Monday, August 03, 2009

Reconstruction of Beirut's synagogue begins

The reconstruction of Beirut's Maghen Avraham synagogue is finally underway, Ben Gilbert of the GlobalPost writes. However, one has to wonder whether this project will be anything more than a museum, when members of the minuscule Jewish community are loath to identify themselves, and even the architect wants to remain anonymous 'for reasons of personal security.' (With thanks: binhaddou)

BEIRUT — A long-delayed plan to renovate Beirut’s only synagogue is finally coming to fruition.

The Lebanese architect working with Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community to rehabilitate Beirut’s Maghan Avraham Synagogue told GlobalPost that the Jewish Community Council was reviewing three contractors’ bids for the reconstruction. Once the council decides on a contractor — likely this weekend — work could begin within a week, said the architect, who is also one of the bidders.

“The rehabilitation is moving ahead,” said the architect, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about personal security. “It will start before winter.”

The synagogue was partially destroyed in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. The roof has since collapsed and graffiti covers the walls. Trees, shrubs and trash litter what was once the Lebanese Jewish community’s biggest and most sacred house of worship. Lebanon has several other synagogues that have sat dormant for decades.

But at Maghan Avraham Synagogue, the first signs of renovation are finally evident. The synagogue’s rusty and padlocked gate has been removed. Scaffolding has been erected inside the main building, and a small new concrete driveway leads from the synagogue’s small garden to the street.

“They’re taking out the rubbish,” said a security guard standing nearby.

Renovation will cost between $1 million and $2 million, and all of Lebanon’s political parties have so far blessed the work, including the militantly anti-Israel group Hezbollah, according to the architect. But part of the reason for speaking with the media now, the architect said, was to conduct a “test” to see if any Lebanese had concerns about the project.

“It would be a shame to start and then have to stop,” he said. “We would rather not start at all.”

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