The seven hundred Jews who live on the island of Djerba have found themselves in the middle of what many would call an island paradise. Throughout the always balmy year, Northern European tourists flock to Djerban beaches to roast in the sun by day and revel in an insular tourist nightlife after the sun sets. Unlike the rest of Tunisia, which has a diverse landscape that includes beaches, mountains and broad, deep desert, Djerba’s land is uniformly flat. The winters are hot, the summers are almost unbearable, but even the least beach-friendly tourist will appreciate the abundance of sunshine and blue skies on Djerba.
The main town of Houmt Souk isn’t on the beach, but it does see its share of tourists who fill its streets to purchase colorful Djerban pottery and locally made jewelry. Most Jews in Djerba live in Hara Kebira, “the large ghetto,” which is a small town that sits about a kilometer south of Houmt Souk. Hara Kebira is a compact village filled by a labyrinth of narrow streets lined by white, square houses with turquoise doors and window shutters. The neighborhood used to be exclusively Jewish, and though it is now mixed, little boys wearing colorful yarmulkes fill the allies, cackling fluidly in Hebrew, French and Arabic. Compact cars and puttering motor bikes skitter around closer corners, competing with cart-drawing donkeys for precious space on the road. On Shabbat and during Jewish holidays Hara Kebira is peaceful and friendly, solemn as it has been during the same holidays for almost two millennia.
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