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Jacques Pérez, École juive, Djerba, 1980 © Jacques Pérez

Pilgrimage to Djerba. Photographs by Jacques Pérez, 1980

From 2 June until 31 December 2022

The island of Djerba, in southern Tunisia, is home to one of the oldest and most famous synagogues in the world, the Ghriba. The community around this synagogue, whose existence is accounted for since the Middle Ages, was documented by Jacques Pérez in 1979-1980, in a series of colorful photographs that illustrate their ancestral traditions.

According to tradition, El Ghriba (« strange » in Arabic) was founded in the 6th century BC by priests fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, who incorporated a sacred relic from Solomon’s Temple.

Records of the existence of a community living around this synagogue date back to the Middle Ages. The photographer Jacques Pérez photographed its daily life over a two-year period, in 1979-1980, commissioned by Lucette Valensi and Abraham L. Udovitch as part of a historical and ethnological study.

His colourful photographs show the originality of the Djerba community, its ancestral traditions and jealously preserved identity. They illustrate the daily life, rituals and celebrations of these Jews and their social and economic activities. Although this community has dwindled to only a thousand members, its two villages, Hara Kbira and Hara Sghira – the “large” and “small quarter” – still have some twenty synagogues and educational institutions (yeshivot) in activity.

Pérez particularly photographed the famous pilgrimage to Djerba each spring on Lag BaOmer, the day of celebration punctuating the austere period between Passover (Pesach) and the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). Pilgrims flock to the island from all over Tunisia, Israel, France and elsewhere, to pay homage to two particularly popular rabbinic figures, Meir Baal HaNes and Shimon bar Yochai. Their deaths are commemorated with offerings and women make wishes to obtain a husband or child. The highpoint of the festival is a procession followed by a joyous parade of men, women and children, Jews and Muslims.

Jacques Pérez, now 90 years old, is a living memory and figure of photography in his country – Saïd Kasmi and Frédéric Mitterrand recently made a film about him, La Tunisie de Jacques Pérez (2018). Born in Tunis in 1932, the son of a Tunisian Jewish father and a German mother, he began taking photographs at 11 years old. Although innately curious about everything, he has exclusively photographed Tunisia and its inhabitants.

Curator : Nicolas Feuillie
Scientific advisor : Lucette Valensi

Supported by Dilcrah



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