Through the magic of Skype, I met a real hero. And the fate of this man and his mission will inform us about the ultimate outcome of the Arab Spring in Libya and perhaps across the entire region.
Meet David Gerbi, a 50-something psychoanalyst from Rome. But David was born in Libya, a native of Tripoli, who, as a 12-year-old, was exiled, along with 38,000 other Jews who were forced to flee their native Libya in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day Israel-Arab War.
Over the years, David made numerous attempts to reconnect Jewish exiles with their native land. Initial promises for cooperation during the Gaddafi era led to a perilous arrest. In recent months he hooked up with the rebel forces of the National Transitional Council, the group which has earned critical NATO backing and financial support from key democracies with the promise of a moderate Muslim society that would respect the norms of human rights.
Now, Dr. Gerbi is challenging the NTC to "walk the walk," not just "talk the talk," and decided to spend the High Holy days at the Dar Bishi Synagogue. He spent a day clearing out mounds of garbage: "I cannot pray under the holy banner of Shema Yisrael [Judaism's most important declaration of faith] amidst the filth," he told me. When he returned a second day, locals warned him to flee. But David has not left Tripoli, instead he's decided to place his safety in the balance in order to test the "new" Libya's commitment to religious freedom and tolerance.
To date, authorities have told him "it's too early ... too sensitive a matter." It appears that the NTC hasn't decided whether to rescind the Gaddafi-era classification of the Jewish cemetery from a historic excavation site and restore it and the synagogue to Libyan Jews.
But clearly, David Gerbi's struggle reflects much larger issues.
From Tunis to Cairo to Bahrain, the world is left to wonder whether the heady optimism of the Arab Spring will, in the end, serve the cause of freedom and democracy. The outcome of one Jew's struggle to clean a synagogue in a neighborhood of Libya's capital city will speak volumes...
Hear now in his own words: Dr. David Gerbi, one man who has drawn the line in the sand for the rights and dignity of Jews, dead and living...
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