Jacob “Gilles” Lellouche runs the only Jewish restaurant in Tunis, named after his mother, “Mamie Lily.” Most of the customers are Muslims, or tourists, and the menu contains a variety of couscous and tajines, with just a little extra special touch from Lily’s kitchen. The dining room is cozy and adorned with family photos, including a large wedding photo of his mother and father. There are tables outside in a leafy walled courtyard.
Like so many of Tunisia’s dwindling Jewish community, Lellouche lived in France for decades, studied, married and had children there. But his parents never left Tunis and when Lucy was widowed, Jacob came back home. “I had to. I had a Jewish mother,” he explained, laughing.
As 85-year-old Lily, dressed in blue with a string of pearls, napped in a chair in the entry room, Jacob told me she had risen at 6 a.m. to be first in the queue at her polling place. “I waited for 85 years,” she had said. “I have an appointment with democracy.”
Jacob too has a strong interest in the election; he ran as a candidate in his district, the only Jewish candidate in Tunisia. Before World War II, Jews made up 20 % of the Tunisian population, he said, but they now number only 1400 or so out of a population of 14 million.
Jacob can trace his father’s family back to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, after which they fled to Spain, leaving in 1492 for Salonika and moving to North Africa in 1550.
Jacob feels deeply Tunisian and agreed to serve on an independent list “to break the taboo that days minorities in Tunisia don’t do anything in political life.” At this writing, I don’t know yet whether he won a seat.