Wednesday, October 19, 2011
My harrowing Yom Kippur and escape from Libya
Here is a must-see sequel to the Skype interview by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (from the Simon Wiesenthal Institute) of David Gerbi. Gerbi is the lone Libyan Jew who returned to his homeland, but was forced to leave after his physical security was put at risk by crowds protesting outside his hotel.
Here he is back in his Rome study, looking tidy and refreshed, and sounding a good deal more upbeat than when Rabbi Cooper last spoke to him in his beleaguered hotel room in Tripoli.
He tells how he refused several attempts to persuade him to leave over the fast of Yom Kippur: " "I have my dignity, I will not run away like Jews have done in the past, like a rabbit," he says.
Gerbi's attitude to the National Transitional Council seems to have mellowed - they gave him 48 hours to reach a solution. If it was to ease the tension caused by his presence, he would agree to go, but on condition he was allowed to come back to Libya.
What sustained him through the harrowing 25-hour fast with jeering crowds outside his hotel window was his book of Tehilim (Psalms): "It saved my life."
Young people who understood that Libya was now at a crossroads between liberalism and Islamism came to see Gerbi to give him their support, having understood that the Jew represents their fight for rights. "My presence will guarantee their democracy," he says, calling for the US Congress and the Jewish establishment to put pressure on the interim government to allow Jewish freedom of worship.
But he was soon brought down to earth with a thud not in Libya, but back in Rome. Here his efforts to help wounded Libyan soldiers were stymied when in hospital he encountered the same old Gaddafi-esque anti-Jewish hostility in the shape of a certain Dr Ali. Dr Ali wanted the Jew Gerbi off the premises.
I must confess that I was once sceptical of what David Gerbi was trying to achieve. Yet one man can make a difference. In the same way that one finds pride in the released hostage Gilad Shalit's quiet Jewish nobility, so Gerbi is an inspiration. One cannot help be impressed and moved by the dignity, simple faith, humanity and bravery of this man.