October 2011 – Diarna Re-Opens Tripoli’s Dar Bishi Synagogue

Video Tour of Diarna’s Exclusive Digital Reconstruction

Media reports abound about the efforts of Dr. David Gerbi to restore the dilapidated Dar Bishi Synagogue, a former fixture of Tripoli’s Hara Kebira (old Jewish Quarter). Gerbi, a Libyan Jew who has lived in exile since 1967, returned to his ancestral home this past spring as a volunteer in support of the anti-Gaddafi regime revolutionaries. Remaining after the fall of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Gerbi single-handedly re-opened Dar Bishi for prayer — his own, as the last member of the disbanded indigenous Jewish community died in 2003 — and began restoring the synagogue by clearing decades of accumulated debris.

The work was abruptly put on indefinite hold on October 8th, Yom Kippur (the Jewish holiday of atonement), when hundreds of protesters gathered in Tripoli and Bengazi to assert “There is no place for the Jews in Libya.” Gerbi was prevailed upon to leave the country after protesters attempted to storm his hotel and disagreements arose with the provisional government about whether he had received the proper authorizations.

While there is no telling when he might be able to return or if the synagogue will ever be restored, Diarna has created an exclusive digital reconstruction of Dar Bishi. The video above features a tour of our 3-D model intermixed with archival and contemporary photographs.

This incident is a brusque reminder of the precariousness of physical preservation. Political and inter-religious strife too often render historic Jewish sites inaccessible to visit, no less preserve, in perpetuity. Diarna’s digital preservation work may be the only way to ensure untrammeled virtual access to forgotten and endangered Middle Eastern Jewish sites (schools, cemeteries, synagogues, shrines).

Archival and Recent (click here for background) Photographs

Last summer, in response to disturbing reports from Southern Iraq that the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in al-Kifl had been damaged, Diarna published an exhibit featuring factual information and unique media resources. Maurice Shohet, who left Iraq in 1970 and is a leader in the Iraqi-Jewish community, noted then how:

Diarna (ديارنا) has been at the forefront of digitally preserving Jewish history in the broader Middle East and North Africa…. Hundreds of Jewish communal sites across the Middle East face dangers of decay and desecration. I ask those who care about this heritage to join me in supporting Diarna, so it can continue its vital work to preserve and conserve the memories of these sites before it is too late.

Diarna’s Digital Reconstruction in Google Earth

Anyone with an Internet connection can use Diarna to travel across the region as if on eagles’ wings. We accomplish this feat by pioneering the synthesis of satellite imagery, immersive panoramas, three-dimensional architectural modeling, archival and contemporary photography, scholarship, and oral history recordings, as compelling entry points to forgotten and vanishing communities.

Please contact us at info@diarna.org if you have information or memories to share and/or support to offer so we can continue to ensure that vital data-gathering is completed while there are still people and places to bear witness to what was Libya’s Jewish past.

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Diarna Geo-Museum
This website is an archive of Diarna (2009-2012). We invite you to Diarna.org for expanded exhibit offerings, new tours, and the latest news.
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Visting Diarna
  • View our Media Gallery, including video tours of ancient cemeteries, synagogues, and communities
  • Download a sample Google Earth tour
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  • Tour a 3-D Reconstruction of Beirut's Magen Avraham Synagogue
Praise for Diarna

Diarna is an extraordinarily innovative project that illustrates spatially the lost worlds of the Jewish communities in the lands of Islam. It is a vivid illustration of how current digital technology can be used to advance our understanding of the past and the present, and give substance to what often remains distant and abstract. This visual online reconstruction of Jewish space delights and instructs at the same time. — Aron Rodrigue, Stanford University

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