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A historic synagogue creates tension between Egypt’s few remaining Jews and their government

(JTA) — In September, Egyptian authorities re-inaugurated Cairo’s historic Ben Ezra synagogue, which had undergone a year-long renovation. Despite having maintained the synagogue for years, Egypt’s few remaining Jews were conspicuously not invited.

In February, according to a Haaretz report, a genizah — a trove of once disregarded sacred texts — was discovered during excavations in a Cairo Jewish cemetery. But its contents were confiscated by officials despite protests from the Jewish community.

“They refused to wait until a rabbi would attend the excavation,” said Sammy Ibrahim, vice president of the Jewish community’s organization. “We complained but they did nothing. So [the documents] have gone to a store room to rot away.”

The tensions have continued to build. On Tuesday, the Jewish community made use of the synagogue for the first time since it was renovated and reopened for tourists by the Egyptian government. Community leaders toured around a group of professors and alumni donors from Princeton University.

“It’s about showing them that we are still in control of this place,” Ibrahim told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

As Ahmed Issa, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said in September, the 1,200-year-old synagogue “is one of the most important and oldest Jewish temples in Egypt.” It is most famous for having housed the Cairo Genizah.

Ibrahim saw the lack of an invitation in September as a clear slight by the antiquities ministry, and now he’s worried the ministry does not respect the community’s ownership of the site.

When Ibrahim asked the ministry, which currently manages the synagogue, to close the site for tourists and allow the community’s event to be private, they refused, according to Ibrahim.

The restoration of the synagogue was funded by Egypt’s antiquities authority on the direct order of President Abed Fattah El-Sisi, who also tasked the authority to work on three other historic synagogues in Egypt. Those projects have not yet begun, but in 2020, the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria was renovated by the Egyptian government at the cost of about $2.2 million.

In Egypt, the cost of such works would normally fall on the minority community associated with the site, but unlike Coptic Christians, who account for 10% of Egypt’s population, Egypt’s Jews had no such funds. Today, Egypt’s Jewish community numbers under a dozen members, most of whom are elderly.

Recognizing that they had no financial ability to fulfill the antiquities ministry’s request, the community reached out directly to President Sisi, with whom they have maintained good ties, for support.

“We made a complaint to the president and he gave an order that the synagogue should be restored on the expenses of the antiquities [ministry],” Ibrahim said. “So [the ministry] didn’t like this, that we stepped past them and went higher.”

A group affiliated with Princeton University toured the synagogue, Dec. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Sammy Ibrahim)

Egypt was once home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in the Middle East. By the early 20th century, Egypt was still home to more than 80,000 Jews, including Sephardim, Karaites and an Ashkenazi refugee community which founded a burgeoning Yiddish Theatre scene. 

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 brought an end to that world. Most Egyptian Jews emigrated during the following years, as Arab-Israeli tensions spilled over into antisemitic laws and riots in Egypt.

The Ben Ezra Synagogue’s Cairo Genizah has continued to provide scholars with insights into Jewish life across the world and the ages for more than a century after it was first discovered. The Princeton visit was organized by Marina Rustow, one of the leading scholars on the famous genizah.

Despite the rocky history of the 20th century, and the shooting of two Israeli tourists in Alexandria by an Egyptian policeman after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, Ibrahim stressed that the remaining community feels both safe and comfortable in Egypt.

“We have no fear at all, no fear at all,” he said.

The community’s president, Magda Haroun, made similar points when speaking to the Princeton group on Tuesday.

“So this event was nice because we showed them a demonstration that this is our place,” Ibrahim said.

The post A historic synagogue creates tension between Egypt’s few remaining Jews and their government appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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