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




purim masks
celebrated at Maadi's Meyr Biton Temple
Thursday 20 March 2008 @ 18:00


Egyptian passover 2008
above: full house; below: part of the younger crowd; far below: Mr. Dan Shahat with JCC president
photos courtesy Samir Raafat

Egyptian passover 2008

Egyptian passover 2008

This year the Jewish Community of Cairo (JCC) decided to celebrate Passover in Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue as we have been accustomed to do since 2005. Unfortunately, this year Rabbi Marc El-fassy was unable to come from France for personal reasons.

Without an officiating Rabbi we were wondering how to proceed, especially as we received beforehand requests from tourists visiting Egypt at this time, to attend an Egyptian Jewish Seder.

Preparing the food was no problem. To the usual fare of fish, rice, vegetables and salads, we decided to add turkey roasted with diverse nuts on a bed of brownish rice. And for dessert, we opted for pancakes made of Matzoz bran, filled with apple jam + cantaloupe from Sinai (quite appropriate for the occasion).

Also on the menu were the Passover biscuits sent to us by the Joint by way of their dependable representative, our good friend Ami Bergman who arrived here two days before the Seder whereupon I managed to squeeze out of him a donation for the occasion...

Ami had tried to get us a Hazan from Israel, but at the last minute he (the Hazan) got cold feet and abstained.

Frankly, I took the matter lightly not worrying too much. I thought some of the guests are sure to be able to read and we will carry on as best we can. The important thing is to carry on with our annual celebration.

However, a day before Seder the consul at the Israeli embassy called to say we would have someone to read the Haggada.

Mr. Dan Shahat, an Israeli diplomat, happened to be in Cairo for work. Upon hearing that the LITTLE JEWISH COMMUNITY of Cairo lacked a Rabbi and was now Hazan-less he immediately volunteered to help "for it is a great Zakhout" he said.

At 6 pm on the 19th of April in walks into the Synagogue's function hall a fourty-ish tall young-looking gentleman bursting with stamina; not at all the typical stuck up stuffy diplomat. He immediately started to help with the traditional proceedings required for the Seder while greeting guests both young and old putting them all at ease.

Because it was Saturday eve, he told me we had to wait for the end of the shabbat, and weather being fine we gathered in the Synagogue's open air courtyard.

Then we started.

Our impromptu Hazzan read on with a lot of brio accompanied by several of the younger attendance, mostly Jewish students studying in Cairo. It was momentous!

As for the regular JCC community members who had turned up in totto in their Shabbat best, they too joined the Haggada reading and responding when necessary, and chanting part of the prayers when required.

For this occasion we prepared 65 chairs stradling two parallel dining tables with guests seating vis-a-vis. At the top of the main table sat Mr. Dan Shahat between a very satisfied head of the Community, me, and the JCC vice-president, Vicky, as well as a guest from the American Embassy in Cairo.

And just in case, we had also prepared some extra chairs should there be last minute or unexpected show-ups at the Synagogue door. It has always been the habit with Egyptian Jews to admit anyone who comes to join the Seder. Maybe it is the same all over the world.

As chair after extra chair was brought in, we eventually reached just under 100 attendees.

Thank God there was enough of everything to accomodate everyone!

Being in Egypt naturally there was more than enough food to go. Can't beat our local custom to cook for ten even when you only expect couple...

At the end everyone was made to sing praises of the Lord with the well known passover songs that follow the dinner.

To wrap it up our friend Raymond had brought his guitar and played us some joyous Scottish reels…

The tourists who had joined us declared themselves thrilled to have attended a Seder in Egypt.

We missed our good friend US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone who attended last year's Seder. Just before leaving Egypt on April 18 he sent me a beautiful letter wishing us to keep up our traditions always in the best possible way. The JCC wishes him all the best in his new posting in Washington DC.

For the finale Mr. Dan Shahat raised a toast to the Jewish community of Cairo, that it may go on forever and a day. Anyway this was one of these days…

A happy Passover to all.. and to reverse the usual wish say "next year in Egypt!" and come celebrate PESSAH with our ancient Community.

Carmen Weinstein – JCC President

LEON WAHBA on an April 1, 2008 resolution by the US House of Representatives

We were a close-knit extended family that had been living in Cairo, Egypt, for generations. When we arrived in Louisville in 1959, we were warmly greeted at the train station by members of the local Jewish community, and through the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville we were provided with housing, jobs and assistance in settling into our new home. It was this kind assistance that I have tried to pay back over the last 49 years. My cousins from the Cairo of my childhood now live in Israel, Australia, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as the United States. In each case, their stories greatly resemble mine; local Jewish families helping their fellow Jews from all parts of the world.

