Thursday, February 23, 2012
With thanks: Kouichi Shirayanagi
This video from 1951 is doing the rounds on Facebook among Tunisians. It's a nostalgic look at Djerba, seen through the eyes of a young Jew. The Jew is leaving - a portend of the great exodus to come. He tours the island to say goodbye to the fishermen, the potters, the weavers. Their trades have not changed since Biblical times. The Jews who built the ancient Al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba's main attraction, first came here, legend has it, 2,000 years ago, in Temple times.
We see the Jewish boys swaying as they recite Torah verses in the packed synagogues of the Hara Khbira. Our young Jew is shooed away from prying at the house where a young bride is being prepared for her wedding. We see the procession to the Al-Ghriba as it used to be in 1951, before the pilgrimage to that ancient synagogue was adopted by the Tunisian Tourist office. The pilgrims hold aloft an assortment of objects, scarves and jewellery, the menara. These are auctioned off to the highest bidder in order to raise money for the community.
Why is this video proving so popular to Tunisians today? The grinding poverty and primitive way of life in Djerba in 1951 is hardly the attraction. More likely they miss a bygone age when Tunisia once had a substantial Jewish population - the country had 100,000 Jews in 1948 - an age when it resembled a multicultural society.
Those days are almost over. The third largest party in the Tunisian parliament is proposing a new constitution based on Sharia law . Sharia law would strip the Jews of many of their civil rights.
It is a fair bet that the 1,500 Jews still living in Djerba, whose livelihoods depend on tourism, are seriously worried, if not planning to leave too.
Original video in French (with thanks: Ahoova)