BASSATINE NEWS the ONLY Jewish newsletter reporting directly from Egypt
A Community Chronicle put out by the Jewish Community Council (JCC) of Cairo since 1995
BASSATINE NEWS ISSUE No. 22
Saturday 8 December 2007
after Shabbat 17.30
Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue
17 Adly Street, Cairo
s p e c i a l i s s u e
Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue
On Cairo's Adly Street
Tuesday 30 October 2007
Ben Ezra Annex in Old Cairo
with exhibition of Geniza reproductions
Wednesday 31 October 2007
|PHOTOS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES...|
view from the gallery
photos in this issue of BN by Samir Raafat unless otherwise credited
choral from Thessaloniki, Greece
US ambassador Francis Ricciardone making his speech from the Ark
upper gallery with choral
representatives of of France, Spain, USA, UK, Israel, Vatican
Papal Nuncio Michael Fitzgerald with Sir Derek and Lady Plumbly
Ambassadors Zvi Mazel and Francis Ricciardone (photo courtesy Michelle Mazel)
Carmen Weinstein with British Ambassador and Lady Plumbly
song of peace by Gaber El Beltagui
Rabbi Mark El Fassi making the closing speech from the Bimah desk
painting of Yacoub Cattaui (1801-83) founder of the dynasty by that name
one of Cattaui's grandsons (Moise Pasha ) was responsible for the construction of this synagogue in 1900 and another (architect Maurice Cattaui 1874-1957) was the synagogue's co-designer along with Austrian architect Edward Matasek; a third grandson (Youssef Pasha Cattaui) was minister of finance in King Fouad's government
painting of Yacoub Cattaui generously offered to JCC by his great-great-granddaughter Jacqueline (Cattaui) Wootton-Wolley in the UK. "After being an English gentleman for 50 years he should be content to be back home!"
They came by train from Alexandria, by air from Europe and the USA, and by taxi and private limousines from across Cairo to celebrate the centennial of the 102-year old Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue also known as Temple Ismailia or Adly Synagogue which for this landmark occasion was beautifully decorated.
On behalf of the local government were representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Department of Antiquities represented by Dr. Mokhtar El Kassabani. Among the other distinguished guests were the honorable ambassadors of the USA, UK, the Vatican and Israel plus envoys from the embassies of France and Spain as well as Dr. Ali El Samman, vice-president of Al-Azhar's Permanent Committee for Dialogue between Monotheistic Religions.
Also present were former Israeli ambassadors Zvi Mazel and David Sultan with their respective wives Michele and Adina accompanied by Nitza the widow of the first Israeli ambassador to Egypt Elihou ben Elizar.
Aside from JCC president Carmen Weinstein's welcome speech other speakers included US ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Mr. Fernando Vara de Rey of Casa Sefarad, Professor Yoram Meital of Beersheba University, Rabbi Mark El Fassi of France who also gave a resounding blow of the shofar, Ms. Magda Haroun on behalf of the members of the JCC, and Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee.
Cairo Opera baritone Mr. Gaber El Beltagui (Ministry of Culture) delighted the audience with the song of peace (words by Salah Jahin) which he performed in French, English, Hebrew and Russian.
The showstopper however was the Thessaloniki Sefarad Choir. An excellent performance provoking several encores much appreciated by the 24 Judeo-Greek performers who explained to Bassatine News that they will soon launch their first commercial CD.
The official part of the program over it was time for mingling and memory exchanges between members of Cairo's Jewish community and their out-of-town guests, many of them Egyptian-born come to re-discover their roots. This was followed by a lunch hosted by the JCC in the Synagogue's open air courtyard.
Centennial Celebration Opening Remarks
by Carmen Weinstein – President of the JCC (Cairo)
October 31, 2007
I am privileged to be standing here today as a woman president of the Jewish Community Council of Cairo to
celebrate the Centennial of this synagogue.
102 years ago an Egyptian Jewish Pasha Moussa Cattaui along with Vita Mosseri Bey and the financial pillars of the Jewish Community of Egypt, stood here to inaugurate this Synagogue Which they named "Shaar Hashamayim" i.e. the Gates of Heaven.
Today I dedicate this important event -- the Centennial Celebration -- to my mother, Esther Weinstein, the first woman to be elected president of this community.
For those who remember her she was one of the last grande dames of the past century. She was dedicated to charity works whether Jewish, Moslem or Christian. She was decorated by the Vatican Pope in 2001 for her
devoted work with Caritas.
