Hundreds of people, many from outside Tunisia, gathered on the island of Djerba last week to celebrate the Lag B’Omer festival at the ancient Ghriba synagogue.
For the first time in more than 30 years, Lag B’Omer, which starts 33 days after the beginning of Pesach, coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And to mark the unique clash, Jews joined Muslims in an Iftar — a meal marking the end of fasting during Ramadan.
For several years the Djerba Lag B’Omer event has been organised by Rene Trabelsi — but this year is special, because Mr Trabelsi is now the Tunisian tourism minister, the first Jewish cabinet minister in decades. His appointment meant that other government ministers attended the celebrations, too.
One of the French participants, Laura Tuil-Journo, told the Times of Israel that the festival was packed this year because of confidence in Mr Trabelsi. She noted that it was not so easy to organise celebrations while Muslims were fasting, but added: “They are tired, but we are as welcome as usual”.
Tunisia has had a rough time in recent years because of terrorism. A 2002 suicide bombing at the synagogue, , claimed by Al-Qaeda, killed 21 people.
In 2015, there were terror attacks on a museum and a tourist resort which left dozens dead, including 59 foreigners, many from the UK.
Djerba used to attract more than 80,000 visitors for Lag B’Omer but the numbers dropped dramatically. Nevertheless, this year more than 5,000 people, including a large number of Israelis, arrived in Djerba and visited the synagogue, believed to have been founded in 586 BCE by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.