The village of Hara Sghira in Djerba, an island off the coast of southern Tunisia will welcome Jewish visitors between 11 and 17 May 2017 to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday during a week of rituals as the village is home to the Ghriba synagogue which is believed to be the oldest Jewish temple in Africa.
Displaying intricate tile walls bearing blue and yellow geometric shapes El Ghriba is the most famous and venerated of the twenty synagogues and prayer houses dotting the three Jewish villages on Djerba. Its surrounding streets include a kosher butcher, a bakery that sells a traditional tuna-filled pastry known as “brik” and schools that teach lessons in Hebrew, French and Arabic.
According to local tradition, the first Jews settled on Djerba in the wake of Solomon Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem 586 BC. In the millennia that followed the original settlement, waves of Jewish immigrants from around the Mediterranean flocked to it as a haven from persecution. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a Jewish community that existed in surprising harmony with its local Muslim neighbours. Whilst most of this community has since then moved to Israel, Djerba is still home to some 1,500 Jews.
The pilgrimage includes a visit to the synagogue, alms giving, prayers and a procession where participants carry the menorah, a large pyramidal lamp mounted on three wheels. The chandelier is decorated with symbols representing the twelve tribes of Israel, the names of the three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs as well as the names of venerated rabbis of Tunisia. The structure is then topped by a Star of David.
Following another local custom, women hand write the name of unmarried girls on eggs placed in the Ghriba synagogues for the duration of the festival. The eggs are then returned to the unmarried girls who, after eating them, are supposed to find a groom
Tunisia is less than 3 hours flying from the UK with daily flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick airports to Tunis. It is a year-round destination blessed with 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, beautiful landscapes, unspoiled beaches, world-class golf, great food and the Sahara Desert.