Security concerns limit Jewish pilgrimage in Tunisia

The annual Jewish pilgrimage on Tunisia’s island of Djerba will be limited amid security concerns sparked by the war in Gaza and a deadly attack last year, organisers said Friday.

The pilgrimage to the Ghriba synagogue, Africa’s oldest, usually involves days-long festivities in the presence of thousands of pilgrims.

But this year’s pilgrimage on the resort island, set for May 24 to 26, is expected to draw fewer visitors amid the backdrop of the Gaza war and last year’s attack in which five people were killed.

“The pilgrimage is not cancelled,” an organiser told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

But “everything will take place inside the synagogue”.

The organiser said the pilgrimage will be limited to prayers inside the temple and the lighting of candles.

“Given the current international context, security will also be tightened after what happened last year,” the organiser added.

Last May 9, a policeman shot dead three police officers and two pilgrims during the festival that resumed in 2022 after a two-year suspension because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s pilgrimage will not include activities such as the open-air parade carrying the synagogue’s menorah, the candelabra considered a symbol of Judaism.

Organisers say more than 5,000 people, mostly from abroad, joined last year’s pilgrimage. Up to 8,000 pilgrims attended in previous years.

The Ghriba pilgrimage also saw a suicide-bombing in 2002 that killed 21 people and was claimed by Al-Qaeda.

The pilgrimage is at the heart of Jewish tradition in Tunisia, where only about 1,500 members of the faith still live — mainly on Djerba.

Before independence in 1956, more than 100,000 Jews lived in the North African country.

The pilgrimage marks the Lag BaOmer festival, which begins 33 days after the start of the Jewish Passover.

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