The Jewish cemetery in Tunis, "The Borgel"

by Marc Fellous, Chairman of AICJT

Introduction

The Borgel, the Jewish cemetery of Tunis, or Beth a Haïm, the "House of Life" in the Jewish tradition, was inaugurated in 1894 by the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia, Eliaou Borgel.

The cemetery reflects the recent history of Tunisia; a complex history, woven with the many stories of the communities that lived there. In this sense, it is an intrinsic part of the heritage of the Jews of Tunisia and the Tunisians themselves.

This cemetery contains over 30,000 graves plus the graves of the old cemetery of Avenue E. Rostand in Tunis (1958) that were transferred there. It is the largest Jewish cemetery in the Maghreb and perhaps in the entire Mediterranean region as the Jewish community in Tunisia was the oldest and among the largest in the Maghreb (80,000 people in 1950).

Aerial view
Aerial view
Map
Cemetery Map

The cemetery is located on the outskirts of Tunis around La Marsa, Avenue Khereddine Pacha. It comprises twenty-four parts ("carrés"), most of them named after personalities such as rabbis Haï Taïeb and Boccara or singer Habiba Msika.

Mr., Mrs. & Miss Handa Saad have been in custody of the cemetery for many years. They have a perfect knowledge of the location of numerous tombs and therefore are our oral memory.

We have selected a few of the pictures, from the many available, guided primarily by technical and artistic considerations. There are many graves of famous people. Some are decorated with carved symbols such as birds, branches, flowers, hands and religious symbols, while others represent trades or tragic events.

The war memorial, inaugurated in April 1948, bears the names of those deported and those who died in labor camps.

Creation of the Association AICJT

The International Association of the Borgel Jewish cemetery of Tunis (AICJT) was established on 3 March 2007. It aims to be active in the preservation of this cemetery. Among other things it, proposes to

  • establish an inventory, as complete as possible, of the tombs in the cemetery

  • create a computerized database of the inventory

  • initiate, along with the scientific committee of the association, sociological, genealogical, linguistic, anthropological and historical research of the Jewish community of Tunisia

  • offer any scientist (historian, genealogist, funerary art specialist, sociologist, theologian, necrologist ...) presenting a project study on the Borgel cemetery accurate information (obituary - map - photographs - identification of persons buried in...)

  • facilitate the search for graves by the descendants of the families concerned.

  • allow for such families to restore the graves if they wish to do so

  • define the conditions of access to the tombs in accordance with the specific regulations for such a religious location.

As the cemetery belongs to the Jewish community of Tunisia, one of its members, Gerard Berebbi, has been designated to enforce the religious character of the site and in particular the work to be done on the graves.

Honorary Presidents: The Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruck and Roger Bismuth, Senator of the Republic of Tunisia, President of the Jewish community.
President: Marc Fellous
Vice Président: Monique Hayoun

Cooperation with GenAmi

Our delegate Lina Benedite introduced the AICJT, its great work and its difficulties to the members of GenAmi with a call for help she posted on our Forum. They did not react, unlike the President who thought that some help could be provided in accordance with the proposals that had already been made to all those who worked to preserve such places of memory that Jewish cemeteries are. Lina had explained our generous ideas and our making data available to genealogists and had convinced the board members of the AICJT. They in turn explained to their AICJT members what we offer and the board agreed unanimously on cooperation.

We are therefore pleased to announce that an agreement was made between the two associations.

With the assistance of GenAmi, the AICJT will be able to clean a whole part (“carré”) of the cemetery and its graves, take pictures, make an accurate description of the inscriptions, have those translated, saved in a database which will be available to people interested, particularly to GenAmi members. These records enrich those made last year.

Furthermore, there is already a recording of 12,000 names, established in past years with the assistance of the cemetery guardians and reviewed by a team from AICJT, especially Monique Hayoun. This list is already available at GenAmi.

We hope this splendid work done by the AICJT will be an example that will be followed by many other descendants of the North African Jewish communities.