Thursday, June 20, 2024
 
 

Egypt reopens historic synagogue in Alexandria

EPA-EFE//KHALED ELFIQI
An interior view of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during in Alexandria, Egypt.

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After undergoing extensive renovations, the Egyptian government reopened to much fanfare a six-hundred-year-old synagogue in the country’s Mediterranean coastal city Alexandria on January 10, a ceremony that was attended by only three Jews.
To help bring new life to the 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi, or Elijah the Prophet, synagogue, the government poured $40 million into the restoration project, which is part of an ambitious programme to preserve the Middle East nation’s ancient Jewish heritage, which has suffered from mass immigration and overt antisemitism since Israel was founded in 1948.
The two-story synagogue partially collapsed in 2016. Antiquities officials said the renovations, which began the following year, prevented it from becoming a total loss.
For the tiny number of Egypt’s Jews community, which once numbered in the tens-of-thousands and had a presence in the country for more than 4,000 years, they found the restoration project and revival of the synagogue hard to believe.
Magda Haroun, the head of Cairo’s Jewish community. said that preserving the Jewish heritage in Egypt is a never-ending challenge and even she was surprised that the Egyptian government allocated funds to rebuild the landmark house of prayer.
The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue is one of two remaining Jewish houses of worship in Alexandria. It was built in 1354 by Sephardic Jews who had fled persecution by the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, but when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, the synagogue was destroyed in a fire. It was later rebuilt in 1850 when the Jewish community was one of the largest ethnic groups in Alexandria.
Until the middle of the 20th-century, Alexandria was one of the Mediterranean’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities with a mostly Greek, Jewish, and French population. In addition to being the home of dozens of Greek Orthodox churches, it also used to have more than a dozen synagogues. The rise of Arab nationalism and the rise of the anti-Israeli and anti-Western dictator, Gamel Nasser, led to the expulsion of nearly all of Alexandria’s Jews and Greeks.
Some Jews believe that restoring the historic synagogue may help boost Alexandria’s flagging tourism industry. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said that he plans to launch more preservation projects that help save the historic places of worship for Egyptian Jews and Coptic Christians.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979.

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