In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife, caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon's 15-year civil war, were helped to escape by a Shi'ite Muslim militiaman. Now he is raising money from the Lebanese Jewish diaspora to rebuild the bombed-out Magen Avraham synagogue in Beirut, Bloomberg reports. The restoration, which begins next month, has Hezbollah's blessing:
Arazi figures it will cost about $1 million to restore the synagogue. Making the effort possible is the end of an 18-month crisis between Lebanon's political factions, the blessing of the Lebanese government, financial support from a downtown reconstruction project and acquiescence from the Shiite Hezbollah movement that fought a month-long war against Israel in 2006.
He so far has raised about $40,000 for the project, but has promises of more. Ten percent of the estimated cost will come from Solidere SAL, a company founded in 1994 by then-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri -- later assassinated in a bombing supporters blame on Syria -- to rebuild the capital's downtown.
The company has given $150,000 to each of 14 religious organizations that are restoring places of worship in Lebanon -- about $2.1 million in all. ``We help all the communities,'' said Solidere chairman Nasser Chammaa.
The Safra family, whose Safra Group includes Brazil's Banco Safra SA and Safra National Bank of New York and which was based in Lebanon in the 1940s as part of the Jewish community, has agreed to help fund the project once work begins, Arazi said.
Joseph R. Safra, nephew of Republic National Bank of New York founder Edmond Safra, said: ``We do not comment on private matters.'' Joseph Safra heads Arview Holdings, Inc., a New York financial-consulting and advisory firm.
Two banks in Switzerland whose founders have Lebanese- Jewish roots also agreed to provide financing, Arazi said. One of the banks has pledged $100,000 toward the synagogue's restoration. Arazi declined to name the banks.
Even the warring factions in Lebanon's government have blessed the project. ``This is a religious place of worship and its restoration is welcome,'' Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, 65, said in an interview. Hussain Rahal, a spokesman for Hezbollah, said his group -- which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, and which the West considers a terrorist organization -- also supports the restoration of Maghen Abraham.
``We respect the Jewish religion just like we do Christianity,'' he said. ``The Jews have always lived among us. We have an issue with Israel's occupation of land.''
Arazi said work on the restoration is to begin next month. Meanwhile, his council is already working on plans for its next project: restoring Beirut's Jewish cemetery, where about 4,500 people are buried.
Walking among the weeds overgrowing the cemetery's tombstones, Arazi said: ``I remember my father when I come here.''