October 2nd, 2011
02:34 PM ET

Libyan Jew returns from exile to restore synagogue

Libyan Jew David Gerbi on Sunday hammered down the brick wall blocking the entrance to the rundown Dar Bishi Synagogue in Tripoli on what he called a “historic day.”

Flanked by journalists and curious residents from the neighborhood, Gerbi, dressed in an “I love Libya” T-shirt, collapsed as he yelled, “This is for all those who suffered under Gadhafi."

With a U.S. security contractor accompanying him, Gerbi continued to strike the wall until it was destroyed.

“I could not have done it without the permission of three local sheikhs living in the neighborhood and the protection of the rebels,” Gerbi told CNN as he pointed to the faded Hebrew letters meaning  “Hear, O Israel" engraved on the wall above the Torah scroll.

The dusty floor of the scarred building was littered with dead pigeons, clothes, flea-ridden mattresses and syringes that may have been left behind by drug users and prostitutes who used to take refuge in the abandoned building, according to the testimonies of the local residents.

“I will paint the walls and restore the building, but will keep it simple and functional because it’s a place for God and prayers,” Gerbi said as he mopped the floor.

“I feel proud. My smile is back and my dream is fulfilled, and I want tourists to come see this place in a month’s time,” Gerbi told a room full of journalists.

Gerbi fled Tripoli with his family when he 12 years old in 1967.  After 44 years of exile in Italy, he returned this year as a representative of the World Organization of Libyan Jews.

Gadhafi had expelled the remaining 38,000 Jews in 1969 and converted most of the synagogues to mosques.

“I am the only Jew in Libya, but I have the support of the 200,000 Libyan Jews and their descendants living abroad,” Gerbi told CNN.

In 2007, Gadhafi invited Gerbi to Libya, but he claims that he was tricked, questioned and detained for attempting to restore the synagogue.

During the revolt against Gadhafi that started in February, Gerbi assisted the injured in Benghazi and promoted the National Transitional Council in South Africa until it was recognized in August.

Gerbi’s years of experience as a psychotherapy professor in Italy and Israel may come in handy in his difficult mission of winning the hearts and minds of the Libyans in a society known for its anti-Semitism.

“I don’t know what is behind this move, but I don’t trust the Jews, and there will be problems if they come back,” said Ayaad Mohamed, a man living across from the synagogue.

Gerbi and residents of the neighborhood said Gadhafi had visited the old city and fired two bullets at the Ten Commandments inscribed on the exterior of the synagogue.

Gerbi may face challenges in his return to Libya, but he remains defiant and insists on inviting more Jews in the near future.

“To those who don’t welcome me, I tell them, I am not leaving. My parents were not buried here because Gadhafi razed the Jewish cemeteries, but I will be buried here.”

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Filed under: Libya
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. s kel

    im not a jew but DAMN HABEEB jew hater.

    October 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      NO PORK for you Habeeb!

      October 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. s kel

    u camel riding sob.

    October 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank ( R - OHIO ) "right end fanatic"

    ***SHALOM*** David Gerbi

    October 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSCI132

      Libya was very secular under Kadaffy and though he despised Israel the few jews living in Libya were citizens and not bothered unless they caused trouble for the country. Iraq used to have the largest Jewish (except Israel) and Christian populations in the middle east until after the American invasion. Now Iraq is no longer secular as it was under Saddam and Islamist extreemists have been killing off and otherwise forcing Christians and Jews to leave Iraq. Again, Jews and Christians in Iraq under Saddam were thriving and unmolested by the government unless they caused troubel for the government as the Kurds in the north and Shia in the south often did.

      October 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • old man


      October 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |

    Is that you s kel Goldstien? dam jew!

    October 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Harv Weinstein

    MAZELTOV!!!! Im celebrating by tipping 9% the next night out... .

    October 3, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mmmmm

    Interesting...the same is happening to Christains across Northern Africa...these religions have had a presence in those regions for centuries...if not a thousand years.

    October 3, 2011 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Game Ovt

    Libyan jews home is Libya, not Israel. It may take time for muslims to built relationship with jews, but they won't be israeli supporter. The only thing i hate is that israel is luring jews from all over the world to live in what they called The Promise Land hoax. I hope more jews will come home to Libya and Tunisia.

    October 3, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. s kel

    no im Mr Pork, jew hater.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Good morning, s kel.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. emma

    We pray he will be safe and will spread the word of GOD and kindness to many. May GOD Bless him and everyone.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat2u.

    Wow, this is getting deep now. Muslims and Jews living in harmony, in the same city and neighborhood no less. I mean, it could happen, but that sure seems like a big push when the Libyans are just now getting control of their country again. They're going to have to get settled amongst themselves before they might even think about be tolerant to someone that's different than them.

    October 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • maha

      why not let moslims and jews get along, arent you fed up and tired of ll this nonsense, in israel?/ I am , i live in United states , moslem from my mom and christian from my dad, i AM NOT A RELIGIOUS PERSON, I accept and respect al religions,..so lybian jew, lybian moslem, lybian christian, its all about living in lybia. ONe country for all.. AND THATS HOW ISRAEL SHOULD BE and accpet to give a state to the palestinians. and get it over with.

      October 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat2u.


      I agree wholeheartedly this is the way it should be. But all I'm saying is because of the distrust they have amongst one another, in their own tribes, that it's not going to be an easy transition.

      October 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. cmni18

    May GOD bless you and your family. This is a sure sign that peace is winning out and hatred will be lost soon.

    October 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ed

    This guy is certainly trying to push the envelope! He should cool it for awhile....especially so soon after Netayahu effectively killed any immediate Palestinian peace prospects by oking further settlement expansion.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
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