Restored Alexandria synagogue hosts largest Jewish prayer in decades
With Egypt’s new program to preserve its Jewish heritage, the synagogue was renovated in a multi-year, multi-million euro effort beginning in 2017
The historic, newly-renovated synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt. / (photo credit: Courtesy)
From across the Diaspora, approximately 180 Jews of Egyptian origin have flown to Egypt for a Shabbat celebrating the newly- renovated 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria.
The weekend was organized by the Nebi Daniel Association, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Jewish sites in Egypt, and was closed to the press.
According to the World Monuments Fund, The Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, one of the largest in the Middle East, is one of the two remaining houses of worship from what used to be twelve in the city of Alexandria, once home to an estimated 40,000 Jews with roots dating back to antiquity.
Today, the community stands with less than 20 Jews, most of them elderly, Ynet reports.
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the Jewish community has dwindled over time, and the synagogue fell into neglect. After a portion of the roof collapsed, the holy site was exposed to the elements, rainwater causing severe damage. In 2012, the synagogue was closed due to security concerns.
With Egypt’s new program to preserve its Jewish heritage, the synagogue was renovated in a multi-year, multi-million euro effort beginning in 2017 after the Egyptian minister of antiquities visited the site of the Mediterranean port city.
In a press release, he explained that the Egyptian government is interested in preserving all of the country’s monuments and heritage, regardless of religion.
“The restoration project included structural and architectural reinforcement to the building, in addition to meticulous restoration of the main facades and ornate walls as well as wood and copper elements, and developed systems for modern lighting and security,” the press release said.
The synagogue’s long history began in 1354 with its original construction. It was subsequently destroyed in a 1798 fire when Napoleon invaded Egypt. The site was rebuilt in 1850 when the Jewish population was at its height in Egypt.
“I’m very proud of what my country has done, and it symbolizes living together. Today, there is no difference between Muslims, Christians and Jews in Egypt,” stated Magda Haroun, head of Cairo’s Jewish community, according to Haaretz.
Today, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue stands as an emblem of the Egyptian Jewish community’s legacy as well as an opportunity for Egyptian Jews to gather together and celebrate Shabbat as a family.