Libyan Jewish exile David Gerbi returned from his long years in Italy this month believing the time had come to restore Jewish life in Tripoli.
He discovered just how wrong that assumption was, however, during an exchange with the country's new rulers, representatives of the National Transitional Council (NTC).
Gerbi, who fled to Italy with his family in 1967, went Monday to clean garbage from the main synagogue in the capital city, but was blocked from doing so.
He he was surprised by the move, he told the Associated Press, because he had been given permission to access the building from the local sheikh.
Nevertheless, men at the scene told him they had been warned that Gerbi would be attacked if he tried to clean the synagogue or restore it in any way.
Breaking down in tears, the bitterly disappointed Libyan exile told AP that the men told him to stop his efforts. He commented that Libya needs to decide whether it will be a “racist” country, or a “democratic” one.
Gerbi's colleague, Richard Peters, added that several men armed with assault rifles later were seen guarding the synagogue.
Prior to the 41-year reign of deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya was home to a number of ancient synagogues, all of which are now gone, and some of which were transformed into mosques.
Tripoli's Jewish cemetery, which spanned 130 acres, was buried under a complex of buildings, complete with a network of roads. The gravestones were crushed and tossed into the sea, according to Jewish refugees who fled the country.
During the revolution, Meir Kahlon, head of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, sent a letter to Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, offering assistance and support. The organization, comprised of some 200,000 former refugees – most of whom live now in Israel -- also named David Gerbi as its envoy to the soon-to-be-born new government.
A Jungian psychologist who was born in Tripoli, Gerbi had traveled a number of times back to Libya over the past 10 years. He was the first Libyan Jew to proclaim his support for the rebel forces.
Italian diplomats in the rebel capital of Benghazi said at the time that the letter, sent in July, had been well received.
However, Gerbi was asked not to travel again to Libya “until the revolution ended.”