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Synagogue Keter Torah, Sousse, Tunisia

Starting from the city of Sousse, Avenue Habib Bourguiba stretches all the way to the Mediterranean shoreline. [3] To find the Keter Torah synagogue, you'll walk down this street for a little while and then take a left onto a narrow, stone-paved street. Once you're there, you'll see how time has worn away the exterior of the synagogue, leaving mostly crumbling stone behind. But there are still flashes of its former self-- patterned tiles, bright flags. Wooden tombstones run along the walls inside the synagogue to commemorate those who have died. [3]

Description

History of the Synagogue

The synagogue was built under Yossef Guez, the Chief Rabbi of Sousse, in 1881 [2] It once served as the main place of worship for the Jewish community of the city. There used to be six synagogues in the city, the largest one having 300 members. [9] There was even a seventh synagogue built during the time in between the world wars, but it was later destroyed. As of today, Keter Torah is the only one left. [2]

Present State of the Synagogue

Despite efforts to repair the building, Keter Torah remains in mild ruin. Previously, a Jewish businessman funded a project to fix the tiling inside the synagogue. [2] However, the walls and locks of the synagogue are impervious to any attempted maintenance efforts. [7] The ceiling especially remains a large concern with cracks that cause sand and stone to fall down onto people's heads [2]

Yossef Guez

Yossef Guez was born in a village in Sousse in 1861 and died in 1934. [6] His father was Rabbi David Guez, an important Talmudist of Northern Africa. [8] Guez was the Chief Rabbi of Sousse from 1906 to 1928 before his appointment as Chief Rabbi of Tunisia, a position he held from 1928-1934. [6] In 1928, there was discontent among the Tunisian Jewish community because the Chief Rabbi had always been someone of French origin. In response, the community created a petition to express their displeasure over the lack of native Tunisians serving in that role. [5]  As a result, Guez became the first native Tunisian to hold the position of Chief Rabbi. [7]

History of the Jewish People of Sousse

The Jewish settlement of Sousse began during the Punic period. [9] The Almohads destroyed the settlement in 1159, but Jewish people returned during the 15th century. [9] During the 18th century, Jews came from Livorno, Italy and they were known as the Grana. They had commercial advantages over local Jews in the textile and olive oil trade because of their European connections. [9]  In 1881 under the French protectorate of Tunisia, French culture was integrated into Jewish communities. [11] In 1916, we see Zionism begin to appear with the founding of Sousse's first Zionist society. [9] During World War II, Jewish people in the city suffered and many fled to safety. [10] Jews were held culpable for Allied air raids, so they had to pay money to bomb relief funds. [4] In 1942, Jews were forced to do labor in Moknine-- unloading ships and repainting roads. In 1943, Germans fined the community 15 million francs. [9]

Fluctuating Jewish Population

One of the earliest accounts in 1853 numbers the Jewish population in Sousse to 400 families. [10] During the world wars, there were about 3500-3700 Jewish people, although much of the professional and educated class left for Tunis after World War II. [9] At the height of the community in 1951, there were 6400 Jewish people living in the city. [1] However, mass emigration to Israel and France began once Tunisia gained its independence in 1956. [9, 10] In 2006, the Jewish population had declined to a mere 36 people. [6]

 

Sousse, Tunisia

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