Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sidon and Aley to follow Beirut temple restoration

Renovation work has started on the Beirut synagogue (Photo: AFP)

The restoration of the war-damaged Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut to its previous ornate standards, complete with carpets and chandeliers, will take up to 15 months. This AFP piece reports that the cemetery in Beirut, the Sidon synagogue, and the oldest synagogue in the country at Aley, are also slated for restoration. (With thanks: Binhaddou, Lily)

"Arcades bearing the Star of David and Hebrew inscriptions once hidden by the wild vegetation are now emerging from the shadows.

"But political graffiti scrawled by militiamen on the arcades and at the entrance to the temple during the civil war still bear testimony to a time when it was caught in the crossfire of rival factions.

"The red-tiled roof also needs restoring as well as the abandoned office of the rabbi which lies close to the entrance of the synagogue.

"The temple is located in Wadi Abu Jmil -- once known as Wadi al-Yahud or the 'Valley of the Jews' in Arabic -- a neighbourhood that abuts the restored city centre of Beirut, where battles raged during the civil war.

"It also lies close to the prime minister's office and parliament and Lebanese authorities have given their blessings for the renovation project at the synagogue.

"The renovation of Magen Abraham has given hope to Jews who have chosen to stay in their native Lebanon despite the upheavals of the past decades.

"If all goes well, we expect the renovation to be completed within 12 to 15 months," Arazi said.

"The Lebanese Jewish Community Council has called for donations to help cover renovation costs, which Arazi estimates will reach one million dollars. Some Lebanese Jews who live abroad are financing the project.

"We want to restore the synagogue to the way it was before, with all its furniture, carpets and chandeliers," Arazi said.

"Looters had stripped the synagogue of everything during war: benches, windows, tiles and even the marble altar were stolen.

"We really would like those who stole them to return them, because they date back 80 years," Arazi said.

"He also expects the council to renovate a Jewish cemetery in Beirut and two other synagogues -- one in the southern coastal city of Sidon and another in the southeastern mountain resort of Aley.

"The Aley synagogue is the country's oldest temple built in 1870.

"In principle, we start work on the cemetery next week," he added.

"A Talmud-Torah school that stood behind Magen Abraham was razed to the ground at the end of the devastating civil war by real estate giant Solidere which oversaw the reconstruction of Beirut's city centre.

"Arazi said that none of Lebanon's religious communities and political parties, including the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, have expressed any reservations concerning the reconstruction project.

"Nobody has protested and we have not received any threats."

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