Today, thanks to the generosity and support of fellow Jews, I and each and every one of the nearly 1 million Jews from Arab countries, have all been safely and comfortably settled. We are loyal, patriotic and contributing citizens of each of the democratic nations that provided us a haven.

The recent resolution passed in the U.S. Congress (H.R. 185) acknowledging the injustices committed against Jews from Arab lands was long overdue. Neither I nor the resolution, however, asks the government of Egypt or any other Arab country for any direct compensation or other financial reparations for myself or my community.

I would much prefer instead for the Arab world, much of it rich in oil money, to provide their Palestinian brethren with the same kind of compassion and support that the Jews from around the world so generously provided their co-religionists from Arab countries.

Louisville 40245


photos courtesy Sarah Eid

Professor Saiid Sadek of the Political Sociology department at AUC accompanied by 40 students visited Shaar Hahamayim on Saturday, 1 December 2007 with the aim of learning more about this landmark building and what it represented within Egyptian society in its early years.


President Mohammed Naguib visits Shaar Hashamayim
newspaper clipping courtesy of Andrew Strum in Australia

An earlier visit to Shaar Hashamayim synagogue when Egyptian President Mohammed Naguib called on the Grand Rabbi of Egypt and Sudan Haim Nahum on Thursday, 10 September 1953, on the occasion of Rosh Hashanna (Jewish New Year).

HANNUKA Saturday, 8 December 2007

Hannuka 2007
beyond the marble Bimah desk and across the main hall observe five red candles lit in the distance under the ark

Hannuka 2007 - AUC
American year-abroad students celebrating Hanukka

Hannuka 2007 - Naftali Touitou
Hazan Naftali Touitou with JCC president (photos courtesy Samir Raafat)

Around 50 worshipers and visitors braved Cairo’s frantic weekend traffic and showed up for Hannuka celebrations at Shaar Hashamayim, which for the occasion was wearing its Sabbath best all lit up adjorno.

"Back home in Charlottesville, Virginia I'm used to much smaller wood-paneled Synagogues," explained Jordan Reiter. "Aside from the wrap around white marble walls the proportions of Cairo's Adly temple are so grandiose one feels somewhat intimidated." Like several other Jewish-American year-abroad students studying Arabic in Egypt, Reiter, a 28-year-old computer programmer, is inclined to observe Jewish holidays in Cairo. For Yom Kippur he made it to Maadi's Meyr Biton Temple, which compared to Shaar Hashamayim is a cottage. Another item which impressed Reiter is the worldliness of the remaining Cairo Jews who "seem to speak several languages and have a propensity to evoke the Cairo of their youth which seems to have been a wonderful place to be at." (Stick around "Mugus" and the lovely ol' ladies will tell you more!)

Hannuka celebration was followed by a buffet dinner at the Temple's community hall courtesy of the JCC.


The Department of Antiquities is currently preparing its 2008 shortlist re: monuments and landmarks in need of restoration. A possible candidate for that list is the Maimonides Synagogue near Haret al-Yahood. Ever since the October 1992 earthquake the Synagogue has fallen on hard times including its being a victim of the rising water table which has flooded its ground level floor which is itself below current street level.



BN regrets to announce the passing of
Juliette Hazi a.k.a "Madame Iman"
long time caretaker of Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue
on 27 November 2007
burial at Bassatine Cemetery took place the same day


