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 Cemetery at sunset (summer of 2000); picture courtesy of Aaron Kiviat
Sunset at Bassatine Cemetery. Photo: Aaron Kiviat

After umpteen transatlantic telephone calls, faxes and emails between the JCC and former American University Cairo 'Student Abroad' alumni (1998-9) Aaron Kiviat, it's finally been agreed that Kiviat will embark this summer on a program to digitize the Basasatine Cemetery. In other words, with the help of a hand-picked team Kiviat will (i) map out the cemetery--that part which is now enclosed by a wall; (ii) record on camera all marked tombstones; and (iii) put over 4,000 names still in evidence on a soon-to-be accessible database.

This milestone project will be of ENORMOUS help for all those who are trying to locate, identify, pinpoint, where there loved ones are buried. This project is made possible thanks to the initiative and intervention of the JCC Cairo, funds availed in the USA from friends and supporters of Aaron Kiviat, Carmen Weinstein for providing suitable downtown Cairo lodgings along with transport and communication arrangements to and from Bassatine, and to JCC travel advisor  Joseph Kazasian for providing cheap air transport to and from the West Coast. And, of-course, team leader Aaron Kiviat.

More on this subject in a Special Issue of Bassatine News. Meanwhile check out Aaron Kiviat's website (see above) for details.

Aaron Kiviat, Summer of 2000
team leader Aaron Kiviat, Photo: Samir Raafat

Friends of the Jews in Cairo


credit foncier bank
Credit Foncier Egyptien on Adly Street today the HQ of the Arab International Bank

Many do not remember him. Why would they? After all he belonged to the 19th century. And yet wherever you visit Islamic Cairo he is there. In Coptic Cairo too, you may find him. And if you recognize his touch, you may discover him in downtown Cairo as well. His name is Max Herz, born on 19 May 1856 - died in 1919 almost at the time when the Austria-Hungary empire to which he belonged disappeared from the face of the earth.

Max "Miska" Herz was one of many children born to a poor Jewish family in a Stetl near Otlaka in Eastern Europe (today Rumania). He studied architecture in Vienna before coming to Cairo as "accompagnateur" to a European family traveling to Italy and Egypt. After spending a rewarding apprenticeship with Julius Franz Pasha, the German director of the public works department at the Awkaf, Miska Herz found himself increasingly involved in Islamic art and architecture. When Franz eventually retired to Austria (where he later died) Miska Herz replaced him at the Awkaf.

While Herz's appointment allegedly came at the recommendation of his mentor Julius Franz Pasha, it could also have had something to do with the fact that Khedive Abbas Hilmi II had studied in Vienna as a young man. And if Miska Herz considered himself a Magyar (Hungarian) then he may have also benefited from the sympathy of the Khedive's wife, a Hungarian of petite noblesse.

Herz spent most of his adult life in Egypt during which time he carried out important restorations on hundreds of Cairo's Islamic monuments. In his capacity as "acting head" of the Comité de conservation des monuments de l'art arabe he was central to its growth and development. Had it not been the custom that the position of head of the Comité was given to the director of the Awkaf-Endowment Authority, Miska Herz could have well been the Comité's supreme boss.

The Comité survived Miska Herz by several decades before it merged in the early 1950s with the newly created Higher Council of Antiquities.

An achievement which brought Miska Herz's to world attention was when he was made responsible for putting together an exceptional Egyptian pavilion in the Chicago Universal Exhibition of 1892. That same year Herz was asked to supervise the cataloguing of the contents of the National Museum for Islamic Art. The museum was re-inaugurated in 1903 with Herz as one of its directors.

Aside from editing the Comite's bulletin Herz published numerous works on the history of Islamic art and monuments. Recognized as a leading authority in this domain, his un-compromised admiration for Mamlouk revival architecture earned Herz some criticism with regards to distorting, and sometimes removing, traces of Ottoman embellishments. These, he would ostensibly substitute whenever possible with Mamlouk imitations.

But Mamlouk art is not all that preoccupied Miska Herz. He was also closely associated with Morcos Semeika Pasha's, founder of the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. Could Herz have had any bearing on the latter's creation?

At the end of the 19th century Herz was listed as a resident of Cairo's Tewfikieh district, not too far from the Credit Foncier Egyptien (see picture above), a French-style building attributed to him.

A 1913 address book tells us that Miska Herz had moved homes and now lived in Cairo's exclusive district of Kasr El Dubara. With a house on Sheik Barakat Street, right behind the Semiramis Hotel, meant that Miska's neighbor once removed to the north was Youssef Cattaui Pasha, the prominent leader and future president of the Cairo Jewish community. 

Cattaui lived opposite Kasr El Nil Bridge on what was then known as Ilhamy Pasha Square. Villa Cattaui was later purchased ( in 1920s) by poet Sit Kout El Koloub El Demerdashia. In view of the physical proximity of these two eminent Jewish pashas one wonders whether they were good friends or harsh competitors. While Miska Herz was born into abject poverty and, so to speak, a self-made pasha, Youssef Cattaui was born into colossal wealth and belonged to a family with strong ties to the Khedivial palace. As a young man Cattaui had studied at engineering at one of the most prestigious schools of France (ENS).

Indeed, there is no evidence that Herz Pasha was an active member of the Jewish community of Cairo which numbered several pashas among them several leading architects. One of them was a nephew of Cattaui Pasha. Maurice de Cattaui had partnered with Austrian architect Edward Matasek and together they designed the principal Jewish synagogue on Adly Street in 1901-3.

Miska Herz's name does not appear on the wall of fame at Cairo's principal Jewish synagogue. And unlike many of his peers, he refused to be buried in the Jewish cemetery of Bassatine, one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the world. Instead, Herz designed his own vault in a Jewish cemetery outside Milan, Italy which was also the birth country of his wife. By an unfortunate twist of fate, Herz was preceded into the vault by his only son, Geza (b. Cairo; d. circa 1913).

At the outbreak of WW-I Herz was considered an enemy alien and consequently no longer welcome in a British-dominated Egypt. By extension this meant he was no longer chief engineer and director-curator of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe aux Wakfs. It was precisely for that function that Miska Herz, born into a poor Jewish family in a Central European Stetl, had been elevated to a pasha in Egypt.

Miska Herz was survived by his wife Perla Colorni and three daughters: Fanny (Mrs. Sereni), Teri (born in Cairo and later married Mario de Benedetti) and Evelina (died in the 1990s in New York).

compiled from various sources; most importantly from notes provided by Dr. Rudolf Agstner in Vienna.


The following is based on an interview with the Akerib sisters--Simone and Vera-- in March of this year.


Dr. David Glanz founded the Hotel des Cures in Helwan. A Russian Jew, he arrived in Egypt early this century (pre-WW1) with his wife and four daughters. The oldest, Marie, was a dentist. She died young leaving a son--Eric--from her Austrian husband Doctor Emil Lichtenstern of Maadi. Then came Eugenia the nerve specialist who married Solomon Akerib, an uncle of Vera and Simone. Helen Glanz (Mrs. Donchin) was an eye specialist. The youngest daughter was a homemaker. Like their father, the three Glanz medics practised at Hotel des Cures.

"Because Hotel des Cures was where people ordinarily went for peace and quiet, we as children, upon arriving in Helwan, would first check in with our uncle and aunt and then head off with our cousins and second cousins to a large house belonging to other relations down the street from the hotel."

For JCC's repsonse to WALL STREET JOURNAL click here
According to Simone Akerib, their other relation's house had four stories: one for girls, one for boys and it also had a Ping-Pong table. The children would only return to the Hotel de Cures to have lunch with the Glanzs and Uncle Solomon. "On Sundays and New Year's eve we were required to wear our best at the Hotel. This evidently meant white shoes and white socks," recalls Simone.

The Hotel's drawing room consisted of a huge area. Equally large were the bedrooms furnished in the old style, huge, bulky and palatial. This was also a place where royalty stayed for weeks. Among them was the King of the Belgians.

Guests usually came for the thermal waters of Helwan rich in sulfur. "The hotel's garden seemed huge in those days, maybe because we were small. Mrs. Glanz entered her flowers in shows every year and sometimes won."

The hotel had a solarium separate from the main building. It was there that guests could relax, take saunas and massages.

Except for the New Year, it was always quiet at the hotel year-round. Workers were very silent. These included a telephone operator, the cleaners, several nurses and a gardener. Everyone spoke French, yet whenever alone the Glanz's spoke Russian to each other.

Helwan was very exclusive between the two World Wars. It was there that pashas wintered or spent weekends in Spring and Autumn. Within walking distance from the Cairo-Helwan railway station was a Japanese garden where people took walks. It was filled with Japanese statues of snow monkeys, recalls Vera Akerib.

By 1948, the hotel had passed its peak. Helwan was on the decline. And when the government took over an empty Hotel de Cures during the Nasser years, it was leased to an officer who turned it into his private residence. Years later, Eugenia Glanz sued in court and managed to have the officer evicted whereupon she sold the property for a reasonable sum of money.

"Eugenia Glanz and Uncle Solomon retired in England. She was older and very protective of him. We visited them last in 1982."


The Akerib sisters: Vera and Simone
The Akerib sisters: Vera and Simone, Photo: Samir Raafat

Note: Vera and Simone's father Eli Akerib worked for Hettena Bros., a large construction company that produced drilling instruments. Before she retired a few years ago, Vera spent her entire career working for the Embassy of Ghana in Cairo. Simone is currently working for an insurance company.



BN announces the passing of

Nelly Kodsi
who died on

June 10 2000
Kadish was read by Aaron Kiviat who is currently mapping Bassatine Cemetery

Kodsi was one of the few remaining Karaiites in Egypt


Genizah poster at Ben Ezra

Have the Cairo Genizah really come home to roost? Not quite. Instead of the real thing (part of it known as the "Taylor-Schecter Collection" at Cambridge University Library in England), you will shortly be able to enjoy blown-up versions of a selection of Genizah documents on exhibit in Ben Ezra's annex hall.

By visiting the English-Arabic Genizah display, hundreds of daily visitors to the Synagogue will now be able to catch a glimpse of Jewish life in Egypt during the last 1000 years simply. They will appreciate the value of the original documents including full page documents and a handful of books preserved in their entirety. Most of these were penned by members of the Jewish community in Cairo over a period of 250 years, between 1000 and 1250. They shed light on the mainstream of Jewish life and society during a period that had long remained in the dark due to scanty documentation.

The Cairo Genizah was not an archive designed to preserve documents. It was a final resting place of discarded documents written in Hebrew or transliterated into Hebrew text, Arabic and other languages during the Middle Ages. Members of the Ben-Ezra congregation in Cairo systematically disposed of deceased persons' documents in a special enclave in the attic of the synagogue, accessible through a hole in the wall.

The Cairo Genizah were re-discovered 100 years ago in a vault located on the upper floor of Ben Ezra. Thanks to Cairo's dry climate these were considerably preserved so that over 130,000 out of 250,000 pieces of the Genizah could be transffered to Cambrige, UK. The rest were dispersed all over the academic world.


Genizah has the same root as Arabic Ganz/gunuz. (both from Persian Ganzah, treasure).
Jewish religion forbids destroying any paper bearing the name of God. Such papers have to be buried.
Most religious Jews will start any letter or document with an expression similar to Bismillah. That letter or document then cannot be thrown away.
Tradition says that in Cairo, documents, old prayers books and so on were taken to Bassateen once or twice a year in a funeral procession. Sometime during the eleventh century (or perhaps early twelfth) one such procession was attacked by an unnruly crowd. The then-Jewish leader of the community ordered the papers to be temporarily secreted in the upper storey of the Ben Ezra synagogue, where a hole was made high in the wall for that purpose. Funereal processions were not resumed and papers were henceforth put in the Genizah for safe keeping.....


Back in Egypt this April after a half century was Ivor Epstein from down-under. Ivor, a dentist in Sydney, spent two weeks in Egypt with his wife Manuel Saporta and their teenage daugthers Talia and Michaela. Their tour took them to Luxor, Aswan, Cairo and Alexandria. Ivor had spent the first three years of his life on Ismail Pasha (now Baghdad) Street in Heliopolis. Manuela on the other hand, was born in Alexandria. Ivor and his brother Dennis put together a booklet full of pictures and documents in honor of their late mother Shula (daughter of Isaac Bempechat and Nini Habert). Sacha Epstein, an uncle of Ivor, was a manager at MGM (remember cinema Metro?) in Egypt. {Ivor, send us your favorite Egypt Visit picture so we can post it]

On return trips this season were the Franky Mondolfos from Milan (many thanks for updating Elia Rossi family tree; pls send picture of your visit for posting) and, Jacques and Nicolette Mawas from the UK (sorry we missed each other).

Other visitors included Catherine Dreyfus (only surviving granddaughter of banker Elie Nessim Mosseri) and her husband Bernard Soguel from Basle. Dreyfus visited her grandmother's tomb (Laure Felix Suares) in Alexandria as well as her family's marble-lined family crypt in Bassatine, Cairo. She is considering sending an appeal to all her Cattaui-Mosseri relations for the preservation of the large family enclosure at Bassatine. Still relatively intact despite the wear and tear of the surrounding elements, the vaults, crypts and tombs within the walled enclosure (almost three acres) are on the verge of collapse following the death of its last keeper/guard "am Hassan Salama" who served the Mosseris for over half a century.


Need to locate
1) a Mr. R(ichard) Misrahi formerly of Alexandria's 'Quartier Greque' whose address was at one time No. 10 or 12 Avenue de Belgique, opposite Alexandria Stadium. Last known address in Europe: France or Switzerland.

2) Cynthia White from Oxford recently discovered her Jewish origins and Polish-Sephardic ancestry. Former family name in Egypt was Bianco. She's asked us to trace her relations: Adda (cotton trade, Cairo) and Morpurgo.


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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
mobile: 0122 2115915
from outside Egypt call
+20 122 2115915

Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue @ 17 Adly Street, downtown Cairo
open daily 10:00 to 15:00
Friday 10:00 to 17:00
Sunday closed

Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fostat (Old Cairo)
open daily 09:00 to 16:00

For visits to other Cairo synagogues or Bassatine Cemetery contact JCC

The JEWISH COMMUNITY COUNCIL of ALEXANDRIA (JCCA president: Youssef Ben Gaon) can be reached by email at:
and by telephone on +20 3 484-6189 or +20 3 486-3974 or by ordinary mail at
No. 69 Nebi Daniel Street, Alexandria, Egypt

please note the Jewish Community Council of Alexandria is an independent entity separate from the Jewish Community Council of Cairo

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