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Near Lynch in Tripoli

Eliezer Shulman and Michal Ish-Shalom

As the armed, angry mob swarmed the entrance to the ancient synagogue in Tripoli, ready to kill Dr. David Gerbi — the Orthodox Jewish psychologist who had spent the summer with the Libyan rebels and was even offered a spot in the new parliament — he realized that although Muammar Gaddafi was no longer around, the hated dictator had left his virulent anti-Semitic brainwashing as a legacy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Dr. David Gerbi, a Libyan-born, Torah-observant psychologist living in Italy, spent the summer in a Libyan rebel encampment joining the revolutionary forces and providing them with psychiatric care. But their gratitude didn’t last for long. He was nearly lynched and then booted out of the country when he tried to clean up a desecrated synagogue that hadn’t seen a Jew since Muammar Gaddafi took hold of the country 42 years ago.

Dr. Gerbi, international director of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, was the first Jew to cast his lot with the Libyan rebels when he joined the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital staff to teach the techniques of healing post-traumatic stress disorder among the fighters. Throughout the summer, Dr. Gerbi, holed up with the revolutionaries, assisted rebel leaders in formulating strategies and restoring unity within their ranks when internal conflicts arose.

After Gaddafi was ousted, the interim government, the National Transitional Council, talked about giving him a position in the soon-to-be-formed parliament, as an official voice for religious tolerance in a country run by an extremist despot for four decades.

But although the new Libya is struggling for a more democratic identity, Gaddafi’s 42-year rule succeeded in brainwashing the public toward virulent anti-Semitism, propagating the myth that the Jews absconded with the country’s wealth and fled with it to Israel — when in reality Gaddafi kicked out all the Jews that remained after the Arab riots of the 60s. He then confiscated all the Jewish property, worth about $500 million, adding it to his private fortune estimated at $200 billion, which he amassed after absconding with Libya’s wealth.

While Gerbi waited for a new government to take shape, he decided to spend the High Holidays in Libya. For Rosh HaShanah, he traveled to Tripoli along with the rebels, where he was to deliver letters from the World Organization of Libyan Jews to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, leader of the revolution and president of the interim government. At that point, he was being treated as a future member of parliament.

But a man like David Gerbi is not one to idle away his precious days in the newly freed country of Libya. Gerbi sought to become the first Jew to pray in the abandoned, decaying Dar Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, where his forebears had davened. But that simple act of devotion proved that undoing Gaddafi’s work would not be simple after all.


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