Wednesday, May 22, 2024
 
 

Historic Alexandria synagogue hosts the largest prayer service since restoration

EPA-EFE//KHALED ELFIQI
A view inside the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its opening after extensive restoration in Alexandria, Egypt.

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A six-hundred-year-old, recently renovated synagogue in Egypt’s Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria hosted about 180 Jews to celebrate Shabbat earlier in February
The event, which was organised by the Nebi Daniel Association, was dedicated to the preservation of Jewish historical sites in Egypt, most of which had fallen into disrepair after the government of Gamal Nasser – an Egyptian nationalist and firebrand pan-Arabist who also a staunch all of the Soviet Union – was routed in two major wars with Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, enacted several anti-Semitic laws that forced much of Egypt’s millennia-old Jewish community to flee.
The Egyptian government reopened the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue to much fanfare at the beginning of January. The site is one of only two surviving Jewish prayer houses in Alexandria. It was built in 1354 by Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, but when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, the synagogue was destroyed by a fire. It was later rebuilt in 1850 when the Jewish community was one of the largest ethnic groups in Alexandria, a city that was until the middle of the last century overwhelmingly Greek, French, Armenian, and Jewish.
For the tiny number of Egypt’s Jews, which once numbered in the tens-of-thousands and who have 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.
Some Jews believe that the restoration of the historic synagogue may contribute to the development of the famous tourism industry of Alexandria. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he plans to launch more conservation projects that will help preserve the historic places of worship of Egyptian Jews and Coptic Christians.

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