Elected in 1996, she was helping the needy and presided over the well-being of the members of the Community.
Whenever I was asked “who is the President of the Community?” I would say "My mother is the president and I do all the dirty work".
Now I am the president but I still do all the dirty work...
I am privileged to be an Egyptian Jew living in Egypt having never left it and a witness to the many
changes it underwent from a monarchy to a republic; from liberalization under Anwar el-Sadat to a democracy under the enlightened leadership of President Hosni Mubarak.
I am privileged to live in that era that witnesses Egyptian women enjoying many rights and empowered to assume top jobs thanks to the patient and persistent efforts of our first lady, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak.
Remarks at the Centennial Celebration of the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue
Rabbi Andrew Baker
Director of International Jewish Affairs
The American Jewish Committee
October 30, 2007
This week’s parsha or Torah Portion is known as Vayerah. It begins with the 18th chapter of Genesis. It describes the story of Abraham sitting at the entrance to his tent, where he is quick to offer greetings to three strangers who pass by. Although he does not know them, he brings them into his home and offers them food and drink. But the Bible tells us that these three are no ordinary strangers, but rather angels of God. And because Abraham was so good and caring of them, he is rewarded.
Taking care of the stranger is an admonition regularly repeated in Jewish texts and tradition. But in almost every place where God tells us to care for the stranger, the text usually continues, “for remember that you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
As an Ashkenazic Jew born in the United States, a grandchild of Jews who emigrated from Poland, Lithuania and Russia, I never gave much though to that phrase, “strangers in the land of Egypt.” It was after all a Biblical phrase harkening back to a distant past, to the very beginnings of the Jewish people. Historians and archaeologists will still dispute just when, just where that Exodus took place.
But standing here today in this synagogue, in Shaar Hashamayim, there is one thing that we can say for certain. The Jews who built this synagogue were not strangers in the land of Egypt.
This was their home, and they were rooted, proud and comfortable here. You can see it reflected in this elegant sanctuary, in the architecture and design of the building, You can see it in this handsome structure, built in what was the fashionable center of the city, with broad steps taking worshipers into a grand entrance.
These Jews were not strangers. This was their home.
We know that, too, when we speak to those Jews from Egypt who today live in America, in Israel, and in Europe, some of whom have returned for these commemorative events. They have brought with them their memories of an earlier time. And those memories of this synagogue, of the others around Cairo, and of Nebi Daniel Street in Alexandria and life there, those memories also remind us that Jews were not strangers.
And we know this most of all from the memories of those people who did not leave, people like Carmen Weinstein, who have sought to protect and preserve this legacy.
They were not strangers, but today in Egypt their numbers are few. And their legacy will be in the preservation of those memories and of these buildings. Zichronam L’vrachah. Memory can be a blessing. It has helped nurture and sustain many of those Jews who were forced to leave Egypt. It surely has given purpose to the work of the people here, who care for the synagogues and for the Bassatine cemetery. And it can also be a blessing for the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people, recalling perhaps a time of greater tolerance and diversity. Let us hope they come to recognize it too.
Centennial Celebration Closing Remarks
by Carmen Weinstein – President of the JCC (Cairo)
October 31, 2007
Here I stand facing the portrait of Yacoub Cattaui bey who was the first to establish the Jewish
Community of Cairo. And here am I, probably witnessing its end.
However, as my late friend Dr Jacques Hassoun used to say, the presence of Jews in Egypt is like the waves of
the sea, sometimes more and sometimes less. So I am optimistic for since Biblical times there were Jews in
Egypt and I see no reason why it should not continue to be so till the end of time.
At this point I wish to thank the Egyptian Antiquities under Dr Zahi Hawass for the beautiful restoration works regarding this synagogue. I feel confident that when we are no longer here, the Department of Antiquities will go on looking after our "patrimoine" especially since Egypt remains the guardian of the oldest monuments and places of worship in the world.
I thank also the engineers of the Antiquities Department, both women and men, who worked unceasingly for the past months to restore the synagogue in time for today's celebration.
At this point too I wish to thank our main sponsors whose financial support made it possible to hold this celebration in style. They are the Casa Sefarad, Madrid, Spain founded in 2006 and dedicated to help cultural events put up by Jewish Communities around the world. The American Joint Distribution Committee who are in fact helping our Community regularly. And last but not least the Nebi Daniel Association who come regularly to visit the Jewish communities of Alexandria and Cairo.