Madame Iman
Madame Iman at work
photo courtesy Samir Raafat

Juliette Hazi was known to all of us at the JCC as "Madame Iman". She was the guardian angel of the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue or Adly synagogue, as Egypt's Jews chose to call it when we numbered 70,000 in Cairo.
I became acquainted with Madame Iman in the eighties, when she assumed responsibility for the synagogue by the JCC. She would usually sit at her small wooden desk in the lower room under the library room, receiving visitors who would come to visit the synagogue from the side street. One day that good woman told my mother “Mme Weinstein, si vous avez besoin de reparations de couture, je suis capable de vous le faire, et gratuitement.”
That was the effect my mother usually had on people.
I did not probe more into her history and just thought of her as the caretaker of the synagogue who would prepare every year all that was necessary to commemorate the death of my father.
When my mother became president of the JCC, Madame Iman kept her non-remunerative job in the synagogue and as we became closer we discovered we had similar interests.
Together we decided to open up the main door of the synagogue so that visitors would no longer have to come through the side alley entrance as though we were ashamed or hiding. Rising to the occasion Madame Iman supervised a bunch of workers who cleaned up the main hallway so that thereafter everything was spick and span… especially when there was a religious holiday.
Juliette Hazi a.k.a Madame Iman was one of the Jews who never left Egypt. The eldest of her siblings, when her father died, she and her mother worked to support the rest of the family. The mother would cook at home and sell the cooked products. Juliette meanwhile worked in one of the Jewish schools in the Jewish Quarter teaching sewing and embroidery.
During 1948 her younger brother left for Israel, and shortly after the revolution the rest of her family left as well with Juliette and her mother staying behind.
When the school was nationalized, Juliette in order to keep her job became Iman Hazi. After all Maimonides said “when there is a threat to your life, there is neither sin nor shame to take up the religion of the nation you are living in.”
Though she was far from being scholarly enough to be familiar with Maimonides writings, Madame Iman unknowingly and by sheer intuition followed his precepts, as did many of our coreligionists at that difficult time.
Besides her work at Adly Synagogue, which she undertook when she was pensioned off at the age of 65 until she passed away last year at 88, Madame Iman never ceased looking after anyone who needed her.
When Fortunee Cohen was placed in a clinic because of old age, Iman would go everyday by bus to bring her food and keep her company. She refused to take any money for expenses incurred.
When I rescued JCC's Marie Sol from dire poverty, Iman was the one to cook for her every day, feeding her at the Synagogue.
That was typical of Madame Iman. Always a giver… someone you could depend on.
When Madame Iman’s old apartment showed cracks and all the tenants had to vacate the building, I took her in and put her up in a flat in front of my office on Cherif Pasha Street.
We became even closer as she would pass by my office every day after closing the Synagogue. Frequently she would say, "Envoyez moi quelqu'un, j'ai cuisine quelque chose de bon pour vous."
One day I received a call from Adly Synagogue telling me Madame Iman had not shown up and she was not answering the phone. We hurried to my flat across from the office and opened the door with my spare key. There she was lying on the floor in a dreadful state. We immediately rushed her to hospital.
It took her a week to recover at which time she explained she preferred staying over in the hospital’s Old People's section. Soon enough Madame Iman was back to working but this time helping her fellow inmates in Old Age Ward attending to the more needy and physically challenged. Yet barely a year passed and she suffered a stroke.
On one of my visits to the hospital I told her "You must recover Madame Iman, I need you!"
Madmame Iman shook her head and said “I am at the end of the line; my mother died at 82, I am now 88…"
I replied laughingly, "...and my mother died at 97, so you have 9 more years to go!"
Madame Iman smiled. It was then that she asked me that when the time came she wanted to be buried in Bassatine besides her mother.
This is what we did.
We were fortunate in having Hazan Naphtali to pray at her funeral. We were about ten in attendance including several employees who had worked with her at Adly synagogue.
Juliette Hazi a.k.a Madame Iman besides being a model of honesty and loyalty was also hardworking with an untold sense of duty... qualities not to be found today. Her death was a great loss to our community.
We shall all deeply miss Madame Iman.


From Pascale Hassoun in Paris

Le livre "histoire des juifs du Nil" traduit en arabe par Youssef Darwiche vient d'être publié au Caire aux editions Dar-Shorouk. Malheureusement Youssef Darwiche est décédé il y a un an et n'aura pas pu voir cette parution. Sa fille Nawla Darwiche s'est fait un point d'honneur de faire aboutir ce projet , elle a revu la traduction et pris les contacts avec l'éditeur.
A ce propos voici ce que Nawla m'écrit: "En ce qui concerne la diffusion du livre en Egypte et dans le monde arabe, je voudrais vous informer que le proprietaire de la maison d'edition El Shorouq est aussi le president de l'union des editeurs arabes, donc un choix de premier ordre. Il y a eu trois ou quatre presentations assez elogieuses du livre dans la presse jusqu'ici."
Youssef Darwiche a ajouté au livre sa propre préface que j'ai fait traduire par une amie Olfat Wassef et relire par Nawla darwiche. Je vous envoie cette traduction en pièce jointe.
"Voici, je me rejouis de cet apport à une possible meilleure connaissance de la communanté juive égyptienne."

On pourra se procurer le livre en arabe à l'institut du monde arabe à Paris à partir de la mi avril et bientot au Caire a la synagogue de Ben Ezra au Vieux Caire (Fostat).


Israeli officials
photo courtesy Samir Raafat

March 2008 visit to Shaar Hashamayim by Israeli foreign ministry officials included Director General Aharon Abramovitch accompanied by Dov Steinberg, Head of Egyptian Affairs Department, with Mr Nissan Amdur, Minister at Israeli Embassy and Consul Eyal Sisco.


Meyr Biton Temple
1955 watercolor painting of Maadi's Mery Biton Temple by the late Andre Maleh courtesy of his nephew Maurice Maleh recently in Cairo for the Shaar Hashamayim centennial

Hirsch shop for watches in Cairo early 1900s
courtesy Samir Raafat


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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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