Tunisian Jews cut Lag B'Omer festivities over security fears

By Jennifer Lipman, May 17, 2011
The El Ghriba synagogue

The El Ghriba synagogue

Security concerns have led to the cancellation of the main part of an annual Tunisian Jewish pilgrimage for the first time in 20 years.

Tunisian Jews have long marked Lag B'Omer with a mass visit to the historic El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba.

But after months of political instability and rising anti-Jewish sentiment, including a protest in Tunis in February at which demonstrators reportedly called for death to Jews, communal leaders said the event would occur in a significantly reduced way.

Visitors will still be able to go the synagogue to light candles and receive a rabbinic blessing. But other customs, including a fete, procession and an auction, will not take place.

Perez Trabelsi, the head of Tunisian Jewry, told AFP that the decision was because of "the situation in the country" and concerns that Tunisia could face a repeat of last month's café bombing in neighbouring Morocco.

He added: "People are afraid of the security situation in the country."

In April 2002 in the run-up to the festivities the El Ghriba synagogue was targeted by al-Qaida. More than 20 people were killed and 30 injured when a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the buildings' outer wall.

The Tunisian Jewish community dates back two millennia but the population has now fallen to an estimated 2,000 people from highs of 100,000 before independence from France in the 1950s.

Last updated: 8:15am, May 18 2011