|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|
1st day of Roshanna
should you wish to attend any or both of the above with family and/or friends please contact JCC as soon as possible
1st day of Roshanna
should you wish to attend any or both of the above with family and/or friends please contact JCC as soon as possible
|Time to forget diets. Shevuoth (Pentecost or festival of Weeks or holidays of the first fruits) starts on the evening of Sunday, 31 May through 1 June 1998. Hag Samekh|
There were several disconcerting rumblings by those wishing to visit the cemetery of Bassatine yet refuse to give a donation towards its maintenance and upkeep. When asked to make a modest contribution, some visitors think their donation goes straight into the pockets of the JCC board. Recently a JCC representative was confronted with an angry person who argued extensively. "Why should I pay? The place is dirty and I'd rather give my money elsewhere!"
Yes, this most ancient of cemeteries could look better, greener and shadier. And yes, it definitely needs cleaning and a few benches won't hurt. But it takes money to improve things and money is not what we have a-plenty. Indeed, the JCC would like to appoint a full-time uniform guard, install a telephone, bring in city water, fix up the small carriage house so one can rest after walking the four kilometer perimeter. But where are the funds? They come in dribs and drabs. Sometimes they come too late when damage has already been done. This is precisely why every little cent, lira or franc helps. With each individual donation we are able to meet an individual expense.
In the old days, fund raising was never a problem. The more fortunate members of our once thriving community gave generously while the rest gave in money or in kind whenever it was necessary. No arguments. Today we have no affluent community to speak of which is why we reluctantly rely on visitors. And yet, when we ask for a modest contribution some persons react in a most unbecoming manner.
It is a sad day for our collective memory when someone finds it difficult to part with the equivalent of ONE night in a hotel room. Think of those who are in a grave for eternity and let's try to make our loved one's resting place and graveyard as decent looking as possible.
End of story
For details on the Bassatine cemetery please refer to BN issue 1.
At a recent press conference at the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel (Wednesday, May 27, 1998), Governor Abdelrahim Shehata elaborated on Cairo's plans to celebrate the new millennium. "We are concentrating our efforts on Old Cairo, the site of three of the continent's oldest places of [monotheistic] worship." The Cairo governor was referring to the mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aass, the Mo'alaka (Hanging) Church and the Synagogue of Ben Ezra. All three within a few hundred meters from each other.
Plans to upgrade and renovate the area are currently with a British-based architectural company which has been designated project consultant.The actual work will be undertaken by Orascom, a leading Egyptian contractor.
Since Ben Ezra was restored and renovated a few years ago thanks to a generous grant received from Phyllis Lambert's CCA - Canadian Center of Architecture, actual works are expected to concentrate elsewhere within the designated perimeter.
When asked whether the authorities are ready to cooperate with local entities regarding the restoration works meaning the Moslem, Christian and Jewish communities directly responsible for these sites, the governor stated that full cooperation already exists between the concerned authorities e.g. Antiquities Department, and community representatives. "No work can be undertaken without their cooperation and whenever necessary, their participation."
Once upgraded the designated areas are expected to draw a considerable amount of tourists during the millennium year. Despite the somewhat difficult access roads, tourists by the bus load arrive there each day.
SO PENCIL IT IN NOW! The millennium rendez vous is in Old Cairo.
On May 17 the annual memorial service was held for Maurice Chaki, father of JCC president Esther Weinstein.
A similar service is planned for the builder of the temple Mr. Meyr Y. Biton in conformity with his endownment trust. But before this happens we need to know the date of his death (circa early 1950s). If anyone reading this remembers the exact date, please e-mail or write BN.
The Meyr Biton Synagogue will be open four times a week --Monday, Wednesday and Friday-- from 10:00 until 14:00 as well as on Shabat (Saturdays). The Synagogue will open on special religious holidays and upon request. Applications should be addressed to the JCC in Abassia or at the Chaar Hachamayim Synagogue on Adly Street, downtown Cairo.
Robert remembers when Egypt had more than 100,000 co-religionists and when avenue Soliman Pasha seemed populated with his mother's extended family. "The Mosseris were everywhere you looked. They owned two smart villas at Nos. 7 and 9 Avenue Soliman Pasha where it intersects Rue Bostan." His godmother Esther (Mrs. Albert Vita Mosseri) lived at No.9 with her extended family, while Aunt Alice (Mrs. Jacques Mosseri), lived at No. 7 with her own large brood. During WW2 Alice Mosseri's house became the Victory Club, a British cultural hub targeted by arsonists during the January 1952 Cairo burning. Whereas Club Mohammed Ali and Immeuble Matossian still stand at the opposite corners, the Mosseri villas were replaced by modern buildings.
There were Mosseris too at Nos. 8, 11, 13, 15, 23, 29 and 32 Avenue Soliman Pasha. Robert's family were at No.1.
