Tunisian Jews Seek Place in New Democracy — as Tunisians

Letter From Tunis

One Nation: The Muslim owner of a kosher butchery in Tunis says the Jewish community should be accepted as Tunisians.
Rachel Shabi
One Nation: The Muslim owner of a kosher butchery in Tunis says the Jewish community should be accepted as Tunisians.

By Rachel Shabi

Published April 17, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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The rooms upstairs highlight Jewish contributions to Tunisian heritage: literature, handicrafts, music, politics and cinema. There’s a section dedicated to Albert Samama-Chikli, one of the world’s earliest cinematographers, who brought the first film screening to Tunisia in 1897. There is also some detail about Testour, a town in northern Tunisia that was jointly rebuilt by Muslims and Jews after Christians forced them into exile from Andalusian Spain in 1492. The museum broadly outlines the history of Tunisia’s Jewish community, which dates back three millennia, preceding both Islam and Christianity. Before World War II it was a community that numbered more than 100,000. Those figures dwindled following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the end of French rule in Tunisia in 1956. Both factors drove Jewish migration to Israel and, in greater numbers, to France in the succeeding years.

Among Lellouche’s prized pieces in the collection — which includes beautiful old hamsas, menorahs and Judeo-Arabic scripted books — is an old key to an Andalusian Jewish home, carefully passed down a family line in Tunisia.

When the museum opened in December of last year, Lellouche said, young Tunisians of all faiths were curious to visit. “They told me they felt like Tunisia was a chair with only three legs, and that after seeing this museum, the picture was complete.” The visitors, he added, realize that this Jewish museum is essentially about Tunisian heritage. “A country, and the love for one’s country, does not have a religion,” he said.

Contact Rachel Shabi at feedback@forward.com


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