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






Elie Moreno having fun!

Flown in from various parts of the world, friends and family of computer magnate (Elmo/Kimball Electronics) Elie Moreno (Victoria College class of '56) formerly of 21 Soliman Pasha, Cairo, presently of 10490 Wilshire Blvd, L.A., California, celebrated his wedding to Odette Tawil (formerly of Egypt: Imn Baehler, Rue Kasr al-Nil) aboard "Le Pasha" in Cairo on 22 November 1998.

As guest André Arcache put it so well, this was a story book wedding where successful boy who makes good "eventually" marries beautiful girl next door (never mind if this was Elies and Odette's second marriage!!!)

bride surrounded by sister and sister-in-law
(photos Samir Raafat)

Celebrations took place aboard "Le Pasha" which is permanently moored off Zamalek. Casual chic nothwithstanding it only took for the belly dancer to make her appearance to the sounds of a sensual drum-beat and the whole entourage succumbed. Grannies and grandchildren alike spontaneously took to the dance floor... "c'est plus fort que nous... c'est dans notre sang!" exclaimed the bride's aunt Colette Tawil.

Meanwhile the New York Tawil gangsta, many of them still in their teens, wondered out aloud if the gyrating Fifi would go home with them.

After touring Cairo's landmarks and visiting old haunts, the 100+ wedding party cruised the Nile aboard a chartered "loveboat" sailing between Aswan and Luxor.

Elie is the son of the late Joseph E. Moreno of Moreno & (Leon) Mazza founders of "Fer et Metaux et Constructions Metalliques" of Boulac. If Elie's mother (Sarah Benyacar) couldn't make it from California in view of her advanced age, the rest of his extended family (three generations in most cases) flew in en masse as did Odette's fair tribe.

In attendance were from London and New York the Hayats, the Benyacar-Pontremoli cousins, Esther Habib, Helene Sasson (Mrs. Marco Benyacar) with daughters Tania Wilkie and Kelly (Mrs. Michael Green); Enid Danon-Mazza from LA., Cookie Belilos from Milan, Maurice Eskinazi from Brazil and Maurice Iskinazi (bis) from New York, Cohen, Samir Guirguiss .... Most of them had spent their childhood in some of those celebrated buildings overlooking Soliman Pasha or Kasr El Nil Streets.

Old Victorian guests --residents of Egypt-- included families (Tal) El Badrawi, (Amr) El Sherif, Seragedine, (Ahmed) El Nahas, (Bimbo) Shousha, (Hani & Hazem) Seif El Nasr, Amr (El Alfy), Loza, (Samir) Youssri and... Indjy Fahmy from Bronxville, NY and Cairo.



President  Naguib with Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum 1953
Egyptian President Mohammed Naguib with Grand Rabbi Haim Nahum in 1953

Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum
Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum surrounded by scholars following a meeting at the Arabic Language Institute

Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum

HAIM NAHUM Effendi (1873-1960)
Born in Turkey in a small town near Izmir
Studied at the Sorbonne, Paris
Appointed Grand Rabbi of Egypt and the Sudan on 2 March 1925
Granted Egyptian citizenship in 1929
Appointed by royal prescript to the prestigious Academie de langue Arabe on 6 October 1933
Appointed to the Egyptian senate
Died on 13 November 1960

On 19 August 1947, His Eminence Haim Nahum Effendi Grand Rabbi of Egypt & Sudan reminded his Alexandria audience that Jews had lived in Egypt for over 2,000 years and that the oldest known synagogue (Ben Ezra) exists in Old Cairo. Had it not been for the 19th century discovery of the celebrated Genizas in a cache at Ben Ezra, Jews would have missed out on some of the most revealing details of Jewish life this millennium.

Ever since Moses left Egypt, like an ocean tide, Jewish presence in the timeless Nile valley has expanded and contracted. The last enlargement occurred at the turn of this century when Cairo's Jews numbered in the tens of thousands and its active synagogues peaked at 21. Today, at its close, we are in a period of contraction with Jews numbering in the 100s and only three synagogues open to worshippers: (Due to lack of funds, only Chaar Hachamayim on Adly Street, Ben Ezra in Old Cairo and Meyr Biton in the suburb of Maadi are functioning.)

If Egypt was visited in turn by Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Turks, many of whom made Cairo their permanent home, likewise every new Jewish arrival enriched the city's fluctuating Hebrew population. Among the capital's most noted 12th century residents was a Cordoba-born scholar: Moses Maimonides regarded as the most illustrious figure in Judaism in the post-talmudic era and one of the greatest of all time.

Mohammed Ali's (r. 1805-1848) modern Egypt was especially conducive to foreign arrivals, not as conquerors this time, but as builders, workers, traders, bankers and performers. The non-Rabbinical Karaite Jews who had lived for centuries in the protected commune of Haret al Yehud or Jewish Quarter near Al Azhar, were all of a sudden hosts to waves of new Jewish arrivals. Regarding the newcomers as "neophytes" relations between the old and the new factions were not always friendly.

Besides Jewish arrivals from Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, economic migration accounted for a sizable Sefardic (descended from the Spanish Diaspora) contingent from the trading posts of Salonika, Smyrna (Izmir), Leghorn (Livorno), Aleppo and Baghdad. Towards the end of the 19th century Mediterranean and Levantine Jewish settlers were supplemented by industrious Ashkenazim (Eastern European Jews) some fleeing Russian pogroms, others economic recession. More would follow.

Whether Oriental, Sefardic or Ashkenazi, the Jewish newcomers were welcome in a tolerant and predominantly Muslim Egypt.

As Egypt carried out its "industrial revolution" enhanced by the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal, the cosmopolitan Jews of Cairo and Alexandria found themselves in a privileged situation. They had invariably become the commercial and cultural link between east and west. Dynastic fortunes were made and soon enough the Jewish community was disproportionately influential (to its size) in matters of commerce, trade and finance. We begin to hear of Suareses, Cattauis, Mosseris, Menashes, Picciottos and Rolos who ran banks, owned railways, cornered the cotton trade and created urban districts.

Jewish entrepreneurs were famous for their grand homes, their multi-trade counters, their novel hospices and their practical schools. Their philanthropic efforts were second to none. And while their synagogues and yeshivas catered to the growing community's requirements, a thriving interwar Cairo boasted several all-Jewish orchestras and Jewish theaters including one in Yiddish. Also worthy of mention are the celebrated Maccabi sport clubs.

As the Jewish community expanded and flourished, so did Egypt's commerce, banks and industry which is why the munificent state and its high-minded leadership never failed from expressing their gratitude. Just as streets, avenues and squares were named after prominent Jews in Cairo, we find in Alexandria an entire garden district (Smouha) named after its Jewish developer. While Jewish holidays were routinely observed by the Bourse, Jewish notables were, as a matter of course, appointed to Egypt's constitutional parliaments since 1924. If Egyptian Jews featured as ministers, deputies, senators and diplomats, they were also Egypt's worthy flag bearers at local and international sporting events including the 1928 World Olympic Games in the Netherlands.

Egypt and Alexandria being the cosmopolitan cultural hub they were it came as no surprise that many Jewish intellects left their mark on the international literary scene whether in the form of newspapers and periodicals (l'Aurore, Illustration Juive, Le Reveil, El Shams, El Tas'ira, La Tribune Juive...) or as noted poets and musicians such as Edmond Jabes and Georges Moustaki. And if the former Jewish owners are no longer in Egypt today, their legendary trademark names still linger on the facades of their famous department stores: Cicurel, Benzion, Hannaux, Chemla, Chalons, Rivoli, Ades, Orosdi-Back, Pontremoli, