Joining the Djerba pilgrimage

Joining the Djerba pilgrimage

Natasha Blair joins Tunisian Jews from around the world who have descended on the island of Djerba for the annual La Ghriba Pilgrimage, which this year was attended by Tunisian Prime Minister Yousef Chahed.

Ghriba Shul on the island of Djerba
Ghriba Shul on the island of Djerba

The Ministry of Tourism expected over 5,000 people to attend but the reality was less.

The pilgrimage takes place on the 33rd day of the Omer, the days between Passover and Shavuot.

Top security was in place including armed guards and overhead helicopters for the opening, which was attended by high-ranking Jewish notaries including the Tunisian Prime Minister Yousef Chahed and the French Ambassador to Tunisia.

High profile Jewish figures included Rabbi Raphael Cohen from Safed, Israel, Rabbi Israel Elia from London’s Lauderdale Road, and Rabbi Moshe Sebbag from La Victoire in Paris, and showing solidarity Hassan Imam de Drancy also from France.

The highlight of the two-day event is the auction of silver rimonim used to adorn Sephardic Torah cases, to raise money for the up-keep of the Djerbian Jewish community.

Held in the hostel adjacent to the synagogue the proceedings are orchestrated by Master of ceremonies, French restaurateur Marco Zagdovd accompanied by musicians, and singers.

One of the participants on the pilgrimage in Tunisia

Sandrine Assous from Paris was holding a bouquet of flowers intertwined with silk scarves, donated by those in the gathering, attached to a rimonim.

She explained that people make the pilgrimage as wishes made there come true.

On this occasion her uncle had bid for the rimonim she was holding, and had eventually paid 2,000 dinars so that her wish of making a good marriage would come true.

Shacharit morning prayers in Djerba Tunisia

Part of the ritual was also that she had the honour of placing her rimonim on the menar, a candelabra covered with silk scarves which later in the proceedings was carried out with other rimonim into the alley for everyone to see.

When I told Sandrine that I had yet to meet my life partner, she immediately took me by the hand and led me to a seller of hard-boiled eggs.

I was obliged to buy an egg, and then write my name and wish on it. We then went into the synagogue said to have stones incorporated into its construction from the Temple of Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 586 BC.

The egg had to be placed in what was called the ‘grotto’, a deep cupboard under the Sefar Torah. I had to crawl in, and place my egg on the hundreds of other eggs already there. Will it work?

Time will tell.

The good news is that over the course of the event many thousands of dinars, the Tunisian currency, were collected to support the synagogue, and the two Jewish communities that still remain on the island.



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