Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rambam synagogue: reminder of Egypt's Jews

Video of Rambam Yeshiva restoration works (courtesy of Nebi Daniel)

Rabbi Andrew Baker likes to think that the restored Maimonides synagogue, to be officially inaugurated on 7 March, will be a permanent reminder to the culture minister Farouk Hosni and the head of the Antiquities authority Zahi Hawass that Jews lived in and contributed to Egypt's rich heritage. Another six synagogues are also to be restored. He writes in the NY Times:

"Rav Moshe was considered to have special healing powers. One elderly Egyptian Jew now living in Europe told me how his childhood stuttering disappeared after his mother made him spend the night there. His miracle cure was a commonplace experience for many of Cairo’s Jews who sometimes called it the “Jewish Lourdes.”

"Not only Jews came to Rav Moshe. King Fuad, who ruled Egypt from 1917-1936, found relief for his ailments after spending a night at the synagogue, although the plaque attesting to his visit has long since disappeared.

"In Maimonides’ day, Cairo’s Jewish community was a center of scholarship and commerce, a hub of Jewish life for the entire Middle East.

"When Fuad ruled Egypt, more than 80,000 Jews were among his subjects. They were an active, integral presence in the business and cultural life of the country.

"But that all changed after Israel’s creation in 1948, and especially after Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in 1953, prompting a mass exodus of Jews. Today’s Jewish population in Egypt is a mere few dozen.

"For the past five years, I have met regularly on behalf of the American Jewish Committee with Egyptian officials to press for the preservation of Jewish heritage, which, in addition to Rav Moshe, includes a dozen synagogues and several cemeteries in Cairo and Alexandria. Most are in various states of disrepair. Rav Moshe was a dank and musty yeshiva ravaged by seeping ground water, and a synagogue filled with rubble, its roof open to the sky. The small Jewish community lacks the resources to care for them.

"Both Farouk Hosny and Zahi Hawass came to accept the argument that the preservation of Egypt’s rich Jewish heritage was also their obligation. Slowly but quietly — always quietly — they drew up plans for restoring most Jewish religious sites. They even endorsed our proposal that one of the restored synagogues should serve as a Museum of Egyptian Jewish Heritage, a place that would tell of the long, rich history of Jewish life in Egypt.

"Only a few knew. Every meeting I had with these Egyptian officials ended with the same admonition — “Please, do not tell anyone.”

"Why the secrecy when most governments would want the world to know of such commendable preservation work?

"In Egypt, the history of living alongside Jewish neighbors has been replaced with the demonizing of Israel, and often of Jews as well. The historic 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has for too long been ignored by Egypt’s cultural elites who have steadfastly rejected any normalization in relations. Minister Hosny and his colleagues have had reason to fear that Egyptians would react with anger when told of the restoration work.

"But the word is out now. And Zahi Hawass, an archeological legend known around the world for touting pyramids and the treasures of King Tut, is now reading up on the deeds of a medieval rabbi. Dr. Hawass promises that six more synagogue buildings in Cairo will be restored within two years. Egypt’s Jewish artifacts will never rival those of the Pharaohs. But reminding today’s Egyptians and others in this troubled region of a time when Jews were a natural part of Egyptian society is important.

It may even be a ray of hope when hope is so hard to find in this region. Maybe there will emerge one more miracle to credit to Rav Moshe."

Read article in full


Armand said...

Dear Lord, if humans only knew how much is there to gain by sharing culture and knowledge. Acts like this one ''The restoration of holy places'' show respect and invites similar reactions around the world.
Peace equals respect and individual freedom.
Thank you all for rising above meaningless differences.
Armand Kidouchim.
Calabasas, California. USA

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