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March 24, 1995 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-03-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Daily Israeli breakfast

Pilgrims place their hands on the six-sided `menara:

Ghriba Pilgrimmage
Is A Festive Trip

Also available: Extensions to Eilat, Egypt and Jordan.
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GABRIEL LEVENSON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

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n the 18th of Iyyar — the
18th of May in 1995, by the
Gregorian calendar —
hundreds of Jews from
Jerusalem, Montreal, Marseilles,
Paris and the other cities of the
Djerban "Diaspora" will gather
at the ancient Ghriba synagogue
in the remote village of Hara
Sghira on this island off the
southern coast of Tunisia.
This day is unlike any other in
the Djerban year. It is the final
and most festive day of the an-
nual pilgrimage in honor of
Shimeon bar Yohai, the revered
"saint" of Djerban Jewry, cele-
brated as the author of the Zo-
liar, , the sacred book of
Kabbalism, and as one of the five
pupils of Rabbi Akiva who sur-
vived the failed Bar Kochba re-
bellion and kept up the study of
Torah in Eretz Israel, despite the
threat of a Roman death sen-
tence.
In Israel, Lag B'Omer is cele-
brated as a minor holiday,
marked though it is with a recess
from school, the lighting of bon-
fires throughout the country and
the traditional "first haircut" of
three-year-old boys at the village
of Meron.
In Djerba, Lag B'Omer is a ma-
jor holiday, almost an entire week
of prayer and pageantry, begin-
ning on the 14th of Iyyar, a
month after Passover, and con-
tinuing to the 18th, the anniver-
sary of Bar Yohai's death.
Ghriba is both souk and syna-
gogue on this occasion. The build-
ing and its huge courtyard serve
as a kind of caravanserai, hous-
ing pilgrims and providing the
marketplace for the sale of roast
lamb and fried briks, of fruit and

Gabriel Levenson is a writer for

the Jewish Week in. New York.

alcoholic beverages, of books and
clothing and of trinkets the visi-
tors can bring home to the fami-
ly and friends who didn't make
the trip.
Both Jewish and Muslim mer-
chants will participate in the
lively auction for the most favor-
able positions for their stalls. Beg-
gars from as far off as Tunis, 300
miles to the north, will descend
upon Ghriba, sure of collecting
enough dinars to pay for the cost
of their journey.
The pilgrims themselves have
a more pious mission. As de-
scribed in The Last Arab Jews, a
study of the Jews of Djerba by
Abraham L. Udovich and Lucette
Valensi, they enter the outer hall
of Ghriba, remove shoes, cover
their heads and proceed to the
inner sanctuary. There, the pil-
grims offer their contributions to
a member of the Ghriba commit-
tee installed in the synagogue for
the duration of the holiday.
The pilgrims will get receipts
both for their own contributions
and those made by friends or rel-
atives back home who want at
least the glory of second-hand
participation in Lag B'Omer.
The first-hand celebrants, car-
rying lighted candles, will make
a circuit of the sanctuary, paus-
ing at the hechal, the Holy Ark,
to kiss the Torah and to place raw
eggs in a candle-illuminated al-
cove at the foot of the Ark. The
shell of each egg is inscribed with
the name of an ummarried but
eligible woman of the Djerba com-
munity.
On the final day of the cere-
mony, each pilgrim will retrieve
his or her egg, which has now
been baked by the combined heat
of the candles, and present it to
the designated maiden. She, in
turn, will eat the egg, confident

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