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





Ron Prossor

above: Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry Mr. Ron Prossor with Carmen Weinstein at Adly Synagogue (January 2005); below: L-R: Mr. Eyal Cisco, aide to Mr. Prossor, Elie Antebi

Eyal Cisco

Ted Stahnke
L-R: Ian McCary (US Embassy, Cairo), VP Dr. Felice Gaer and Ted Stahnke of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Washington D.C. with JCC's Carmen Weinstein at Cairo's Adly Street Synagogue on 20 July 2004
Below: with Dr. Ali al-Samman, Vice President of the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar al-Sharif for Dialogue on Monotheistic Religions

(above photos Samir Raafat)


  British International School
During their tour of a mosque, a church and a synagogue, Form 4 of Maadi's British International School visited the Meyer Biton Temple on June 1, 2004.
(photo Samir Raafat)

Cairo, Egypt, June 6, 2004

Dear Mrs. Weinstein:

Thank you very much for hosting the students of the Year 4 classes from the Maadi British International School at the Meyer Biton Synagogue in Maadi on June 1. As I mentioned to you on the telephone, the comments and feedback I have received about the visit from both students and staff at the school have been uniformly positive. I very much appreciate your generosity, with both your time and knowledge, in sharing with us your expertise and passion about the Jewish community in Egypt.

As part of the Year 4 curriculum, the classes visit religious institutions to learn about the major religions in Egypt. While they routinely receive information about Islam and Christianity, they have not had much opportunity to learn about Judaism. Your presentation admirably filled that need. The students and staff were intrigued about the history of the Jewish community in Egypt,the role of the Prophet Jeremiah and Alexander the Great in establishing synagogues in the country, and the critical role Jews have played in the development of Egypt. They also greatly enjoyed Samir Rafaat's story about Meyer Biton, Mr. Mangos and Bananas!

I wish that words could adequately express my gratitude for your hosting the students. It was truly a memorable experience, for them and me. One girl in the class told me that she had had a dream about entering the synagogue, but she never thought she would be able to do so. Suffice it to say that, for her, me, and the other participants, the visit was a dream come true! Please pass along our gratitude and thanks to Mr. Rafaat as well.

With Warmest Regards,
Steven C. Bondy

Elie Patan would like info on Neve Shalom Synagogue. Can you help?

My name is Elie Patan. I left Egypt in 1957. I lived in Cairo in the Sakakini area. During all my life in Cairo I prayed with my family in the Synagogue near my apartment. I think that the Synagogue was on Midan Toursina and its name was Neve Shalom but was known as "El Keniss El-kebira". It was a great synagogue with a yard and its interior was very beautiful especially when the lamps were lighted. The lighted lamps surrounded the "Heikhal sifrei torah", and around the ladies area in the second floor. The teba was in white marble and the chairs in brown precious wood.


It is with great sorrow that we mourn the passing away in Paris of Raymond Stambouli. He was one of the well known Egyptian Jews who emigrated in the 50's due to family reasons, but remained at heart an Egyptian. He graduated from the Faculty of Law in Fouad University(now Cairo University), and had started his Political Sciences before leaving. He kept in touch with his University co-students and friends in Egypt to which he returned several times after the 70's. The last time he came,he asked me to go around with him to visit several archeological sites which he said "we never had time when we lived in Cairo to see." We roamed around Fatimid Cairo visiting the house of Bakhtiar and Kalawoon Mosque of which he had read in El Ahram paper. He explained to me all those monuments which we pass by everyday and never heed or really see.

To all of us who were close to him, even when he was out of Egypt, Raymond was a symbol of tolerant wisdom; more he was the embodiment of logical reasoning. He was always there to receive our calls, to go round Paris with us and to help with advice when needed. He was a member of the Association for the Preservation of the Jewish Patrimony in Egypt, which was he founded with our freind the late Dr. Jacques Hassoun. Similarly they both felt that deep down they remained Egyptian. To Mireille his sister, and to all those who loved and appreciated him, Bassatine News present their sincere condolences.

Carmen Weinstein.

keeping its memory alive

Because of the delightful nature and informative substance of two January 2004 emails received from Chicago's Maurice Skinazi, Bassatine News decided to combine, edit and post them for its readers' benefit.

I was born in 1951 and left Egypt when I was 16. As far as El Ostaz Synagogue is concerned my uncle, Gabr Ashkenazi, was its caretaker during the 50's and the 60's up until the Six-day War of 1967. In the ensuing critical days he left Egypt for Brooklyn, New York, before re-settling in Buffalo. I have not been in touch with him since.

As far as I remember Uncle Gabr would come to pick us up from Cairo and drive us to attend the yearly pilgrimage at El Ostaz Synagogue in Mehalla al Kobra. Once there my parents would rent an apartment adjoining the synagogue. Our stay at Mehalla lasted several days especially since this was also an occasion to visit my older brother Dr. Gabriel Ashkenazi (Gabriel Skinazi), who practiced dentistry in Mehalla El Kobra from 1962 until 1967. [Mehalla El Kobra is one of the Delta's larger cotton-gathering centers with several cotton mills and textile plants to its name.]

The area of Mehalla al Kobra where the synagogue was located was called "El Khokha" (the peach). From my own recollections I remember that a brass band my uncle used to hire played music during the annual pilgrimage. They would sometimes perform the Hatikva as visitors walked in through the synagogue entrance. Meanwhile, in the courtyard several lambs were slaughtered, the meat made for a very tasty barbeque!

The synagogue also had a water fountain under an open "pergola" which was used for a sukkah. The fountain was flanked by two private grounds.

