The restored Maimonides synagogue (photo: Joyce Dallal)
Zahi Hawas, who heads Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Authority, caused an outcry when he said Jews were forbidden from praying in the newly-restored Maimonides synagogue. Should we be outraged that basic rights are being denied and that the local community is being sidelined, or simply grateful that these synagogues are being restored - and at the expense of the Egyptian public purse? Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association puts his point of view:
"Further to Mr Hawass's statement, I think we would be better advised, when dealing with non-life-threatening matters, to look beyond the bombast prevalent in that part of the world and stick to the essentials.
"I respectfully point your readers to an alternative, more authoritative point of view in Egypt, as well as a new balance in reporting the event, which has struck me. Please look at the following links to two of Egypt's prominent newspapers: An open and shut case (weekly.ahram.org.eg-issue-990) and Jews of Egypt:a tale of love and cold shoulders (Al Masry- al Youm) .
"We should then reflect on the following:
How many Jews would pray in any one of Prague's museum synagogues?
How many Jews would pray in any Synagogue where there are no Sifrei Torah ?
How many Jews need anyone's permission to pray anywhere?
How many synagogues do we need for praying in Egypt? There are, by the way, two open for prayers in Cairo and one in Alexandria.
How often is a minyan (quorum) assembled ?
"The fact of the matter is that all but one or two of the synagogues in Egypt are in a sort of National Trust. That gives power to the 'boss man'.
"So what is it we Jews really want ? Is it to make Mr Hawass swallow his words and humbly repent ? Or is it, rather, to encourage him to continue restoring the synagogues ?
"The first - if ever achievable - would produce a pyrrhic victory at best and put in question the rest of the restoration programme.
"The latter inexorably leads to historical recognition, acceptance and understanding ( and possibly even future prayer halls !) when all current leaders and would-be devotees are all long dead.
"Was the status quo ante preferable ? Broken, undignified ruins where no one would go, let alone pray ?
"The local community has certainly neither the strength nor the means to carry out restoration work and I have not seen a queue of volunteers from abroad with outstretched hands and or funds.
"So in spite of his remarks,when all is said and done, the restoration work is all that matters. We should have the grace to recognize and feign to ignore this. This sort of turgid talk has always been for local consumption.
"I humbly feel that this is what we should all be doing: ignoring the fake bravado, acknowledging the real crux - restoration of Jewish heritage in a hate-ridden Muslim land."