AJC Celebrates with Egyptian Jews Dedication of Restored Cairo Synagogue
March 7, 2010 — Cairo — The American Jewish Committee (AJC) celebrated today with the Egyptian Jewish community the rededication of the historic Rav Moshe synagogue, restored by the Egyptian government.
“When I first set foot here only five years ago, the synagogue was in ruins and its roof opened to the sky,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs, as he affixed a new mezuzah, a gift from AJC, at the entryway to the adjoining yeshiva. The yeshiva was the original study of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides, the renowned physician, rabbinic scholar and leader of the Egyptian Jewish community in the 12th century.
Baker praised Egypt’s Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny and Supreme Council of Antiquities Head Zahi Hawass for now recognizing that Jewish religious sites are also an integral part of Egyptian heritage and Egyptian culture, and then leading the restoration project.
“There is no more tangible expression of this than the restored synagogue and yeshiva where we gather today,” said Baker. “They are a testament to the verbal commitment of Minister Hosny and Dr. Hawass, and a reflection of the dedicated work of skilled engineers and artisans. On behalf of AJC I salute them and thank them for what they have done.”
AJC, a global advocacy organization based in New York, maintains longstanding ties with Egypt and several other Arab countries.
Recalling his very first to Egypt, Baker described how Carmen Weinstein, a leader of Cairo’s Jewish community, led him on a tour of twelve synagogues, most of them in a state of neglect and disrepair. “They reflected the diversity and richness of Jewish life in Egypt,” Baker said. The Egyptian Jewish population totally 80,000 in the first half of the twentieth century, and today is only about 100. Baker lauded Ms. Weinstein for shouldering the responsibilities of the small community.
Today, the Egyptian government has pledged to restore six more synagogues over the next two years. It is hoped that one of them will become a Museum of Jewish Heritage in Egypt.
“Such a museum will provide a repository to the scrolls and artifacts and communal archives necessary to preserve a legacy when the present-day community has passed,” said Baker. “Importantly, the Museum of Jewish Heritage also will teach a younger generation of Egyptians that there was a time when Jews were part of the fabric of life here and all were enriched as a result.”
In a letter to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Ghet, 21 members of the United States Congress praised the Egyptian government for undertaking the restoration of synagogues and cemeteries in Cairo and Alexandria.
“We sincerely hope you will follow through on these efforts,” wrote the Members of Congress. “They will serve as a tangible reminder of the religious and cultural diversity and harmony that are hallmarks of Egypt’s past and, we foresee, of the entire region’s future as well.”
(Tags: American Jewish Committee, Egypt, Synagogue)