My first ever visit to a Synagogue was in Djerba, Tunisia in July 2014.
I was loosely dating Aaron at the time, and I remember telling him about it, but the visit was no more than a stop as a tourist at the time. I was working in Tunisia, and Djerba had come highly recommended as a destination for a long weekend.
Djerba is an island off the coast of Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea, where a viable Jewish community still exists. We took a short flight down to Djerba, and we stayed at the cutest bed & breakfast called Dar Bibine. The B&B was in the traditional and unique architectural style of Djerba- white walls with domes on top, which I suppose has some cooling effect!! The B&B was so cute, and the owners were incredibly kind.
El Ghriba Synagogue was the first stop as Djerba is known for its long history of Jewish community, and “the last Arab Jews.” As other Tunisian Jews moved away to Israel and France for fear of persecution, the Jews of Djerba stayed. Today, the island’s Jews number roughly 1,000, local leaders estimate.
After a crappy metal detector and ID check, we strolled into the Synagogue. El Ghriba had blue frames and decorative tiles in Moorish style, with Hebrew words that I could not read at the time. We had to take off our shoes, but I could walk in with my hat and a sun dress. You can see how pretty and ornate the interior is below. I definitely have not found a Synagogue as pretty as this one in New York City!
Historically, the Synagogue is the destination of an annual pilgrimage of many Tunisian Jews for the holiday of Lag BaOmer, which takes place 33 days after the beginning of the celebration of Passover. However, since a terrorist attack in 2002 by Al Queda and the recent Arab Spring, the number of people visiting El Ghriba for the annual festival has decreased.
The second stop was the Mosque in town. I could not enter the Mosque because I am not a Muslim, but could snap a photo to capture the moment. Again, white walls and domes- I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie!
After spending some time visiting the market (souq), it was hot and sunny out and we made our last stop… Hint: Djerba is in the Mediterranean….
Dipping in the ocean was in order! The ocean was shallow miles out from the shore and we hung out for hours under the sun. No burka needed here, bikinis allowed!