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




The JCC sends its best wishes to one and all on the occasion of Roch Hashanah and Yom Kippour
This year's celebrations will be held
at Adly Synagogue, 29 September 2000
at Maadi Temple, 8 October 2000


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

Digitizing the cemetery by Carmen Weinstein

Although the fight to save the cemetery started in 1978 and having by 1999 encompassed 2/3 of the cemetery area's original 60 feddans--acres (1 feddan = 4,200 sq.m.). There still remained a great deal to be done.

- Making a master plan of the graves whether with or without inscriptions.
- Cleaning the rubbish nearby squatters keep throwing over the three-meter-high wall.
- Planting about 1000 trees and cacti.
- Try to reclaim and save the remaining 1/3 of the original Bassatine Cemetery.

Walling up that part of the cemetery which was saved between 1991-97, was, to say the least, arduous and sometimes dangerous. Naturally I did not expect the squatters to leave voluntary or to behave like perfect gentlemen. But the hurdles were nevertheless much more than I expected.

The next phase was to make a master plan of the graves. Although easier than its predecessor, phase II would also require lots of patience and careful planning.

1997 saw the arrival of Naomi and Toura, two volunteers from TA University. To them the credit should go of having pioneered the digitizing, so to speak, of Bassatine Cemetery. They spent a month (during their summer break) working at the cemetery writing the names on the graveside and taking pictures of each grave.

In September 1998 I received a phone call from Aaron Kiviat, an American AUC exchange student from Seattle studying in Cairo for one year. He was ready to do some volunteer work for the community. He was as good as his word. Aaron worked the computer, visited the sick and showed up at Adly Synagogue every Shabat.

Together with a multinational and interdenominational (moslem, Christian and Jew) bunch of pals from AUC. Aaron agreed to cleanup the Kreim Synagogue in Cairo's Sakakini area. The synagogue had not been cleaned for the past 40 years. In return for this singular enterprise the group was handsomely paid: Cokes and pizzas!

It was after Aaron had said Kadish at a funeral at Bassatine that I suggested he should consider continuing Naomi's work: digitizing the rest of the Bassatine Cemetery. Naturally he would need assistance.

After thinking for a while the reply came: "It will require a long time. I will have to do it in my own spare time so that it does not conflict with my studies. I shall come back on holiday.

Having completed his Year Abroad, Aaron returned to the USA in June 1999.

Speaking from 28 years of experience with Bassatine and its dead, things usually go very slow--the slowness of eternity. If anything, my involvement with Bassatine Cemetery had taught me the full meaning of patience and the word "WAIT". I often wondered if the seven days it took to create the world were not in reality seven million or seven billion or yes, seven trillion years! Anyway-as usual-after the time of slowness and of waiting, events started to move quite fast.

In March 2000 Aaron phoned me from the US announcing he was arriving at Pessah. Later an email arrived to say he was postponing his arrival to May. But he first had to come up with the price of an air ticket. Luckily for all of the JCC I had met a few months earlier LA-based travel consultant Robert Kazian. Very quickly he became an enthusiast of the JCC and the work being accomplished. He agreed to pay most of Aaron's airfare to and from the West Coast.

Meanwhile Aaron had launched the "Association of the Friends of the JCC in Cairo" and with the help of family and friends, he had collected some cash donations.

Aaron arrived last June and was followed shortly after by his two young cousins Jack and Anthony. Three young American volunteer girls would team a few days later. They six volunteers from America would form the nucleus of the 'Bassatine 2000' task force.

Appropriate lodging had to be found. I was therefore more than happy to put at their disposal free of charge an apartment in downtown Cairo. And For transport arrangements I contracted a taxi to carry the team back and forth from the cemetery. On a normal day it takes about 45 minutes to get to Bassatine from downtown Cairo.

In view of the cemetery's off-track location and for security purposes, I provided the team with a mobile phone. Unfortunately a team member lost the phone very early on during a sightseeing trip at the pyramids of Sakarra. But ma'lesh as we say here. Better a lost mobile than a scorpion's bite.

On site help was provided by the Cemetery's security guard, Mohammed, and his 12 year old son. Mohammed would often improvise refreshments under one of the very few shady spots available at the cemetery.

When it came to topographical survey Egytpian engineer Wafik N. was there to offer assistance. Eventually he too would become part of the Bassatine 2000 task force. And when the taxi was not available the entire team would cram into Wafik's car.

The team found time to visit Alexandria courtesy of an Egyptian friend Fatma B. After hours Wafik would offer sightseeing opportunities. Most of these took place on Saturdays. And not to miss out on a satisfying Shabat meal, these were kindly offered at the Garden City home of Sheila K. So thankfully there was also time to enjoy. After all this was Summer break and 'all work and no play' would have marred the spirits.

On each working day the Bassatine 2000 team would supply me with a progress report. The original plan was to divide the cemetery into parcels of 100 square meters each. Each parcel would be tagged with a letter of the alphabet. Each grave within a specific parcel was carefully measured, photographed and numbered. E.g. 1A, 2A, 3A…

While Aaron's cousins were responsible for the numbering and measuring, Aaron and Wafik would carry out the cemetery's mapping and delineation. Once Jenny, Rachel and Erin arrived from the USA, the working groups were re-organized into three working crews. Two for numbering and measuring and one for photos.

Because of the summer heat (often in the high 30s C.), the team would leave Cairo at 07:00 returning at 11:00. Some team members would return to Bassatine at 18:00 working until after sunset.

During that time Aaron with the assistance of his computer-savvy friends started to build a database with names and photos relevant to each identifiable tomb.

As July came to a close Aaron's cousins and the three girls returned to the US. Aaron, who was expecting his parents, remained behind.It was during this time that Naomi arrived to resume her volunteer work at Bassatine. Together with Wafik the three wrapped up what remained to be done: More numbering, more photographs and more indexing. Naomi would leave the first part of August to prepare for the next school year.

At some point Sheila K. also joined the team giving invaluable assistance with regards to reading out the "old Hebrew" inscriptions carved out on tombs. These would be transcribed into English. The only reason these inscriptions had survived intact was because they were carved out on stone slabs rather than marble. As already mentioned in Bassatine Cemetery Part I all the marble slabs had all been stolen in the 1960s.

Aaron left in mid-August. Right before his departure he presented me with a master copy of the new survey map, the database (hard copy and diskettes) and two copybooks with around 4,000 entries plus photos. The names were listed in alphabetical order and by section making cross-referencing easier.

Aaron left with the hope to return to Bassatine. May God bless you Aaron and may he also help you with your law studies.

But there is still a great deal to be done in Bassatine.

To begin with I have

- Started the cleaning of the garbage thrown across the wall from nearby squatters.
- Intend to raise one section of the wall to 4 meters up from 3 m. I would have raised the other sections as well but money is lacking. Funds received from the late Jacques Hassoun and his Association and those sent by Denise Moreno have dried up.
- Have started to plant trees and once the results are favorable will embark on planting more.

Still needed

- Cemetery alleys need to be retraced and cleared.
- Graves need to be rectified and cleaned.
- Clearing system to avoid more garbage being thrown from on top of the wall
- Saving the last 1/3 of the cemetery situated outside the wall perimeter. This is where many of the private vaults are located" Cattauis, Naggars, Ades, Ventura, Rodrigues, Curiel…
- Saving the holiest of holies: the vault of Haiim Capucci desecrated by a woman squatter "Um Rabie' who is the principal cause of the deterioration of the entire cemetery.

I am also waiting for Bassatine and its dead to inspire another Aaron Kiviat to come and help. It is the most important Zaghout to preserve the sanctuary of the dead.

NEW MAP OF BASSATINE CEMETERY AND MORE DETAILS ON BASSATINE 2000 CLICK: Friends of the Jews in Cairo coverage of Bassatine Cemetery 18 October 2000

Ray of sunshine from Mideast: Egyptians, Jews save burial site

BASATIN, Egypt (AP) -- Wearing a Foreign Legion-style sun hat over his yarmulke, the rabbi stretched a tape measure across the stones of a bridge embankment. Nearby, Egyptians hauled stones on a donkey cart to build a wall for the bridge.

Rabbi Schlomo Ziffer and consulting engineer Arieh Klein, visiting from Israel, were trying to reconcile neat measurements on paper with the rough reality of squeezing several hundred gravestones back into a cramped corner of a millennium-old Jewish cemetery.

They were also engaged in an act of reconciliation in its broader sense last month, demonstrating that while Israelis and Palestinians were heading toward a new spasm of violence, Jews and Muslims could work together to save a piece of shared heritage.

To build a modern highway through the final resting place of countless Jews took international diplomacy, exacting care and hard physical labor. Now, with the effort in its final phase, Klein was using a handheld computer to plot the coordinates of gravesites, conferring with Ziffer in Hebrew and with an Egyptian foreman in a mixture of English and Arabic.

Two girls from a nearby slum turned up selling flat Egyptian bread from trays balanced on their heads.

"Joseph Mitrah. Died 17-9-1959 at the age of 74 years. Pray for him," read a legend carved in French on one tombstone. Another stone's Hebrew letters and Star of David had been mostly worn away by desert wind and sand.

'We've had good cooperation'

Egypt today is home to only a few hundred Jews, but the cemetery is proof of a larger Jewish past, and given the players and themes involved, its rescue has been surprisingly free of drama.

"We've had good cooperation from Egyptians," Klein said. "We suggested the solution and they adopted it. It's their execution."

Predominantly Muslim Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, and its Jewish minority is usually left alone. Anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish sentiment simmers, yet so sensitive is the cemetery issue that Egyptian authorities were willing to live with a delay of several years in the construction of the 60-mile (100-kilometer) Cairo ring road, an ambitious attempt to ease congestion in the Egyptian capital.