I am grateful also to all our friends who have flown across continents; those from the Alexandria Jewish community
who came by train; and our friends here who braved the Cairo traffic to be with us today to celebrate this event and prove that we are not alone.
I am obliged to our Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Aboul Gheit; our Minister of Social Solidarity Dr Aly
Mosselhi; to the Minister of Health Dr Hatem El Gabally who were considerate enough to send representatives from
their respective ministries.
I am also grateful to their excellencies the ambassadors and representatives of the United States, Great Britain, the Vatican, France, Spain and Israel for their presence and who in order to attend, have been shuffling and reshuffling their busy schedules.
And I wish to particularly thank Rabbi Andrew Baker of the AJC who helped in getting the main sponsor as well as the Salonika Choir.
Thanks also to Dr Yoram Meital who agreed to give the historics of the synagogue and Dr Gaber El Beltagui who sang us the Song of Peace in four different languages.
To Rabbi Mark el Fassi a big THANK YOU for blowing the Shofar.
And lastly my special thanks and appreciation to the two who helped me through this challenge: Maitre Yusry Abdel Dayem our lawyer who left his cases in court to help, and Mr Raouf Tewfik who left his workshop to supervise the works.
God bless you all
La grande synagogue du Caire fête son centenaire
LE CAIRE (AFP) samedi 3 nov, 06 h 12 - Un cycle de manifestations exceptionnelles a été organisé cette semaine par la désormais très petite communauté juive égyptienne autour du centième anniversaire de la grande synagogue du Caire.
"Je suis sûre que notre communauté juive au passé millénaire connaîtra avant la fin des temps des jours meilleurs", affirme Carmen Weinstein qui préside aux destinées d'une communauté autrefois florissante.
Il reste moins d'une centaine de juifs, en grande majorité des femmes âgées, entre Le Caire et Alexandrie, alors qu'ils étaient plus de 80.000 au début des années 50, avant le grand exil forcé de l'ère Nasser.
C'est en présence de plusieurs ambassadeurs, ceux des Etats-Unis, de France, de Grande-Bretagne, du Vatican et d'Israël, et de quelques dignitaires égyptiens qu'une cérémonie a eu lieu à la synagogue Chaar Hachamayim.
Placée sous haute sécurité, sans guère plus de fidèles, ce temple aussi appelé Ismailya ou simplement de la rue Adly, où il est situé, en centre-ville, a été totalement rénové.
En plus d'une inspiration art nouveau, sa façade est de style néo-pharaonique, avec fleurs de papyrus jouxtant étoiles de David, en référence à la naissance de Moïse sur les bords du Nil.
En plus de nombreux discours, une chorale de juifs sépharades venue de Salonique (Grèce) ainsi qu'un baryton de l'opéra du Caire, Gaber al-Baltagui, ont interprété des chants de paix.
"Je suis bouleversée, je ne pensais plus revoir et entendre cela ici," assure Marcelle Haroun, qui avait choisi de rester en Egypte avec son époux, un réputé avocat juif de gauche, par conviction politique.
Des juifs d'Egypte, dispersés aux quatre coins du monde, en particulier aux Etats-Unis et en France, sous l'égide de l'association Nebi Daniel, avaient fait le déplacement, certains pour la première fois depuis leur départ.
"Revenir ici, pas tout de suite, ni demain sûrement, mais l'Egypte nous manque à tous", affirme Joyce Zenana, une enseignante qui réside à Brooklyn.
Un petit musée consacré à la Géniza du Caire a aussi été inauguré près de la synagogue Ben Ezra, peut-être la plus ancienne du monde, à Fostat, dans le Vieux Caire.
C'est dans sa remise d'anciens textes hébraïques, la géniza, qu'a été retrouvé un ensemble unique de 210.000 documents, la plupart du 10e au 13e siècles, y compris de Maïmonide, le grand penseur juif d'origine andalouse.
Certains de ces fragments, écrits en hébreu, arabe, judéo-espagnol ou yiddish, ont été vendus au 19e siècle avant que les grandes bibliothèques de Paris, Londres, Saint-Petersbourg ou New York n'en réunissent des collections.
Mais le plus grand fond - 140.000 fragments - est revenu à Cambridge en 1897 grâce au savant Salomon Schechter. Tous ces textes sont en passe d'être totalement numérisés d'ici trois ans grâce à des dons privées.
