The last Libyan Jew

A chance encounter in 2002 between David Gerbi, an Italian psychologist of Jewish-Libyan descent, and an employee of the Italian embassy in Tripoli, r

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September 17, 2005 00:09
2 minute read.

 
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A chance encounter in 2002 between David Gerbi, an Italian psychologist of Jewish-Libyan descent, and an employee of the Italian embassy in Tripoli, revealed that David's aunt, Rina Dabash (his mother's sister), was still alive, and living in the Gaddafi Home for the Elderly in Tripoli. Gerbi had contacted the embassy to recover some missing paperwork for his elderly mother, who had left Libya in 1967. When the employee heard the name of Gerbi's mother, he suddenly recalled a woman with a similar name living in the old age home. After asking his mother and other relatives, Gerbi understood that Rina Dabash was indeed his long lost aunt. A few months and hundreds of letters and petitions later, Gerbi was on a plane to Tripoli. Still not fully believing that his Aunt Rina was alive, Gerbi entered the hospice where Rina had lived for the past decade. The attending nurse told him that Dabash was not responsive and that she didn't recognize anybody. "It was Rosh Hashana eve, so I brought her gifts and tried to speak with her," Gerbi recalled. "She initially replied in Arabic, but then switched to Hebrew, a forgotten language she probably hadn't spoken in dozens of years. "She told me she wanted to come with me and celebrate Succot and then Simhat Torah," Gerbi said. It took Gerbi almost a year to arrange all the necessary paperwork to bring Dabash to Italy. The old woman died a month later and was buried in Israel. K.S.

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