Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hezbollah blesses Beirut synagogue restoration

It's just as well that the projected renovation of the Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut, as reported by Haaretz, has Hezbollah's blessing, or it might find itself caught up in the next round of fighting. With so few Jews left in Lebanon, however, it will be more of a mausoleum commemorating past diversity than a symbol of present tolerance: (With thanks: Lily and an anonymous reader)

"The ruined main synagogue in central Beirut is due to be renovated in the coming weeks, after an agreement between various religious denominations and permission from the Lebanese government, planning authorities and even Hezbollah. Several dozen Jews still living in Lebanon will fund the project, along with others in the Diaspora.

"Renovations will include mending the gaping hole in the Magen Avraham synagogue's roof and repairing the chandeliers that once hung from it. The Torah ark and prayer benches will also be refurbished to their former states.

"People involved in the project told Haaretz Tuesday by telephone that renovations were scheduled to begin "within weeks."

"The job will be funded by a $200,000-donation from private donors, as well as $150,000 from Solidere, a construction firm tasked with rebuilding central Beirut from the destruction of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. The company is privately owned by the family of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister assassinated in 2005.

"The project received the green light after political officials and community leaders became convinced it could show that Lebanon is an open country, tolerant of many faiths including Judaism.

"Solidere's reconstruction contract stipulates that any places of worship must not be razed, but remain under the ownership of the religious community it serves, people involved in the renovation told Haaretz. The company has budgeted $150,000 for the rebuilding of each house of worship.

"Lebanon's Jewish community is one of the country's 17 officially recognized faiths. The several dozen people in its remaining Jewish community hold few religious activities other than prayer services during the High Holidays. Many Jewish residents are in middle age or older, and affluent. Many live outside Lebanon, mainly in Europe.

"The Jewish community never served as a target for anyone in Lebanon. All the Jews who left the country did so of their own free will (a controversial statement - ed). We're not talking about renewing prayer in the synagogue, but only about renovation as a symbol of the great diversity of Lebanon and the history of the community," one source said.

"Yitzhak Levanon, a Herzliya-based writer and translator who studied at the American University in Beirut in the late 1920s and early 1930s, told Haaretz: "The story of the Jews in Lebanon is over. It cannot be returned."

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