Djerba's Ghriba synagogue pilgrimage subdued amid heightened security

Due to the Gaza conflict, the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Tunisia's Ghriba synagogue is scaled back to basic religious rituals, with heightened security and no festive processions; The synagogue, a historic site, now restricts entry to Jewish pilgrims only

The Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue in Djerba in Tunisia began on Friday but the ceremonies were reduced to the strict minimum this year amid security concerns fueled by the war in Gaza.
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Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba
Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba
Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba
(Photo: Reuters)
Usually, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, particularly from Europe and the United States, flock to the Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in Africa, to participate in three days of festivities marked by several processions.
But this year, the organizers voluntarily limited the ceremonies to religious rituals (prayers and placing candles), without a festive procession outside.
Friday morning, plainclothes police officers and National Guard gendarmes prevented AFP journalists and other visitors from accessing the synagogue. “No one can enter, except for Jewish pilgrims,” a National Guard agent told AFP.
The Ghriba pilgrimage also marks the start of the tourist season in Tunisia, of which the island of Djerba, known for its beaches and luxury hotels, is considered a mecca.
The pilgrimage, which in some years brings together up to 8,000 people, is normally marked by a very festive and colorful procession behind a large menorah, the Jewish candelabra, mounted on three wheels and decorated with fabrics.
Organizers did not release the number of pilgrims who have already arrived for the limited ceremonies scheduled through Sunday.
In announcing the restrictions, an organizer also announced reinforced security measures "because of the context (the war between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas in Gaza, editor's note) and also after what happened last year last".
Tunisia is a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and its President Kais Saied has denounced an ongoing "genocide" in the Gaza Strip.
During the pilgrimage in May 2023, two faithful and three gendarmes were killed in front of the synagogue in an attack carried out by another gendarme.
The Ghriba synagogue - whose construction dates back to the 6th century BC - was targeted in 2002 by a suicide truck bomb which left 21 dead.
Before independence in 1956, Tunisia had more than 100,000 Jews, a community that had fallen to around 1,500 members.
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