In a country that is 98 percent Muslim, one of the world’s oldest Jewish settlements still exists and is a testimony to inspiring interreligious co-existence. This sacred place is the El Ghriba Synagogue, located on the island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia in Northern Africa.
What is the origin of the Ghriba synagogue?
Some say it was founded by Jewish priests after the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, though many believe El Ghriba was more likely founded after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Legend has it that a stone or a door from the temple was incorporated into the floor of El Ghriba, and the thousands of Jewish pilgrims who travel to Djerba every year light candles and place eggs with handwritten wishes on this stone. (Local Muslims accompany their Jewish neighbors for the pilgrimage, too!)
Another account of the founding of the Ghriba Synagogue involves the miracle of a formerly shunned local young woman. Legend has it the synagogue is built on the site of this young woman’s cabin, where she died in a fire that consumed her house, but left her body unscathed. The legend continues to say the religious identity of this woman was never determined, and this ambiguity enables her miracle, and this standing sacred site, to be jointly venerated by both Jews and Muslims.
Even with the diminutive number of Jews living in Djerba today, the thousands who pilgrimage there every year make the Ghriba synagogue an outstanding symbol of interreligious sacred space and a powerful model of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.
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