Thursday, September 18, 2008

Restoration of Beirut synagogue begins next month

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.''

Read article in full

Same article in Jerusalem Post


Anonymous said...

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal summed up the supremacist Islamist viewpoint well when he said that "Jews have always lived among us. What we object to is Israel's occupation of land." That's code for: we respect the right of Jews to live among us Muslims as minorities within larger Islamic societies, but not to decide their own affairs for themselves. For Hezbollah and other supremacist groups, it is sacrilege for Jews to want to govern themselves, to have the right to determine their own destiny, free of Islamic interference. This right of self-determination is alien to the Islamic mentality. Asking an Islamist to allow the Jews to govern themselves is like asking a slaveowner to emancipate his slaves.

Anonymous said...

Hussein Rahal is Hez's spin doctor and knows what lousy PR he'd be generating by saying anything else.

His boss who walks around with his granny's black dress wrapped around his ugly head, on the other hand, has openly stated his wish to annihilate Jews.

lost tribe of lebanon said...

This is great news. It is heart breaking to pass by the magen Abraham every day and to see it standing in ruins.
But I wonder, would there be a rabbi there? would we dare go to pray? I'm not sure about that....

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

This is very nice but it has its downside as Victor explains.

It reminds me of what Putin does in Russia. After almost all of the Jews have left Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Putin allows or even encourages synagogues to be repaired and gives the remaining Jews other favors. So he is putting a PhiloJewish face on his anti-Israel policy [that is, I ain't against the Jews, only against Israeli aggression or only selling weapons to our partners in Syria or Iran or wherever].

Much of the motivation for this rebuilding of the synagogue in Beirut is self-embellishment, both on the part of the Lebanese govt majority [Siniora, etc] and the "opposition" [Hizbollah, et al.]. Likewise in Russia. They make gestures in favor of Jews while essentially making war against them.

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with your attack on what the Hezbollah spokesman said. In fact in ivctor's quote of him saying "Jews have always lived among us", the "us" is not meant to represent the muslims but the lebanese community as a whole.
Lebanon is blend of many religious communities (18) of christians, muslims and jews. Recent history has proven once more that no one group or community can really dominate the others, and things only work out when communities live in peace together. I don't think that it is a question of muslims against jews here. In fact dear victor for the Hezbollah even muslims wouldn't be considered as "us", since it distinguishes between the lebanese shiite, sunnite and other muslim communities of lebanon. I think that what they wanted to say here is that the jews of lebanon are as lebanese as all other communities, and there is no problem with them.
I am not saying things are easy or will be easy for the jewish community of lebanon. Just that what the other communities and political parties are trying to do here is a very good first step.
Showing that the political conflict between states is one thing and that it doesn't undermine people's right to live freely should be the aim here.
By the way if you are interested in hearing what the lebanese jewish community (the small part of it still living in lebanon) has to say about all this, visit and , a very inspiring initiative that, I hope, would be a first step toward the sought peace.