Inside the synagogue, by the Heikhal, there were two candleholders made of solid silver. Looking like rose flowers they each held about 50 candles. There were several "romonims" also in silver. These were filled with rose water and used for spraying worshippers as they walked past. From the synagogue's entrance all the way to the back there was a section for candles/oil to be lit.

I am unaware if someone was burried on the synagogue grounds but I do recall visiting several small tombs with Hebrew inscriptions on them. Some of these were surrounded by a mound of small stones for protection.

I also remember that the weekly Arabic-language magazine El Messawar ran a cover story entitled "Al Yahud Fi Masr" (Jews in Egypt) in one of it's 1963-1965 issues. Besides mentioning the annual pilgrimage to the synagogue the story included a photo layout along with a feature covering the synagogue's history. My father as well as other visitors featured in the coverage which also included my picture with a group of young people holding a Sefer Torah.

While at Mehalla El Kobra I remember visiting with a local Jewish family, the Saraweskys. They now live in France and in the US. Most of the people who attended the pilgrimage either went to Israel in 1957 or migrated to France.

In Cairo during the 1950s we lived on Kantaret El Ghamra Street, Daher before moving to Ibn Khaldoun Street in nearby Sakakini, not too far from Hanan Synagogue where my father Jacques Skinazi worshiped for decades. He was a dentist who was well known in government circles since he performed oral surgery on many senior government officials.

I was the youngest of five siblings. My brothers and I went to the College de la Salle in Daher while my two sisters attended Sainte Ann School also situated in Daher. As for my niece, she attended the Franciscana run by Italian nuns.

Regarding the Bassatine Cemetery south east of Cairo, I have dim recollections. I had only been there once in 1966 during Kippur--the tradional day of visiting the departed. I know there were many Ashkenazis (sometimes spelt Schinazi) burried there. I was only 15 at the time.

Summers were spent in our seaside house at Abu Kir east of Alexandria (remember that historic battle of Abou Kir?). I definitely recall a 'seasonal' synagogue there which became quite busy at the peak of summer since many Jews who lived in Cairo and Alexandria vacationed in Abu Kir.

My two older brothers, my father and my uncle were interned the first day of the June '67 war and deported to Italy by the fifth day. Luckily, my immediate family had the benefit of Italian passports. I would follow with the rest of the family in May 1968. Not so fortunate was my brother-in-law Victor Hanein and his two brothers who were interned for a longer period since they were stateless.

Twenty years later my wife and I traveled to Egypt. We visited Cairo, Abu Kir and Alexandria's Montazah Palace. Unfortunately I did not have the possibilty of relocating some of my childhood friends, classmates and neighbors. In particular I would have like to reunite with Sherif Saad Negm who lived in Maadi; Yasser Kamal Khashila of Heliopolis; Sherif Mohammad El Sherif El Hassan and the Ghoneim family from the Pyramids area.

The Ghoneims, who sported the nicknames of Sousou, Toutou, Soraya and Zouba, were long time family friends. They too had a summerhouse in Abu Kir located on the same street like us. I still remember the name of the street, it was Sharei El Fara'ana, El Masyaf El Gharbi, Abu Kir.

Fond memories.


Once a major cotton-gathering center in Egypt's Delta, Mahalla al-Kobra boasted a thriving Jewish community that in the 19th century already numbered 300 families with an aggregate Jewish population of around 1,500.

The town's Synagogue "Keniss al-Ostaz" was a venue for many a celebration and religious occasion. Visitors arrived from all over the country to celebrate what had became a folkloric 'moulid.' Meat was distributed to the poor, and song and dance took place inside the temple's courtyard glorifying the memory of Al Ostaz after whom the Synagogue was named 'Keniss Al Ostaz.'

The actual temple was built circa 1884-5 on a site of another centuries-old Synagogue.

During the first quarter of the 20th century Keniss Al Ostaz was at Western perimeter of the town of Mehalla Al Kobra, close to the cemeteries. But as the city grew and expanded in all directions, the temple found itself well inside the city boundaries. In time, buildings and apartment houses replaced the neighboring homes of local Jews and a former Jewish school that had taught Hebrew to about 400 students.

Describing the temple in 1929 Alfred Yallouz relates how "The Synagogue's interior had the usual high ceiling supported by marble columns imported from Europe. In the 'Hekal' was an old bible wrapped in silk material. A careful examination of the bible's tarnished silver covering evidenced that it had been dedicated to the Doctor of Law (Al Ostaz) Haim Al Amchati, his two brothers and the members of his family. An inscribed date suggests the bible could be 7 centuries old."

Legend has it that Rabbi Al Amchati's (a.k.a. Al Ostaz) tomb lies below the Synagogue. It is therein that the bible was discovered several centuries ago, which prompted the construction of the original temple. Amchati's anniversary was celebrated the 1st of Iyar each year.

Maurice Eskinazi Bar Mitzva
Maurice Eskinazi's Bar Mitzvah at Ismailia Temple in downtown Cairo. Maurice is now in Sao Paulo, Brazil and can be reached at
"I used to worship, regularly, with my father at Ismailia Temple and this is where I had my Bar-Mitzvah in July 1954. I am holding the Torah in the picture. It is in Ancient Egypt that Jews really became a people, and the pillars and other details in the synagogue remind us that. We're really lucky that it has survived intact."



1958-59 celebrations at Mahalla Al Kobra Synagogue "Keniss Al Ostaz"
(photos courtesy Carmen Weinstein collection)


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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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from outside Egypt call
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