Friday, June 10, 2005

The 'Lourdes' of Jewish Egypt revisited

A charming personal account by Jewish journalist Lucette Lagnado of her first visit to her native Egypt in 40 years (with thanks:Lily).

CAIRO--Maimonides, the great rabbi, philosopher and healer, died 800 years ago in Egypt, but for many of those years he kept on working. Over the centuries his presence was said to be felt in the little synagogue deep in the heart of Cairo's old Jewish Quarter where, legend had it, he taught his disciples in a basement room. For the Jews of the Levant, Maimonides the doctor was as important as Maimonides the theologian and codifier of Jewish law. So it was to his small shul, known as Rav Moshe, that Jews from across Egypt journeyed in hopes that the man who believed in both God and science could cure them.

As it happens, I once went to this Jewish Lourdes as a little girl. When I was six, there was a small sleeping area in Rav Moshe, with worn-out mattresses. Anyone who came to be healed was handed a threadbare blanket and a pillow, and perhaps some holy rubbing oil, and urged to go to sleep and wait for the Rambam, as Maimonides was called. As a child, I was terrified of the place: It was so dark and spooky. But legend had it that once you were asleep, Maimonides would visit you in a dream and heal you. I was suffering at the time from a puzzling swelling in my left leg that mystified all the specialists my parents consulted.

I have no idea if Maimonides made one of his "house calls" for me. But I do know that my symptoms abated. My crisp, rational American upbringing in the decades since hasn't entirely cured me of my faith in the unseen hand of Maimonides and his presence in the little temple in the ghetto. Thus I wanted to pay my respects last month, when I visited Cairo some 40 years after my family had left in the diaspora that followed the flight of the Jews from Nasser's Egypt, a community once 80,000-strong. Read article in full.

No comments: