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Protest in Alexandria (archives) Photo: AP
Protest in Alexandria (archives) Photo: AP
 
 

Egypt shul to stay empty on Yom Kippur

For first time in years, last active synagogue in Alexandria will likely not open for prayer services on High Holidays due to security concerns. 'This means the end of Judaism in Egypt,' says Jewish organization chairperson

Roi Kais
Published: 09.04.12, 14:04 / Israel Jewish Scene

For the first time in years, it appears that Alexandria's ancient Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue will not open for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayer services. The magnificent building, erected in the 19th century, is considered the last active synagogue in Egypt.

 

According to reports, the Egyptians have decided not to allow the prayer this year for security reasons.

 

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The decision was delivered to Rabbi Avraham Dayan, an Israeli of Egyptian descent and the former rabbi of Alexandria, who every year organizes a quorum of volunteers from Israel and other countries to pray at the ancient synagogue on the High Holidays.

 

Rabbi Dayan told Ynet, "We are trying to organize a quorum, but because of the security-related situation we're not really succeeding. We are still in touch with the Egyptian security organizations and are trying to make some progress…

 

"This year there have been some violent demonstrations in Alexandria, and they're afraid to take responsibility over people."

  

Alexandria's synagogues

 

According to the rabbi, the decision to prevent the quorum has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt. He said he had spoken to the leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria, who expressed his fear that worshippers would be targeted.

 

"Of course I'm disappointed," said Rabbi Dayan. "Everything was ready, and now we're forced to cancel. But we are preparing for any change, and if that happens – we'll leave for the synagogue."

 

'Mubarak era was different'

According to Levana Zamir, president of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association, "Rabbi Dayan holds a quorum at the synagogue every year. There used to be a quorum of Jewish men in the city in the past, but there are fewer people in recent years so they had to bring some 'reinforcement' from Israel.

 

"The volunteers would stay in Alexandria 10 days, and the flights would be funded by the Joint. I personally supplied Rabbi Dayan with people from the community who were ready to come. It's not that pleasant to leave one's family for 10 days, but there are those who care and were willing to do it."

 

Zamir believes there is a connection between the new government and the failure to hold a quorum in Alexandria this year. "When they don't want something to take place, they mention security reasons," she claims.

 

"This will be the first time that this synagogue will not host Rosh Hashana prayers, and this means the end of Judaism there.

 

"The building's architecture is amazing. It was built there instead of a synagogue from the Hellenistic period. A year and a half ago it was supposed to be renovated with American funds, but the process was halted immediately after (former Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak was toppled. There were restrictions in Mubarak's era as well, but not like this."

 

Egypt's National Security Council was expected to hold another meeting and make a final decision on the matter.

 

According to Zamir, "The leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria, Ben Gaon, told Rabbi Dayan that there may be a change, but our friends in the organization of Egyptian Jews in Paris, who are in touch with Ben Gaon, say he doesn't think there will be a change.

 

"The new people in the security organizations are not well-established there yet, and it's easier to say no than yes."

 

According to several reports, there are only one or two Jewish men in Alexandria, and another 15 Jewish widows who married non-Jewish men. In Cairo there is a very small number of Jewish widows, who have also married non-Jewish men.

 

 

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