(Note: Villa No.9 and possibly No.7 on Avenue Soliman Pasha were built by Austrian architect Edward Matasek. It was Matasek and his partner Maurice Cattaui who designed the Chaar Hachmayin Synagogue on Adly Street).
While not as rich as the Mosseris who lived in grand homes in Garden City and Giza, the Nahmans made a name for themselves in khedivial Egypt. Robert's grandfather, Matatias Nahman was one of them. A merchant from northern Greece, he arrived last century to cash in on the boom created by Mohammed Ali's Modern Egypt. The owner of an imposing mansion in the center of the capital's commercial district, Matatias took to entertaining important 'hotes de marques'. Among his guests were members of the Austrian Habsburgs. "It had something to do with my grandfather being educated in Vienna" says Robert who vaguely recalls the mansion's gold ceilings and other fancy accoutrements.
Because of its enviable location, between what used to be the Theatre de l'Opera and the Daira Sania headquarters on Ataba Square (later Mixed Court Tribunals, now the square), Palais Matatias was sold many times over. Robert doesn't know who owns it today but the demolition ball is on its way to flatten the remains. In its present state who can tell the mansion was designed in the early 1870s by Ambroise Baudry, a French architect who played such a critical role in the architectural development of Khedive Ismail's Cairo district of Ismailia, laments Nahman.
"Another Nahman family who made it big was my uncle Maurice." Robert couldn't be more right for anyone into archeology and antiquities will at one time or another have come across Maurice Nahman. Probably because he hasn't seen it, Robert didn't mention his uncle was portrayed in Shadi Abdel Salaam's award-winning film "The Mummy". For several decades, 'Maurice Nahman Antiquaire' at 27 Cherif Street (now a branch of Bank of Alexandria) was a natural stop for Egyptologists and antique dealers the world over.
Another of Robert's uncles, banker Victor Nahman, married into the wealthy Rolo family of Alexandria. One of Victor's daughters, Celine Nahman, married department store baron Salvatore Cicurel before he dumped her for a secretary who provided him with an heir. As for Robert's aunt, Eugenie Nahman, she too espoused a Rolo and, like her brother, lived in Alexandria.
Preceded by eight sisters, Robert was the apple of his parents' eyes. A precious son, he had it good throughout his youth when many a caprice was ignored by a merciful father. It was during his early teens that Robert took up what quickly became his lifetime passion. Horses. Betting rather than riding. It all started with Arnous.
"One day during our traditional Saturday lunch, I overheard my mother's cousin Joseph Ada of Alexandria tell her anyone short on cash should bet on Arnous." Monsieur Ada was referring to one of Baron Empain's prize horses mounted by the popular jockey Stefano. Robert, barely 14 years old, took the pointer and with LE 2.20 out of his LE 3.00 monthly allowance, bet the entire tableau at the Gezira Sporting Club that afternoon. His winnings amounted to LE 280 which in today's terms would be the equivalent of over ten thousand pound. Hurrying home to break the big news, Robert was greeted with a resounding smack from his mother. A pious and stern lady, she sequestered the money "from which she eventually bought me a suit" sighs Robert as though it had all happened yesterday.
Despite his mother's alternating supplications and threats, Robert Nahman became a regular face at the races. When he couldn't make it to the club he hung out at the bookmakers on Emad el-Dine Street. The two-time punter soon became an expert on the Cairo paddocks. "The best horses by far came from the stables of Baron Empain (son of the founder of Heliopolis) and sugar king Ahmed Aboud Pasha. Aboud's Arabian filly Boule de Neige brought me many a tidy winnings" recalls Robert.
In Alexandria the Benachi, Smouha and Choremi liveries were considered the best. Other reputable stables sported the Levi and Ades colors. Monsieur Raji Coutran, owner of al-Ahram Readywear (Malabess al-Ahram) was a latecomer. According to Robert, Coutran's women were as beautiful as his horses.
And there was Mohammed Sultan Pasha, one of the largest landowners in Upper Egypt. The pasha having one day assured anxious betters that his favorite was a sure winner, reimbursed everyone when his horse didn't make it to the finish.
"And" Robert adds excitedly, "whenever his horses won, Baron Empain offered rounds of champagne to his trainers Chaoul and Romano, and to a whole retinue of friends at Le Perroquet." After the pashas and barons disappeared things went into a steady decline. None of the old largesse exists today. No royals or businessmen strut around the enclosures with their beautiful wives and girlfriends. "All one finds at the races now are scum and cheats.... de la racaille!"
It appears the same applies to jockeys. Gone are the exciting days when Maurice Silag, one of the two Hungarian Geza brothers, dominated the course and when his competitor Garcia dropped dead at the races. The celebrated jockeys rode alternately for the Matossians (tobacco), the Cozzicas (alcohol) or the Cordahis. Names forgotten but familiar to someone of Robert's generation who probably went to school with their sons.
