ROME – An Italian-Libyan Jew, by his mere presence in Libya, has provoked an
outburst of latent anti-Semitism, cultivated for over 40 years by the Gaddafi
David Gerbi’s simple act of devotion in cleaning out the filth of
an abandoned, decaying synagogue in Tripoli and asserting his right as a Jew to
pray there for the High Holy Days, is being used to justify an angry protest
rally that will take place in Tripoli’s main square Friday evening, coinciding
with the onset of Yom Kippur.RELATED:Libyan Jews divided over bid to restore Tripoli temple
It has been announced as a threefold
protest against Gerbi’s very presence as a Jew, against the reopening of a
closed synagogue, and against the return of Jews to Libya.
diplomatic representatives, along with those of other countries supporting the
rebels’ government, are closely monitoring developments.
rightfully concerned,” said David Gerbi.
“Respect for religious liberty
and human rights in general is an essential basis for democracy. Many
Libyans are ready for a new society, but if they permit anti-Semitism to rear
its ugly head again, all will be lost.”
Exiled with his family to Rome in
1967 at the age of 12, David returned to Libya last month to join the rebels in
overthrowing the Gaddafi dictatorship.
A Jungian psychoanalyst by
profession, he worked last spring on a previous trip, as a volunteer in the
Benghazi psychiatric hospital to help cure victims of post-traumatic stress
He dreams of salvaging the memories of the 2,300-year
Libya-Jewish presence in Libya by restoring and again sanctifying the many
synagogues and cemeteries where Jewish victims of successive wars never received
Gerbi has a mandate from the World Organization of Libyan
Jews as its international director.
Warmly received and supported by the
Amazigh (an important ethnic minority) members of the National Transitional
Council, Gerbi’s original request to be integrated into the NTC as a
representative of Libyan Jewry is still awaiting a final written reply from
President Mustafa Jalil in an exchange of correspondence.
commitment to efforts in building a democratic, pluralistic Libya is regarded
favorably by Italian diplomatic representatives.
While forced to remain
in what Gerbi describes as his “gilded hotel room prison for the time being,”
the Italian Consulate has recommended a consultation with a representative of an
international human rights organization in Tripoli and sent him a token gift of
a lapel pin with the Italian and Libyan flags.
Consent for cleaning the
synagogue – which was interrupted after one day – had been obtained from Sheikh
Jamal of Tripoli’s Medina area and the sheikhs of two nearby mosques built on
former synagogues on land surrounding the main synagogue, plus neighborhood
Gerbi had hired the help of six young men to rid the
building of filth and debris.
He was received warmly by families who
recalled their grandparents’ stories of friendship and peaceful cohabitation
with Libyan Jews.
But on the second day a group of armed men alerted by
an anti-Semitic Facebook campaign, frightened the workers away, forcing Gerbi to
retreat to his hotel.
Despite warnings that the time was not yet ripe for
reconciliation with the 200,000- strong Libyan Jewish diaspora, residing mostly
in Israel, Gerbi said he refuses to be intimidated.
“As a psychoanalyst I
go by the definition of neurosis as a repetition of the same actions with
expectations for different results. We Jews have repeatedly obeyed warnings to
‘flee for our own good.’ This time I’m staying. My faith in God gives me
strength,” he said.
When David was in the synagogue he lit three
traditional oil lamps dedicated to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to Rabbi Meir Baal
Ness and to the Prophet Elijah. He then recited psalms facing the Ark, where the
Shema was engraved, impeding a Libyan agent from forcing him out of the building
before he finished his prayers.
As he stepped out to face the crowd, his
Libyan friend, Ramadan, slipped him a cloth-wrist badge with the words, “Free
Libya” and the rebel flag on it. But once outside, surrounded by the media, the
friend vanished out of sight.