"Dans une atmosphère de remarquable tolérance, en particulier sous les Fatimides (969-1171), ces textes nous disent que juifs, musulmans et chrétiens ne vivaient nullement dans des ghettos intellectuels" souligne Stephan Reif, professeur émérite à Cambridge.
Article in Haaretz by Yoav Stern - 31 October 2007
Cairo synagogue marks 100 years of grandeur and decline
Two historical moments were recorded Tuesday at the Sha'ar Hashamayim synagogue in Cairo. The first was when Dr. Gaber Baltagi, an academic who writes poetry as a hobby, recited one of his works in Arabic and Hebrew, calling for peace among the nations. The second was when a loud shofar (ram's horn) blast, usually sounded at the closing of the Ne'ila service on Yom Kippur, echoed in the cavernous space of Cairo's great synagogue, bringing tears to the eyes of many of those present.
Members of Cairo's Jewish community - those who have remained here, as well as others who have moved away - plus many guests from Egypt and around the world, were there for a ceremony marking 100 years since the founding of the synagogue.
In attendance were the American ambassador to Cairo, the British ambassador, Israeli envoy Shalom Cohen as well as former Israeli ambassadors.
During the ceremony, the Choir of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki sang songs in Hebrew and Ladino.
The building was recently renovated, with the approval and assistance of the Egyptian authorities. It was rededicated Tuesday.
"Jews lived here throughout the ages," said community president Carmen Weinstein. "I see no reason for Jews not to continue living here."
Weinstein is the second woman president in the history of this Jewish community. The first was her mother, Esther, who served in that capacity for many years.
"When my mother was president, she ran things and I did the dirty work. Nowadays I have to do both," she said with a smile, speaking from the synagogue's pulpit. The ceremony she directed Tuesday was a historic event for the community, whose future is still in question. Weinstein declared that she is proud to be Egyptian. As befits her position as head of the community, she thanked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak several times.
The Egyptian Jewish community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Rabbi Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) lived and taught here in the 13th century. For generations, hundreds of documents were collected in what became known as the Cairo Geniza, whose discovery in 1896 contributed much to Jewish historical research.
One hundred years ago, when the Sha'ar Hashamayim was founded on Adly Street, it was a hub of activity. The community absorbed many waves of immigration from both Europe and the Middle East. The name plates still affixed to some of the seat backs tell the immigration story. Philippe Bach, Yosef Salameh, Felix Schwartz and Herman Horenstein are just a few of the names that can be found there.
Today the Cairo Jewish community has 30-40 members, most of them older women. One of them, Magda Haroun (nee Chehata), stepped up to the pulpit Tuesday to share her feelings. She said that the last time she remembers the synagogue being full was in the in the 1960s.
"We may be only 40 members now," she added, "but we have a glorious history behind us. Please don't let that die."
Haron has never visited Israel, for ideological reasons. Her parents were Communists, and she hopes to come only when a Palestinian state is established. Her father did not attend synagogue services, but Haron came with her grandfather.
"The future is frightening," she said, in an interview with Haaretz, "and I do not know if anyone can replace Carmen. I think that the Egyptian government should help preserve the Jewish heritage. Jews have been here since the time of the Pharaohs."
Among the participants at the event as Meir Cohen, a native of Cairo. He brought with him photographs from his father's wedding at the synagogue in 1947, and from his bar mitzvah in 1963. Like many Israelis born in Egypt, Cohen left along with his family after the deteriorati n of the Jewish community's situation in the late 1960s. He worked for Israel Television's Arabic department and was the spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Cairo in the late 1980s.
"With this event," said Cohen, "Carmen has resuscitated hundreds of years of Jewish life. Every detail here brings back memories of my father, members of my family and the prayer services here. This is the closing of a circle for me."
LE FIGARO (Avec AFP)
Publié le 03 novembre 2007 à 08h00
La synagogue du Caire fête son centenaire
Un cycle de manifestations exceptionnelles ont été organisées cette semaine par la désormais très petite communauté juive égyptienne autour du centième anniversaire de la grande synagogue du Caire. "Je suis sûre que notre communauté juive au passé millénaire connaîtra avant la fin des temps des jours meilleurs", affirme Carmen Weinstein qui préside aux destinées d'une communauté autrefois florissante.
Il reste moins d'une centaine de juifs, en grande majorité des femmes âgées, entre Le Caire et Alexandrie, alors qu'ils étaient plus de 80.000 au début des années 50, avant le grand exil forcé de l'ère Nasser.
Masr al Yom Daily, 5 November 2007
AJC Release , Fri, 2 Nov 2007 Breaking News
AJC, Egyptian Officials Discuss Preserving Jewish
November 1, 2007 - Cairo - In Egypt for events marking the centennial of Cairo 's main synagogue, Shaar
Hashamayim, an American Jewish Committee delegation met this week with Egyptian officials to discuss
efforts to preserve the Jewish heritage in Egypt.
The delegation, led by Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC's director of International Jewish Affairs, met with
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny and Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The Egyptian
officials assured the AJC group that the Maimonides Yeshiva and Synagogue would be properly restored
during the coming year.
The Yeshiva was the original study house of the 12th Century rabbinic scholar and is adjacent to a 19th
century synagogue named for him. The Yeshiva has been a place of pilgrimage for Jews around the world,
although the structures have long-since fallen into a state of disrepair. Dr. Hawass said that a full
technical analysis had already taken place and preparatory work could begin almost immediately.
The centennial events were a reminder of the large and vibrant Jewish community that could be found in Cairo
and Alexandria during the first half of the last century, when Egypt was a far more culturally diverse
Today, there are a dozen synagogue buildings in Cairo and two in Alexandria , but regular prayers do not
take place in any of them.
"Memory can be a blessing," Rabbi Baker said in his remarks at the Sha'ar Hashamayim celebration. "It has
helped nurture and sustain many of those Jews who were forced to leave Egypt . It surely has given purpose to
the work of the people here, who care for the synagogues and for the Bassatine cemetery. And it can
also be a blessing for the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people, recalling perhaps a time of greater tolerance and diversity."
Minister Hosny, in his meeting with the AJC group,recalled his own childhood in Alexandria and his
family's Jewish friends in what he described as a farmore cosmopolitan city than one finds today. He
expressed his willingness to consider the developmentof a Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cairo that would
tell the stories of Jewish life in Egypt .
|CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION... COVERAGE by MEDIA ...|
Egypt Today Magazine January 2008
AL-AKHBAR daily 12 November 2007
AL-AHRAM 12 November 2007
Al SHARQ AL-AWSAT daily published in London 6 November 2007
AL MESREYOON 6 November 2007
AL AYAAM 4 November 2007
RADIO SAWA 6 November 2007
AL ITIHAD 6 November 2007
|RECEPTION ABOARD THE M/S Scarabe|
JCC president Carmen Weinstein, Ms. Nadia Haroun, Alain Navarro
ambassador David and Adina Sultan with Mme Nabhan
Rabbi Andrew Baker and Michelle Mazel
Maurice Maleh and Alec Nacamuli ( Association Internationale Nebi Daniel)
photos in this issue of BN by Samir Raafat unless otherwise credited
|BEN EZRA SYNAGOGUE... GENIZA EXHIBITION|
JCC president with Ambassador and Mrs. Francis Ricciardone of the USA; audience attentive to Professor Reif's lecture on the Geniza Papers
(photos courtesy JCC)
Remarks at Ben Ezra Annex
by Roger Bilboul
Chairman of Information Today
Co-Founder of Nebi Daniel Association
October 31, 2007
I am one of the founders of the Nebi Daniel Association and I will only take a few minutes of your time to tell you about our objectives and our raison d’être.
Before I do so, I want to thank the organizers of this event for the pleasure they have given me – and people like me who are brought back here after such a long separation to partake in an occasion full of so much meaning for us.
I want to single out Carmen Weinstein who, despite many impediments, has courageously struggled to maintain Jewish communal property in and preserve this history. She is the inspiration and force behind this event. The help of Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee has raised the necessary support to add to the magnitude of the occasion. Rabbi Baker’s mission is to preserve Jewish heritage around the world and, despite a background lacking anything Sephardic or Egyptian – for which we forgive him - he has been a faithful supporter and friend.
The Nebi Daniel Association takes its name from the road in Alexandria where our main synagogue is located. We were formed some four years ago as a not-for-profit organization regulated by French law.
Our sole objective is to address the issue of preserving our heritage in around the world.
As you may know, we were some 80,000 Jews living in until the mid 50’s; today I doubt if we are more than 100. Although the history of Jews in Egypt goes back centuries, the bulk of those who lived here in this past century had only been in this country for four generations or so. They came from many parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. They forged a new identity in a tolerant and, in large part, a welcoming environment where religion was a key element of identification. They built communal institutions with an authority bestowed upon them by government to regulate not only their religious affairs but civil matters that are today the exclusive preserve of government bodies.
Jewish communal properties go beyond buildings, cemeteries and objects: they capture a history and an identity for a people scattered to the four corners of the world
Some of us have now reached the point in our lives where we have the luxury of time for reflection and advocacy. We feel we have a responsibility to our children and to future generations to preserve the history of a passage and leave a legacy that will better connect them to their identity and share in the pride we have for our heritage in Egypt. We often ask ourselves "if we do not try to do it, then who will?"
We are in the fortunate position where a good part of these communal treasures are still standing. An enlightened policy of the Egyptian government has always left them under the control of the Jewish community here.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities has also listed under its aegis some of the buildings, such as this one, and we have them to thank for the renovation work they have done to the Adly synagogue in time for this occasion. They have also listed some Torah scrolls and manuscripts.
We are in the fortunate position where a good part of these communal treasures are still standing. An enlightened policy of the Egyptian government has always left them under the control of the Jewish community here. The Supreme Council of Antiquities has also listed under its aegis some of the buildings, such as this one, and we have them to thank for the renovation work they have done to the Adly synagogue in time for this occasion. They have also listed some Torah scrolls and manuscripts. Also, through the generous support of Jewish bodies and individuals abroad and through the valiant efforts of Carmen Weinstein here in Cairo, Dr Max Salama in Alexandria as well as their predecessors, these assets have been maintained and preserved to the best of their abilities and within the diminishing human resources at their disposal.
Remarks by Professor Stefan Reif of Cambridge University
at the Opening of the Permanent Manuscript Exhibition
in the Ben Ezra Synagogue
31 October 2007.
Professor Stefan Reif lecturing on Geniza at the newly inaugurated Ben Ezra annex in Old Cairo - 31 October 2007
(photo courtesy Michelle Mazel)
I am truly delighted and deeply moved to be here today, with my wife Shulie at the generous invitation of Mme Carmen Weinstein and the Cairo Jewish community, as well as the other sponsors of these events, to participate in the celebrations that mark the renovation of Shaar Hachamaim in downtown Cairo and the opening of a permanent manuscript exhibition at the Ben Ezra Synagogue annex in Old Cairo.
It is our hope and prayer that this exhibition will forever stand testimony to the great scholarly discoveries made on the basis of the manuscripts amassed by the Jewish community here over a period of a thousand years and analysed by scholars over many decades from the nineteenth century to our own day.
It is a superb idea to have such treasures once again linked with the Ben Ezra Synagogue and with Cairo through the facsimiles and the explanatory panels, most of which have been prepared by the architect Mr Michael Mallinson of London and the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library.
It gives me particular pleasure to represent the Unit, the Library and the University of Cambridge on such an auspicious occasion. I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words about the history and importance of this truly remarkable site to which we have come today, from many countries far and near, with numerous religious allegiances to celebrate a cultural event that has significance for the whole international community.
I should stress at the outset that almost eight hundred years ago, when a few brave souls in England were bearing the torch of learning to damp and distant Cambridge, and almost four centuries before Hebrew and Arabic were taught at its great and famous university, a Jewish community known throughout the Islamic empire for its social and political stability, as well as its economic and cultural achievements, had already been flourishing on the Nile for two hundred and fifty years.
The great Jewish scholar, Moses Maimonides lived in Fustat, and this tradition was still continued by his grandson in the thirteenth century.
There was a close connection between the Jewish communities of Egypt and Palestine during the Fatimid period and the merchants of Cairo and Alexandria had, during that age were major traders with India in the east and with the Mediterranean centres to the north-west. The community had flourished greatly from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries and again from the sixteenth century, especially when immigrants from Palestine, from North Africa and from Spain and Portugal strengthened its numbers, its affluence and its cultural development.
The Genizah collection of documents has been amassed in and around the Ben Ezra synagogue for at least a thousand years and were moved, with the co-operation of the rabbinic leaders and the leading Jewish families, to great centres of learning throughout the world late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century.
The Christian Scottish twin-sisters, Mrs Agnes Lewis and Mrs Margaret Gibson, the Master of St John’s College in Cambridge, Dr Charles Taylor, and the scholar of rabbinic literature, Dr Solomon Schechter helped bring to Cambridge University Library a total of f 140,000 manuscript fragments in 1897.
Through the scholarly study of these many testimonies to early medieval Jewish life, it had become possible to reconstruct social, economic, religious and cultural developments in the Eastern Mediterranean of a thousand years earlier.
Active research projects at Cambridge and elsewhere, some of them now supported by the Friedberg Genizah Project, are continuing to uncover fascinating data and if funds could be raised would soon have all the manuscripts available on-line by way of digitized images. The Mosseri Collection named after a famous Jewish family from Cairo was also now being made available in Cambridge, a process that had already attracted important financial support.
Thanks to the efforts of the remaining Cairo Jews, the generosity of Edgar Bronfman, the Canadian philanthropist and president of the World Jewish Congress, and the devoted efforts of his sister, the distinguished architect and preservationist, Phyllis Lambert, founder and director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, the synagogue’s story has a happy ending.
With the active co-operation of politicians and communal leaders, architects and archaeologists, conservators, historians and photographers, the building was superbly restored.
A splendid volume entitled Fortifications and the Synagogue: The Fortress of Babylon and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo was edited by Lambert and published in London in 1994.
My own book, A Jewish Archive from Old Cairo, appeared in 2000.
More recently, Mme Carmen Weinstein arranged for the construction of the permanent exhibition which you will be visiting and viewing today. It is my fervent hope that many thousands of visitors will in the coming years view this site and enjoy these exhibits. In so doing they will learn the history of what was a great Jewish community whose literary and documentary remains have enlightened the world of learning and vastly improved scholarly understanding of medieval life in and around Egypt.
Subject: Le centenaire de Shar Hachamaim
Chere Madame Weinstein,
Je vous felicite encore et encore pour tous les efforts que vous avez deployes et que vous deployez encore pour maintenir une presence juive egyptienne en Egypte et sauvegarder, autant que possible, le patrimoine existant. J'espere pouvoir vous rendre visite a l'immobilia pour vous saluer car je suis franchement admiratif devant toute la tenacite que vous avez affirmee envers et contre tous.
Mes cordiales salutations
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:26:29 +0100
Now that I am back at my desk I write to thank you warmly for all your kind and generous hospitality during the past week. All the formal functions were most impressive and the personal connections were a delight. Shulie and I were very pleased to be part of the celebrations and we congratulate you and all those who assisted you in making so many arrangements that will, we hope and pray, be a permanent testimony to the central importance of the Fustat community a thousand years ago and to the scholars and communal leaders who made it possible for the Genizah collection to change so drastically our notions of medieval Jewish history on the eastern Mediterranean.
I have already asked my secretary in Cambridge to send you a complimentary copy of my Genizah book.
With thanks and best regards,
From: Professor Stefan Reif
Date: Fri, 02 Nov 2007 14:33:57 +0200
Subject: 100 years birthday
I cried when I saw the picture of the bima of Adly synagogue where I had my Bar Mitsvah and was helped by Rabi Nahum Effedi when wearing the Tefilim. Thank you, Thank you
Sami Leopold Goldstein
From: "Sami L Goldstein"
Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2007 14:35:00 -0300
Congratulations tp you on your great celebrations, and on your fine leadership and intitiative. With my warmest regards,
Phyllis Lambert From: "Phyllis Lambert"
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 22:13:07 -0400
Merci Carmen pour ton invitation et ton acceuil.J'espere pouvoir te rendre la pareille prochainement
From: "Prof. Arie Schlosberg"
Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2007 13:24:03 +0200
I just watched the 100 year celebration at Adly Street synagogue on your website. That is where I had my bar mitzvah in 1953. It brought back a lot of good memories of my youth. You did an excellent job.
Gabriel Chehebar - Miami Beach, Florida
Subject: Your beautiful celebration
My brother just emailed me this beautiful copy of your recent celebration. My husband, my children and I were in Cairo end of June of this year for the first time in 40 years (we departed in 67 my husband in 63 we were kids then), it was a very emotional experience for us. We drove by several places remembering our childhood and most of all we wanted to visit the temple but our tour guide told us it was not advisable, and now looking at these pictures we wished we had insisted.
We just wanted to share this with you.
Ginette Clumeck/Eskinazi & Morris Eskinazi
Date: Sat, 3 Nov 2007 12:33:41 EDT
Subject: Centennial of the Chaar Hachamayim Synagogue
Although I had already congratulated you on the occasion of the Centennial of the Chaar Hachamayim, yet I deem that you deserve to be publicly honored for your incessant endeavors and selfless commitment towards the Jewish Community in Cairo.
That is why, I wish to seize the present occasion, in order to express my admiration for you as a person of integrity and preserver of Jewish cultural heritage in Egypt, who has managed to renovate and maintain – with limited means – our ancient temples, as well as assure you of my sincere appreciation of your kindness and hospitality when dealing with a younger Jew like myself.
This attitude of yours reflects the truly Jewish notion of chessed and, for sure, shall encourage more of my generation to find their way back to the communities and synagogues of our parents.
I hope that you shall remain, for many years to come, the public face of today’s Jewish life in our homeland, and continue being our upright intercessor vis-à-vis the Egyptian authorities, as well as the media and society in general.
Keep well and best regards,
Date: November 04th, 2007
I wish to congratulate Carmen Weinstein for the fantastic job of organizing the latest event at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue. She managed to get many dignitaries from all over the world, quite a feat! Carmen you are the heart and soul of the remaining Jews in Egypt
CLAUDE HABERT, originally from Alexandria, presently in Toronto, Canada
Date: NOV 06, 2007
Cher Monsieur ou Madame,
Superbe temoignage et magnifiques photos pour ceux qui n'ont pas eu la chance d'assister au 100 ans de cette synagogue qui reste comme les pyramides, un monument historique qui fait partie du patrimoine Egyptien.
Nadine Gabbai Indyk, USA
lundi 5 Novembre 07
Here I am again. I wanted to congratulate you for all your work and efforts. Our Choir came back enthusiastic!!!
They told me that was the best trip they ever had and everything was wonderful. Could you please send me a postal address where the Community can send you an official thanking letter.
From: Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
Date: Wed, 07 Nov 2007 13:43:08 +0200
Dear Madame Carmen,
The Centennial celebration of "Shaar Hashamaim" presents the greatness of the Jewish people that succeeds to over turn dark moments in hes life to bright moments and its all due to people like you.
A l'occasion du Centenaire de la Grande Synaguoguev du Caire 'SHAAREY SHAMAIM' que vous dirigez avec zele et amour depuis de longues annees, permettez nous de vous adresser nos chaleureuses felicitations, et nos voeux les plus chers et sinceres, pour que cette institution historique continue de servir comme lieu de culte et de reunion pour le restant de la communaute israelite du Caire ainsi que pour touristes juifs en visite dans la capitale egyptienne. Veuillez accepter Madame, nos salutations les plus distinguees.
Elie & Renee Antebi
Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2007 15:38:25 +0200
Michal and I want to express our appreciation for your efforts in organizing the centennial celebration of the Adly synagogue in Cairo, and our gratitude for letting us be a part of it. The events were moving, exciting, well organized and brought lots of happiness to many people.
May God bless you, and we hope to meet each other in
many more happy occasions in the future. With our warmest wishes and sincere friendship,
Michal and Gabi.
Prof. Gabriel M. Rosenbaum
Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2007 04:06:44 -0800
Un très grand bravo pour le magnifique anniversaire du Centenaire de la Synagogue Adly. Tu trouveras ci-joint un message fraternel pour 'Bassatine News', de la part d'André Cohen, Emile Gabbay, Joe Chalom et tout le bureau au complet de l'ASPCJE.
Très affectueusement et bonne continuation,
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2007 13:42:40 +0100
Ho letto con grande interesse ed emozione il rapporto sul centenario della sinagoga grande del Cairo. esprimo i miei sentimenti di grande gioia e compiacimento.
Pietro Lazagna (grandson of architect Maurice Cattaui)
Genova, Dicembre 2007
Congratulations for this precious work the Centenial Ismailia Synagogue where I was a member with my parents. I made Bar Mitzva at Maimonides Temple in 1946.
Joe Franco – Lima, Peru (firstname.lastname@example.org)
11 December 2007
Temporarily hospitalized Alexanria-born author Paul Balta could not make it to the centennial celebration. BN wishes him a speedy recovery and as we say out here "Okbal meet sanna" in order to make it to the next centennial ! We also congratulate Monsieur Balta for receiving the order of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in 2006.
Read Paul Balta.
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C O N T A C T
Jewish Community Council (JCC) of Cairo
# 13 Sabil El Khazindar Street
Midan al-Geish, Abbassia, Cairo
tel: +20 2 2482-4613 - tel/fax +20 2 2736-9639
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from outside Egypt call
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Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue @ 17 Adly Street, downtown Cairo
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