Reviving an Ancient Tunisian Jewish Pilgrimage

Much like their ḥasidic coreligionists in Eastern Europe, many North African Jews developed a custom of making annual pilgrimages to sites associated with particular saints. In Tunisia, one such site is a synagogue on the island of Djerba, located—according to legend—where the house of a righteous woman named Ghriba, for whom the pilgrimage is named, once lived. The overwhelming majority of Tunisian Jews left the country in the 1950s and 60s, fleeing intensifying and often violent anti-Semitism, but many still return to Djerba for the annual pilgrimage. Daniel Lee writes:

[I]n recent years, the number of people attending the Ghriba—which used to attract 10,000 pilgrims in its heyday in the early 1990s, has plummeted, partly because of the threat of terrorism. Due to its proximity to the Libyan border, the event was largely canceled in 2011. Since then, the event has attracted only the most loyal visitors, usually between 2,000-3,000 people. But in 2019, an estimated 6,000-7,000 people attended the event on May 22-23, due in part to a concerted marketing campaign by the Tunisian government and its Jewish minister for tourism.

In November 2018, in an attempt to reverse the country’s economic decline, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed appointed René Trabelsi, a successful local tour operator, as the country’s minister of tourism. The appointment of Trabelsi, an Orthodox  Jew, wasn’t met with enthusiasm from all sections of Tunisian society. Demonstrations took place in Tunis in the days that followed, accusing Trabelsi, the country’s first Jewish minister in more than 60 years, and the only Jewish minister in the Arab world, of wanting to normalize relations between Tunisia and Israel. . . .

For the time being at least, Trabelsi appears to have weathered this early criticism by orchestrating a highly successful 2019 Ghriba, reminiscent of the festivities that took place in the 1990s. He has set a target for 20,000 to attend in the future. . . . A large number of Tunisian Muslims also attend the event. . . .

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Read more at The Conversation

More about: Mizrahim, Muslim-Jewish relations, Pilgrimage, Tunisia

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology