Libyans protest Jew attempting to reopen synagogue

Libyan-Italian citizen David Gerbi: My faith in God gives me strength; armed gunman force Gerbi, crew retreat to hotel.

By LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
October 7, 2011 01:29
3 minute read.
David Gerbi with Berber friends

david gerbi 311. (photo credit: David Gerbi)

 
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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 regime.

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.

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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.

Italian diplomatic representatives, along with those of other countries supporting the rebels’ government, are closely monitoring developments.

“They are 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 disorder.

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 proper burials.

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.

Gerbi’s 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 representatives.

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.

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