David Gerbi is a Libyan Jew. There aren’t many of them. He returned from exile to fight the battle against Gaddafi, and now he’s on a personal mission to restore the long-deserted Tripoli synagogue. He wants to make sure his community is allowed to play a part in the new Libya. By SIMON ALLISON.
Jews in Libya go back a while – 2,300 years, to be precise, during which time they were ruled by the Romans, the Ottomans, the Italian fascists and finally the Libyan People’s Arab Jamahiriya of Muammar Gaddafi, who in a fit of anti-Semitism expelled them all and confiscated Jewish property. Libya’s Jews scattered, some across the sea to Italy, but most to Israel. But not all gave up on Libya.
This summer, at the height of the fighting against Gaddafi’s forces, one came back. David Gerbi returned from exile in Italy and joined the rebels, fighting not just for Libya’s future, but for the future of his people. “I want to bring back our legacy. I want to give the Jewish of Libya a chance to come back,” he said.
After riding in with the rebels to take Tripoli, he started organising the restoration of the capital’s main synagogue which had been bricked over by Gaddafi. Inside the walls were covered in graffiti, and the floors with garbage. He describes the restoration as a test of the tolerance of Libya’s new rulers. “I plan to restore the synagogue. I plan to get my passport back. I plan to resolve the problem of the confiscated property, individual and collective,” said Gerbi. “I plan to help rebuild Libya, to do my part.”
But his efforts aren’t meeting with universal approval in a country where Jews aren’t always welcome. As a National Transitional Council spokesperson wryly commented: “I think it’s just creating a lot more complications at the moment.” DM
Photo: Libyan Jewish exile David Gerbi prays inside Dar Bishi synagogue in Tripoli October 1, 2011. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall