Saturday, April 07, 2007

Forgotten exodus, forgotten Egyptian community

The memory of an Egyptian-Jewish community is fast disappearing, and much of its heritage has allegedly been sold off - with the community leaders' blessing. Amiram Barkat reports in Haaretz (with thanks Abert; Lily)

"Only a handful of Jews remained in Cairo after 1967. The luxurious villas the rich Jewish families built on the bank of the Nile became museums or foreign embassies, but most of the community's property was preserved. In fact, it was the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 that dealt a heavy blow to the community, because of the tremendous momentum it lent to the illegal commerce in Judaica and other valuables.

"In many cases these liquidation sales had the blessing of the community's leaders. The Ben Ezra Synagogue, which was renovated and restored with the generous assistance of the Bronfman family, is nearly the only structure that escaped the looting.

"Cairo's Jewish community today, like that of Alexandria, consists of only one person. Carmen Weinstein, a businesswoman in her seventies, is courageously attempting to preserve the remains, under impossible conditions. The Egyptian press routinely accuses her of having ties with Israel's Mossad. For the more militant of former Egyptian Jews, Weinstein is a traitor who seeks to transfer community property to the Egyptians in exchange for financial reward.

Famous Egyptian-born Jews include Israeli author Haim Sabato, British businessman and politician Sir Ronald Cohen and the U.S.-based media mogul Haim Saban. No influential Egyptian-born Jews, however, have sponsored efforts to save community property remaining in the country or to commemorate the community's magnificent past. Jews of Egyptian origin around the world have established many organizations, but most are one-person shows that waste their time on struggles for honor and prestige. Some, like author and peace activist Prof. Ada Aharoni of Haifa, dedicate themselves heart and soul to preserving the memory of Egyptian Jewry, but regrettably they are too few.

"Only 50 years have passed since the second exodus from Egypt, but the term refers to the dismantling of a community whose existence no longer means anything to most of the world's Jews.
"

Read article in full

3 comments:

Highest Infidelity said...

That's sad.

Good post.

I talked about your blog in my latest post today. It's important work you're doing here I'd like to get you some more readers.

bataween said...

thanks 'highest'- your help much appreciated.

Roger Bilboul said...

I refer to this quoted article:(http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/846034.html) of the 5th of April 2007 on Egyptian born Jews. To say that Jews of Egyptian origin have established organisations that are mostly "one-person shows that waste their time on struggles for honor and prestige" is a misrepresentation of the facts. More than 3,000 families belong to organisations around the world whose objectives are the preservation of the rich history of Egyptian Jewry through regular email group exchanges, physical meetings, publications and conferences. My association, the International Nebi Daniel Association (www.nebidaniel.org) , was established some four years ago with the specific objective of preserving Jewish communal assets in Egypt and ensuring their maintenance beyond the lifetime of the few reaming Jews in the country. Members of our Council have made a number of trips to Egypt to engage government authorities on this issue. With the help of the American Jewish Committee (www.ajc.org) and support from political quarters in the United States, Great Britain and France; the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities have agreed to restore at their expense, the Maimonides synagogue and Yeshiva as well as the Hanan synagogue in Cairo. The Maimonides site suffers from flooding from rising water and the restoration is a rather substantial effort. There is even a project studying the development of a Jewish museum. On a more modest scale, our association has just completed at its own expense the restoration of one of the Jewish cemeteries in Alexandria and we have plans to extend this work to the other two Jewish cemeteries in the city. On the other hand, some of the more sensitive and important issues still remain to be resolved. Archives recording the religious and civil life cycle of Egyptian Jewry since the early 19th century remain almost inaccessible and are vulnerable to the ravages of time and accidents. The future role of Jews from Egypt in particular and world Jewry in general regarding the long term preservation of these assets has yet to be seriously addressed by the Egyptian authorities. Our struggle continues and we hope that it will reach more concrete results that go beyond 'honor and prestige'.


Roger Bilboul
President
Association International Nebi Daniel