Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sixty attend Rosh Hashana services in Cairo

Unseasonal heat and anti-Islamic film riots were just two of the problems that this year's Rosh Hashana celebrations in Cairo did not anticipate. But as Carmen Weinstein, the Cairo Jewish community head, records in Bassatine News, more than 60 people managed to observe the High Holiday regardless (with thanks: Vernon):
"T.S. Eliot once said "April is the cruellest month of the year." I am today adding to his words, "and so was September 2012!”

Preparing for Roshanna can be an ordeal. Who will lead the prayers? Will Rabbi Mark al-Fassi agree to come from Paris? Will the JOINT be kind enough to pay for his travel expenses? And now that Sinai is OUT, will the special food the JOINT sends for Roshanna arrive by air? If so will it be delivered on time? Will the invited ambassadors attend? Who among the diplomats, students and friends will accept to join us in our celebration?

All this multiplied tenfold this ROSHANNA 16th of September 2012. A date to remember!
So let’s take it step by step as it unfolds:

THE RABBI. The JOINT kindly agrees to pay for the rabbi. Mark al-Fassi, against all odds, accepts to come despite the evil media publicity claiming that the “Alexandria Synagogue Eliahu Hannabi has been closed and taken over by the government." And that "prayers therein are forbidden!" All of this BALAGAN, as our friend Ami is wont to say, frightened Mark al-Fassi’s friends who urged him not to come. Neither did four days of rioting around the American embassy help! I must admit it was near heroic of him to keep his word and show up.

THE FOOD. The Israeli Ambassador was kind enough to accept supervising the receiving of the food, clearing it through customs, getting out all necessary documents, plus delivering it at the JCC door. Likewise, he made sure the Alexandria community got its fair share and, contrary to media claims, they DID celebrate in spite of Abraham Dayan and his acolytes.
So the food is distributed and everything so far is fine. So far.

THE CELEBRATION: We eventually decided to celebrate Roshanna at the landmark Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in downtown Cairo. Usually this is a relief for our community members who find the trip to Maadi and back quite tiring. Hence, all is pre-settled with the security personnel both outside the Synagogue and within.

BUT then... all Hell is let loose. The anti- Islamic film riots start and we change almost twice a day the location of the celebration at the request of diplomatic friends. Will it be Maadi or will it be downtown? I even thought of Ben Ezra. Finally, appeasement falls on Midan Tahrir and arguably the final choice is Shaar Hashamayim.

HIGH ANXIETY. People are calling all the time. They either want to find out the venue or whether or not the celebration is going to take place, or both. Even on the day itself I was getting inquiries and requests to attend. Truthfully, I thought we would be a mere twenty. We ended 'MASHA'ALLAH' MORE THAN 60.

17:30 SUNDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2012. Guests start to arrive for the celebration of our New Year. By 18:15 almost everybody made it: community members, year-abroad students, Austrian Ambassador Tomas Nader and his lovely wife Ingrid, the new Austrian deputy chief of mission (DCM) Rene Paul and his American counterpart. In fact DCM Mark Sievers arrived accompanied by our friend Peter Shea and the new political secretary Mr Robert Stern plus several others from the American Embassy. Ambassador Ann Patterson and her husband, who usually share our celebrations, had just returned from holiday and thus couldn’t make it.

THE PRAYER. Mark al-Fassi starts praying but September, which is supposed to herald autumn with a cool and fragrant air, is stifling hot. Almost 37 celsius! Nevertheless, our courageous Rabbi is praying stoically bearing the heat until an electric fan is wheeled into the Bima. Since the synagogue is listed as a principal Egyptian Jewish antiquity, we cannot install that miraculous device the Air-Condition. The prayer continues followed with devotions at the Ekhal with the Sefer Toras. The ceremony lasts for more than one hour.

I quote here our webmaster Samir Raafat who thought the celebration not as brilliant as of days past. It is partially true. Back then we welcomed the full or partial attendance of the Israeli embassy members. Despite their understandable absence, we are doing our best. Moreover, present circumstances do not call for flamboyancy. To be noted that even those of us who are sick and/or need wheel chairs, canes or crutches are doing their best to keep on. Such is life and we accept it keeping on our traditions as best we can.

THE DINNER. After prayers we moved to the ground floor Shaar Hashamayim function hall for the traditional dinner. Mark al-Fassi did the usual "BEROKHOT" over pomegranates, dates and apples dipped in honey etc. The buffet dinner was plentiful, but unfortunately, because of the unexpected heat, most of the food had to be disposed of. One does what one can. The important thing is that we put our hearts in our prayers and holy celebrations and keep going.

17 September 2012
The Synagogue is open for the first day of Roshanna. Miraculously we have a minyan, which rarely happened in previous years. Mark al-Fassi conducted prayers that ended with the traditional five-time blowing of the SHOFAR echoing the past when it was used to call worshipers to come and pray. The last call ends the prayers for roshanna Day One (1 Tishrei 5773).

18 September 2012
More prayers on the 2nd day of Roshanna. And another five blasts of the shofar the last one signaling the end of Roshanna prayers Day Two. It seems when things are looking not so good, people turn more to faith.

And now, as we embark on a new year the JCC thanks all our friends who joined our celebrations and together we applaud Rabbi Rabbi Mark al-Fassi who braved everyone to come and conduct our prayers. Lastly, a thank you to our good friend Samir for keeping us on the net.
Bravo to all and Happy Holidays!"

Carmen Weinstein - JCC President 

See Bassatine News article (issue 31)

A note about 'Sam and Amira':

An article about two Egyptian 'Jews' - Sam and Amira - by the (Jewish) editor of Bikr al-Masr, Joseph Mayton, has found its way into Jewish Ideas Daily and now the Jerusalem Post

Point of No Return is highly suspicious of whether these 'Jews' are genuine - the community consists of a collection of elderly women. If they are real Jews, they are busy suppressing what is Jewish about them. They are parroting what the Egyptian Muslims want to hear: that Arabs are justified in their hostility to Israel, that exiled Jews are just yearning to come back to Egypt (nicely reciprocrating the Palestinian 'right of return' to Israel) and that these two are somehow protected by their European passports.

What is left unsaid is more remarkable: Islamist anti-Jewish and anti-Coptic hatred is not mentioned; the fact Jews were expelled because of their European passports in 1956; and that antisemitism in Egypt was such that 40 percent of Jews were stateless, and that  Jews with Egyptian passports were also expelled. Shame on the credulous editors who accepted to publish this propagandistic piece.     

1 comment:

Sultana Latifa said...

it's very easy to re-write history all the more so as we Jewish
Egyptians can no longer have our say!
thousands of Egyptian pounds have been spent to renovate our Synagogue
but we have to ask for a special permission to go there!!!
Mrs. Weinstein is married to an Egyptian and therefore protected, but
she was the one who said NO to a group wanting to pray in our
So let's remember what we went through !
Sultana Latifa