Thursday, April 08, 2010

No praying? Restored synagogues are what counts

The restored Maimonides synagogue (photo: Joyce Dallal)

Zahi Hawas, who heads Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Authority, caused an outcry when he said Jews were forbidden from praying in the newly-restored Maimonides synagogue. Should we be outraged that basic rights are being denied and that the local community is being sidelined, or simply grateful that these synagogues are being restored - and at the expense of the Egyptian public purse? Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association puts his point of view:

"Further to Mr Hawass's statement, I think we would be better advised, when dealing with non-life-threatening matters, to look beyond the bombast prevalent in that part of the world and stick to the essentials.

"I respectfully point your readers to an alternative, more authoritative point of view in Egypt, as well as a new balance in reporting the event, which has struck me. Please look at the following links to two of Egypt's prominent newspapers: An open and shut case ( and Jews of Egypt:a tale of love and cold shoulders (Al Masry- al Youm) .

"We should then reflect on the following:
How many Jews would pray in any one of Prague's museum synagogues?
How many Jews would pray in any Synagogue where there are no Sifrei Torah ?
How many Jews need anyone's permission to pray anywhere?
How many synagogues do we need for praying in Egypt? There are, by the way, two open for prayers in Cairo and one in Alexandria.
How often is a minyan (quorum) assembled ?

"The fact of the matter is that all but one or two of the synagogues in Egypt are in a sort of National Trust. That gives power to the 'boss man'.

"So what is it we Jews really want ? Is it to make Mr Hawass swallow his words and humbly repent ? Or is it, rather, to encourage him to continue restoring the synagogues ?

"The first - if ever achievable - would produce a pyrrhic victory at best and put in question the rest of the restoration programme.

"The latter inexorably leads to historical recognition, acceptance and understanding ( and possibly even future prayer halls !) when all current leaders and would-be devotees are all long dead.

"Was the status quo ante preferable ? Broken, undignified ruins where no one would go, let alone pray ?

"The local community has certainly neither the strength nor the means to carry out restoration work and I have not seen a queue of volunteers from abroad with outstretched hands and or funds.

"So in spite of his remarks,when all is said and done, the restoration work is all that matters. We should have the grace to recognize and feign to ignore this. This sort of turgid talk has always been for local consumption.

"I humbly feel that this is what we should all be doing: ignoring the fake bravado, acknowledging the real crux - restoration of Jewish heritage in a hate-ridden Muslim land."


Levana Zamir said...

When Zahi Hawass says that he would not allow any Jew or Israeli to pray in the restored Maimonides Synagogue and HE WOULD NOT ALLOW THE EGYPTIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY TO ADMINISTER THE SITE, these are not REMARKS but DECLARATIONS. Taking away from the Jewish Community of Cairo their right to administer the site because of Chabad dancing and kiddush, or because of Israel's policy in Gaza - which Egypt is execrating - these are all pretexts to take over the Jewish Public Properties. We all know that Ben-Ezra Synagogue was restored not by Egyptian money, but with a million dollar Jewish donation from Phyllis Lambert, and under one Egyptian condition: that the Synagogue becomes Egyptian Property and no more prayers will take place in that Synagogue. This is a POLICY, not a PUNISHMENT. During the restoration, the name of ALLAH in Arabic was even inscribed on one of the chandeliers of the Ben-Ezra Synagogue.
As Zahi Hawass said, the next Synagogue to be restored is Nebi Daniel in Alexandria, and now we all know why.
I am not coming here to say that Synagogue restoration is bad, but we don't have to shut up. It is our minimal duty to react when the government of Egypt is nationalizing, one after the other, our Synagogues and cultural heritage and making of them bare Pyramids. Our reaction will not stop the Synagogue restoration, because this is a matter of Egyptian Tourist interest, but it is our duty to try at least stopping their full nationalization.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I just saw Zaki Hawass interviewed this morning on France24 in English. He is what we call a shvitser, full of boasting, egotistic, narcissistic. He claimed that other archeologists "are jealous of me."

With such a personality, I wonder about the safety of the synagogues and the ancient artifacts under his control.

