Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Beirut synagogue demolition reports denied

The Beirut property development company Solidere has denied rumours that the Magen Avraham Jewish Synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil is to be demolished: “We are keen on keeping the heart of the capital as a symbol of the crossroads of the Lebanese from various religions”, they declared.

Lebanese National News Agency 8 April, 2008: The Company “Solidere” announced in a statement today that “the news which was reported recently in some of the media on the subject of the demolition of the Maghen Avraham Synagogue located in the Wadi Abu Jamil - downtown Beirut among other buildings is quite a shame, not right and has no basis.

“It is very surprising that such a fabricated news story was put out. The company Solidere had recently confirmed that the Jewish synagogue will be repaired by the leaders of the Jewish community in Lebanon, who can confirm this, as well as other religious buildings in downtown Beirut, which have been renovated by their respective communities. In due time, the restoration will be implemented. The maintenance of the Jewish synagogue is within the framework of the project rebuilding downtown Beirut, which includes in the main points to maintaining the places of worship of various denominations, as well as the historic buildings and archeological sites.

Solidere asserts that one of its major objectives in the process of the revitalization of downtown Beirut is to keep the heart of the capital intact -a symbol of the crossroads of all Lebanese from different religions and sects and creeds.”

Haaretz had reported on 7 April:

"The largest synagogue in Beirut is in danger of being demolished as part of a city center renovation project.

Lebanese sources involved in preserving Jewish tradition in the country published pictures last month of the desolate synagogue, Magen Avraham, and surrounding buildings.

The photos, which were taken covertly because of the proximity to government offices, show that buildings in the area are in the process of being demolished. The roof of a building next to the synagogue has been dismantled, which some fear is the first stage of that building's destruction. At this point, the synagogue itself does not appear to have been damaged.

However, the Lebanese sources said that widespread demolition is taking place even though the structures in the area had previously been declared designated for preservation.

The renovation of central Beirut is being carried out by the Lebanese construction company Solidere, in which the Hariri family own shares.

Magen Avraham has been left desolate for about 20 years. The Jewish community, which constitutes one of the 19 official religious communities in Lebanon and at various points included tens of thousands of people, pretty much disappeared from the country in the 1980s.

Sources have told Haaretz that there are still Jews living in Lebanon, but only a few admit their religious identity, fearing they would be harmed if their neighbors discovered they were Jewish.

The community's silence is a problem when it comes to Jewish communal property. The head of the Jewish community apparently lives abroad, and it is not clear who is in fact running communal affairs. (...)

It is not clear whether the synagogue belongs to the Jewish community or has been sold to private owners.

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