cultural heritage has become the center of many issues: place and space, worship and culture, religion and spirituality, and tourism and arts. For the Minister of Tourism, Salma Balloumi, the pilgrimage to the Ghriba marks a very strong moment of spirituality and brings Tunisians of all faiths together.
However, like the controversy of last year,which was triggered by former Minister of Tourism Amal Karboul’s visit to the Ghriba, this year Tunisian actress Mariem Ben Hassine and Houssine Jaziri (Ennahda) were targeted. Following their “participation” in the pilgrimage, some journalists and media directors took the role of a lawyer or a judge: “Today we saw Houcine Jaziri squarely attending the pilgrimage of the Ghriba. Not only he was with Jews, but he was also surrounded by dozens of Israelis and Zionists.” On the Mosaiquesfm website, itreads: “Ben Hassine [attended it because she] will play the role of a Jewish during a Ramadan movie, which led her to go there to know closely the Jewish traditions to be able to appropriate their character. For her, the synagogue of Ghriba is primarily a touristic and cultural site, ensuring that its history is not limited to the religious side.”
“Following the publication of my pictures on Internet, many have begun to issue judgments that emanate from a great ignorance. Every year Muslims participate in the festivities on the occasion of the Jewish pilgrimage to Djerba. Several Tunisian officials attended the event. I participated in the usual ritual that has nothing to do with religion. My visit to Djerba is part of an art project in preparation, but also by curiosity to discoverthis place. In addition to that, we had a message that Tunisia is a tolerant country, ” actress Mariem Ben Hassine said.
A highly protected pilgrimage
This place has also become a shared heritage and crossroads of different religions. Any visitor to the island will, apart from religious issues, go to the discovery of the Ghriba, which is heavily protected by police. This synagogue is also visited by couples during their honeymoons.Tunisia’s Chief Rabbi, Haim Bitan, said, “Every year we make this pilgrimage in peace and security. From this sacred place, a symbol of tolerance and coexistence between Jews and Muslims, I call on all Tunisians to contribute to the security of the country. For the first time in our history, we made free elections. Today, we must seek stability.”
The attack on March 18 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 22 people was the worst terrorist attack in Tunisia since the attack against the Ghriba on April 11, 2002.
During this year’s event, Israel warned against a “concrete threat” of anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli attacks in Tunisia, according to a statement from the counterterrorism office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hundreds of visitors flocked to the Ghriba this year. During Ben Ali’s presidency, there were thousands.
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