Of course, the Jews of Egypt are in a dilemma. As Yves Fedida seems to be saying: These people running Egypt are fanatics on a short fuse, and their masses are more fanatic yet, but they hold all the cards. Now, if we could get some prominent individuals in Europe, the West, Latin America, to take up the cause, especially politicians in the US Congress or the French parliament, maybe the Euro parliament at Strasbourg [not the British parliament where even a humble request to Mubarak to recognize Jewish rights to their heritage would likely be met with angry screams from galloway and jenny tonge about Israeli war crimes, etc], a journalist like Melanie Philips, then there could be some restraint on the Egyptian officials. Historians, archeologists, writers [Bernard-Henri Levi, Claude Lanzmann and such], Jewish leaders, especially in the USA, could be all be helpful. But politicians --esp. prominent politicians, maybe Senator McCain, Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, -- are most important. Unfortunately, few outside of Egypt seem to care even about the regular, often deadly, persecution/discrimination against the Egyptian Copts. Would anybody care about the humiliation that Egyptian Jews feel over this policy of appropriating synagogues??

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Maybe some Italian parliamentarians might be willing to make this a cause. After all, the Italians are concerned about matters of heritage preservation. Then Magdi Allam, a former Egyptian, is a prominent journalist there, and Fiamma Nirenstein is both a journalist and member of parliament [deputy chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee].

The issue of the Tomb of Ezekiel could also be brought up, although I don't know if protests abroad could move the Iraqi govt, given the power of the Shi`a waqf.

This Arab attitude toward others' holy places and places of worship could be demonstrated by pointing out that a "human rights" group in Gaza called rebuilding the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem "a war crime" by Israel.

Anonymous said...

Ce n'est pas croyable! et puis quoi encore???? Franchement, le monde s'ecroule. Et personne pour le sauver. Tous muets !

Anonymous said...

How dare they deny any Jew from praying at this Synagogue? Please stop another attempt of antisemitism. Wasn't the Holocaust enough?
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How dare they deny any Jew from praying at this Synagogue? Please stop another attempt of antisemitism. Wasn't the Holocaust enough?
Thank you.

Yves Fedida said...

All other synagogues but the existing 12 or 13 were sold by OUR OWN people, converted into warehouses, mosques and other niceties.
Only 3 are used on some high holidays when a minyan of occasional tourists can be gathered.

WE ALL requested that Egypt save the existing ones. This is EXACTLY what they have done and will continue to do.

By being put into National Trust ( which happened more than a decade ago ) Egypt is condemned to maintain them and keep them up. At this stage, it is any alternative behaviour on their part that would constitute the real offense.
The outcry against "successive nationalisation" is, with all due respect, a smoke screen. They have been under national trust--that is to say inalienable -- for sometime now.

As to the question of who administers them is concerned, we need to weigh our forces there
and ask ourselves whether this non-administration is really verified and even if it were what difference it would make. In this respect, having been there quite a few times, I believe the case of Ben Ezra is misrepresented in Levana's comments.

It is our hope that ex Jews from Egypt would finally get their act together in a proactive way to join in an association that would represent a credible successor in the eyes of the local government.

izzy said...

The reaction of Dr. Zaki Hawass and his latest pronouncements are unfortunately all too typical for Egypt officialdom.

They were all along wary of their local population mis-interpreting the government's intent of salvaging this historical Jewish site. They wanted it to be hush hush ... now that the cat is out of the bag and even the NY Times reported the facts surrounding this subject, now it is time for some public indignation ... How dare they pray in a synagogue?!

Why can't they leave well alone? You have initially done the right thing "Ye great Egypt" why not accept the thanks of an aging community and use it as a decent rapprochement with your estranged Jewish community. Why must you reset a good deed instead of moving forward with hope for a more positive future.

Dr Hawass, sir, I knew Nasser and you are no Nasser; so consider yourself lucky that you're not and continue to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may; because polictics and antiquity ought not mix.

Israel Bonan

Liliane Schwartz said...

Je suis choquée de penser qu'un lieu de culte devienne monument historique pour tourisme!Ce n'est pas le cas dans les pays de l'est, c'est vrai, mais là-bas il reste plus de juifs. Néammoins, lorsque les anciens juifs d'Egypte veulent visiter leur ancienne synagogue lors d'une visite en Egypte, cela ne leur est pas facile. Il faut également pouvoir envoyer de l'argent pour la restauration.Aussi les synagogues restent-t-elles désertées ou peu fréquentées. Qui dans peu de temps sera en mesure de les administrer, d'y tenir des offices? Y aura-t-il un jour des volontaires venus d'ailleurs pour cela?Le gouv.Egyptien nationalise à sa manière nos synagogues, et nous n'y pourrons plus prier. Cela nous révolte, certes, et nous nous sentons encore brimés et frustrés, car c'est encore une énorme injustice, nos biens communautaires enlevés sous prétexte de restauration.Que faire? Réagir, on le peut, mais comment agir? et ensuite...quel avenir pour nos synagogues une fois notre génération éteinte? Même des solutions effectives ne peuvent passer que par la politique et la paix entre Israël et les pays arabes, la négociation,l'entraide des communautés juives du monde.Mais ce n'est pas la politique de l'Egypte concernant le patrimoine juif. Liliane.

