Friday, April 30, 2010

Lebanese Jews will not return to Beirut

Construction work goes on apace at the synagogue in Wadi Jamil, Beirut (La Presse)

Who is Isaac Arazi? The mysterious head of the Jewish communal council in Lebanon and instigator of the reconstruction of the Beirut synagogue has finally stepped out of the shadows for this interview with the Canadian magazine Cyberpresse. But Arazi's pipe-dream of rebuilding not just the Beirut synagogue, but the Jewish community in Lebanon, is greeted with scepticism both at home and abroad:

At the heart of the ancient valley of the Jews, between the deluxe new sand-coloured buildings, the synagogue, Maghen Abraham, is still standing. Since 2008, Isaac Arazi, an old man with glasses as thick as bottle bottoms, who directs the Lebanese Jewish Communal Council, is working against all odds to get the renovation of this last vestige of the neighborhood organised.

"It was desolate. And you see, Solidere (the property development company) is a jewel of the Middle East.'"It's silly to leave a ruined synagogue among these beautiful buildings, "he says.

But the ambition of Mr. Arazi does not stop there. The real purpose of the renovation project, he says, is to rebuild the Jewish community, and even persuade some expatriates to return to Lebanon. Lebanon's Jewish population is now estimated at 200 or 300 people (even this is an exaggeration - ed). "In 10 years", he promises, "it will be large."

Nada Abdelsamad, a journalist who recently published a book on the history of the Jews of Lebanon, is skeptical. "The synagogue was once very active. But after the reconstruction, will this be working synagogue or a tourist attraction? " she asks.

If the question arises, "says Abdelsamad, " it's because Jews are the object of a general feeling of antipathy in Lebanon. And this will not disappear as long as Arab States of the region are at war against their neighbor Israel."

In 2008, when Mr. Arazi announced plans for reconstruction, the tension was also palpable. The Lebanese particularly feared the reaction of the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state.

Against all expectations, a spokesman for the organization allayed fears by saying: "We respect Judaism, just as we respect Christianity. "Our only problem is Israel's occupation. "

In Canada, expatriate Selim Sasson admits that the Lebanese Jewish diaspora is bored with Wadi Abu Jamil and its synagogue.

So much so that some years ago the synagogue they attend in Montreal was named Maghen Abraham after its Beirut Siamese twin. But nostalgia for Mr.Sasson stops there.

"Maghen Abraham, he says, " is like a gravestone."It's over. It's been 40 years since we planted our roots elsewhere. It's very difficult to even think of returning to Lebanon. "

Under the sun of Beirut, Isaac Arazi still dreams of a happy tomorrow. "When the renovation of the synagogue ends, I hope that the Lebanese Jews abroad will come and see for themselves. Maybe they will change their minds, " he said.

Read article in full (French)

1 comment:

Juniper in the Desert said...

Hope springs eternal. And why not? Maybe our children will return.

What about the young Polish teenagers who thought they were Catholics, found out they were originally Jewish, and embraced Judaism with great fervor, becoming orthodox, re-converting, practising kosher and studying Torah.

In years to come Beirut may see a re-flowering of Jews.(God willing)