A graduate of the Lycee, the Jesuites and l'Ecole des Freres, Robert spent his childhood with Egypt's cream. Although he never made to university --another caprice no doubt-- he obtained a clerical apprenticeship in the cabinet of Maitre Ralph Green on Soliman Pasha Street, opposite Cafe Riche which boasted a leased line to the club races.
(photo Samir Raafat)
During WW2 Robert found lucrative employment with the Red Cross at the American army base of Huckstep not far from Payne Field Airport. He proudly evokes a Thank You certificate received from Teddy Roosevelt just two days before the American president died. Another wartime tragedy with untold consequences for Robert was the unexpected death of his wife while in labor taking their unborn child with her. "We had been given a military honor guard at the Eliahou Hanabi Synagogue on Alexandria's Nabi Daniel Street only 17 months earlier!"
Even before the few remaining thousands of co-religionist packed and left after the June 1967 war, Robert had made up his mind. "With an Italian passport I've always had the choice to leave like the others. I could have relocated elsewhere but I didn't want to. That is not to say I haven't visited my relations every other year... now less and less because of age considerations."
In the 1980s one of Robert's sisters and her family came to visit from Italy. After Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem other relatives came for short visits. Some urged him to leave but his answer has always been the same. "Je suis ici par amour pour l'Egypte ou j'ai vecu comme un roi. Plusieurs generations de Nahmans reposent au cemetiere de Bassatine. Je les rejoindrais au moment voulus."
Robert, looking frail and whereto sounds just as definite today. "As you see, I am more and more involved with JCC's activities. There is so much to be done."
The JCC thanks all those who voiced, wrote in or e-mailed their support on the issue of whether or not our sefarims should remain in their original home --Cairo (see BN issue No. 4). As for the skeptic, let us refer to the New York Times article "Jewish Scrolls Vanishing in Cairo Sites" (fall 1980). When questioned on the possibility of bringing back Egyptian Torahs to Jerusalem, President Yitzhak Navon's reply was "What's the matter? Don't you have enough Torah scrolls in Israel?"
The Israeli president had just completed a successful five-day state visit to Egypt.
Could you send us old pictures of weddings, engagements, Bar-Mitzvas and school events which took place at any one of the Synagogues or Jewish schools in Egypt. We are currently compiling a photo gallery and we need pictures for an eventual publication. To date we haven't received ANY pictures!!
Dr. Jacques Hassoun, a distinguished member of our Egyptian diaspora is undergoing critical treatment in a hospital in Paris. The JCC's prayers are with him for a successful recovery. Dr. Hassoun's contributions and moral support towards the realization of the cemetery wall in Bassatine were greatly appreciated as were his untiring efforts in bringing the JCC and its members to the attention of the world Jewish community. Besides publishing many scholarly works on Egypt and Alexandria, Dr. Hassoun gave several lectures entitled Les Juifs d'Egypte. In 1996 he accompanied a group of former Alexandrians on a down-memory-lane tour of Om al-Donya.
Dr. Hassoun is president and founder of A.S.P.C.J.E --l'Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Culturel Juif d'Egypte.
Faxes to Dr. Hassoun in Paris should be addressed to: (33 1) 188.8.131.52 from outside France and 01.45.87.18.41 from within France.
Esther Weinstein, President of the JCC with author Sasson Somekh, Ambassador Zvi Mazel of Israel and Canada's Ambassador John Bell.
(photos Samir Raafat)
The Haroun family with their son in law at Ben Ezra.
Issue 1 |
Issue 2 |
Issue 3 |
Issue 4 |
Issue 5 |
Issue 6 |
Issue 7 |
Issue 8 |
Issue 9 | Issue 10 | Issue 11 | Issue 12 | Issue 13 | Issue 14 | Issue 15 | Issue 16 |
Issue 17 | Issue 18 | Issue 19 | Issue 20 | Issue 21 | Issue 22 | Issue 23 |
Issue 24 | Issue 25 | Issue 26 | Issue 27 | Issue 28 | Issue 29 | Issue 30 | Issue 31 |
Issue 32 | Issue 33 | Issue 34 | Issue 35 | Issue 36 | Issue 37 | Issue 38 |
press clippings |
carmen weinstein obituaries |
cemetery map |
Shaar Hashamayim | Meyr Biton Temple | About Us | index |
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C O N T A C TJewish 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
open daily 10:00 to 15:00
Friday 10:00 to 17:00
Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fostat (Old Cairo)
For visits to other Cairo synagogues or Bassatine Cemetery contact JCC
please note the Jewish Community Council of Alexandria is an independent entity separate from the Jewish Community Council of Cairo