Moshe Antebi said...

In his comment Mr. Fedida wrote:
"It is our hope that ex-Jews from Egypt would finally get their act together in a proactive way to join in an association that would represent a credible successor in the eyes of the local government."
It explains why you behave like you do. But dear Mr. Fedida, Egypt will Never but NEVER, let any ex-Egyptian Jew or any Jewish organization of ex-Egyptian Jews, to be the successor of Carmen the "puppet" or Ben-Gaon the other "puppet"... This is a Chateau en Espagne.
Moshe Antebi

charlie said...

The arabs will no longer get back their lost civilization and tolerance. Don't understand how they could justify such decision ... Arab politicians have failed ... and continue to accuse others for their failure ....

Anonymous said...

the world will understand immediatly when we stop moslems praying in Jerusalem. Moslems understand unfortunatly only the language of an eye for an eye and a tooth fo tooth

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

an interesting phenomenon here:
Egypt, or rather Arab-Muslim Egypt, claims the heritage of people whom they threw out with little more than the clothes on their backs.

suzy pirotte vidal said...

abraHamNothing has changed then?
We Jews have to keep shtumm to all the indecencies showered on us.
Why in heaven's name don't we understand that they will never change?
When I see Hawass he reminds me of Musslini who said "Il duce ha sempre ragione!"
Sultana Latifa

Anonymous said...

Il est inacceptable de ne pas réagir a la décision de changer le statut des synagogues d'Egypte.
Les organismes supposés défendre le patrimoine des juifs d'Egypte doivent réagir à ce changement de destination d'un patrimoine juif.
Ils ne peuvent éviter de réagir car il s'agit de l'objet même de leur statut, de leur existence (sauf à se saborder). Sans réaction, c'est en accepter le principe, alors qu'en réagissant il sera toujours possible à nos enfants à nos successeurs de demander réparation.
Imaginez un peu, si une mosquée était changée de destination pour devenir un musée, un batiment administratif, une église ou une synagogue? Croyez vous qu'il n'y aurait pas une levée de boucliers?

Anonymous said...

Il EST inacceptable de NE PAS reagir a la decision de changeur le Statut des synagogues d'Egypte.
Les Organismes supposes defendre le patrimoine des Juifs d'Egypte doivent reagir à CE Changement de destination du patrimoine juif auprès de l'ONU et de toute instance internationale.

Ne pas réagir au changement de destination de synagogues, c'est refuser de défendre le patrimoine juif, c'est ne pas respecter ses propres statuts. Il ne sert a rien de defendre l existence d un batiment administratif anciennement juif, devenu propriete de l etat ou de particuliers

Reagir permettra peut etre aux generations futures de les recuperer pour leur redonner leur mission d origine

Imaginez un PEU , SI UNE mosquée etait changée de destination pour Devenir un musée un batiment administratif, UNE OU UNE synagogue ou une église? Croyez qu'il y aurait UNE levée de boucliers?

Unknown said...

Shalom a tous,

Comment ne pas voir en cela un signe messianique!
En effet dans le Talmud (Traite de Meguila page 29) redige depuis 1500 ans, il est mentione:
"Il arrivera un temps ou toutes les syngogues de la diaspora seront remplacees (translatees/transplantees) par celles fondees en Eretz Israel."
On le voit a notre epoque, beaucoup de synaguogues ont ete construites en Israel avec un soin particulier pour preserver le cachet de synaguogues de Diaspora qui ont ete detruites ou changees en mosquee ou eglise.
En consequence, en reaction a cela, il faudrait a mon humble avis, s'investir et se mobiliser pour construire au moins une synaguogue, ressemblant a une des synagogues d'Egypte ou dans celle-ci les juifs organiseraient des offices de priere et des cours de Thora quotidiennement, ce qui est en fin de compte, la seule raison d'etre d'une synagogue.