Daily Israel Report

First Time in Centuries: A Quiet Lag B'Omer in Djerba

Lag B'Omer celebrations were quiet for the first time this year in Djerba, where security precautions took precedence over simcha (joy).
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 5/22/2011, 3:36 PM / Last Update: 5/22/2011, 3:46 PM

Lag B'Omer celebrations were quiet for the first time this year in the Tunisian island of Djerba, where security precautions took precedence over simcha (joy).

Organizers were asked by the government to cancel the traditional events that draw crowds of up to 20,000 tourists and other visitors to the El Ghriba synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship in Africa.

Government officials were deeply concerned about their ability to secure the festival in light of the ongoing unrest in the country against the backdrop of the "Arab Spring" that has swept the region -- and which began in Tunisia in January.

The Jewish community acquiesced to the government's request, and canceled the annual celebration. Fewer than 100 visitors arrived in the community to participate, most of whom were relatives of those who live on the southern island.

A muted pilgrimage was carried out under heavy police protection, participants said, and the synagogue was quiet.

The El Ghriba synagogue, which dates back some 2500 years, allegedly included a stone from the original First Holy Temple when it was built, as the Jews who lived in Djerba were descendants of the original expellees in the first Diaspora from the Land of Israel.