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Jews make annual pilgrimage to Tunisia

An ancient synagogue in Tunisia will attract 1,500 Jews this weekend.

Ethiopia jewish conversion 2012 8 21Enlarge
Like this woman in 2003, many Jews in Ethiopia were forced to convert to Christianity. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

As many as 1,500 Jews made the pilgrimage to Tunisia this weekend, a little-known tradition. They were there to visit the Tunisian island of Djerba, which houses the oldest synagogue in Africa.

Jewish visitors to Djerba fell dramatically after 2002, when a bomb killed 21 people near the synagogue. But Jews have been slowly coming back to the island, which actually boasts a rich Jewish history,  according to the Times of Israel.

Tunisia also has a Jewish community of its own, one of the oldest in the world, comprising about 1,100 members,  Bernama reported

More from GlobalPost:  Over 20,000 Russian Muslims to go on pilgrimage to Mecca in autumn this year

Tunisian locals have a particlar interest in seeing the pilgrimage become popular: they think it will help revive the country's struggling economy,  the Associated Press reported. The tourism trade currently accounts for 400,000 jobs in the country's economy, according to the AP.

Pilgrims say that this year has been a more festive trip than previous visits. "Thank God this year is as it should be, not like in the last two years. I came then, but out of solidarity. There were no real festivities," Meyer Sabbagh, 63, a real estate developer who left Djerba for Paris decades ago,  told the Agence France-Presse

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130427/jews-make-annual-pilgrimage-tunisia