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. . . .