Ziffer's New York-based Athra Kadisha Society works to preserve Jewish sites around the world. In 1992 it fought against construction of a shopping mall over a Jewish burial site in Hamburg, Germany. In Israel, too, it frequently runs afoul of the secular public for trying to protect ancient cemeteries from developers.

While Christian and Muslim graves have been shifted from the Cairo ring road's path, the Jewish ones could not be moved without gravely offending Jewish law, according to Athra Kadisha.

"According to Jewish law, a cemetery is the holiest place for Jews, holier even than a synagogue," explains Lazar Stern, an Athra Kadisha rabbi.

Grave markers temporarily moved aside.

Senator Gilman with Carmen Weinstein at Basatine Cemetery
(photo Samir Raafat)

Stern said Athra Kadisha learned through newspaper reports in 1989 that Basatin, just south of Cairo, was in the ring road's way. The rabbis enlisted Rep. Benjamin Gilman of New York. The influential chairman of the House International Relations Committee raised the matter with Egyptian officials. U.S. Embassy officials have kept close watch over the project.

Eventually a compromise was reached: Though the graves could not be moved, the rabbis ruled that their markers could be pushed aside to make way for construction, provided they were put back afterward.

The two ends of the highway, long poised like two hands kept apart by Basatin, could finally come together.

Klein and Israel Klar, Israeli consultants brought in by Athra Kadisha, proposed covering the graves with earth and layers of tough woven plastic known as geotextile -- humble dirt and high-tech plastic protecting the fragile bones and bearing the weight of the highway bridge on its concrete supports.

"The Egyptian government is to be commended for its ongoing commitment to completing this difficult project with the sensitivity necessary to ensure that Jewish religious sentiments and strictures were not violated," Gilman said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Carmen Weinstein, one of the few remaining Jews of Cairo, is Basatin's self-appointed guardian. Over the years she has used her own money to buy out poor families squatting in the graveyard, to hire guards and to discourage neighbors from using Basatin as a trash heap.

On her Web site, Weinstein says: "To keep this cemetery is to keep alive the Jewish presence in Egypt."

This AP story by Donna Bryson also appeared in the Montreal Gazette


Denise Moreno was born in Cairo, the daughter of Adolphe Gani from Greece and Suzanne Gabay of Izmir. While the Ganis lived in the garden suburb of Koubbeh, Adolphe worked in the Mousky district where he owned a leather shop .

Denise first married Robert Rawas with whom she lived in the handsome Immobilia Building at No. 26 Cherif Pasha Street. After Robert died in 1951, the result of an unfortunate accident at the Maadi Sporting Club, Denise remarried Victor Moreno in 1954. He was senior manager of the Ahram Beverages Company producers of Egypt's famous Stella beer.

The Morenos relocated in France where they raised their two sons, Claude born in Cairo in 1955 and Alain born in France in 1959. Today Claude is an entreprising businessman based in Hong Kong.

Today a widow (Victor died in 1995), Denise is surrounded by her sons and grandson Jonathan Moreno.

During a visit to Egypt in 1999 Denise committed herself to helping the Bassatine Cemetery. Upon her return to France she immediately started a fundraising campaign (see list).

The JCC wishes to extend its thanks to the Gani-Moreno family in France for their valued help and assistance.


Eric Rouleau Q. Which Egypt-born French intellectual came from Daher, Cairo, and rose to become a famous journalist (Le Monde) in France as well as that country's ambassador to Tunis (1985-86) and Ankara (1988-91)?
A. Eli Raffoul a.k.a. Eric Rouleau

Q. Who is the Cairo-born world expert in Kurdish linguistics?
A. Professor Joyce (Em.) Blau formerly of No. 14 Rue Adly, Cairo

Raoul CurielQ. Who grew up in a handsome mansion (now Algerian Embassy) on Gabalaya Street (now Brazil Street), Zamalek, Cairo and later became a famous archeologist in Afganistan and Pakistan; and a director of the Musees de France?
A. Raoul Curiel (1913-2000)



BN announces the passing of

Gilbert de Botton
on 27 August 2000
in France

Banker and international financier Gilbert de Botton was born in Alexandria and went to school in Victoria College, Cairo

He last visited Egypt with his family in 1997

click for Obituary in London Times


- The district of Smouha in Alexandria is named after financier Youssef Smouha Bey
- The Cecil Hotel in Alexandria belonged to the Metzger family
- President Anwar al-Sadat lived in the Giza Villa where Lady Keith Joseph born Yolande Castro grew up. Lady Joseph was the wife of Sir Keith Joseph, minister and confidant of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


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.


Firman of investiture
Firman for the investiture of Yemtob Israel as new Grand Rabbi of Egypt in 1866.
(pohto courtesy of Andrew Strum in Australia)


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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
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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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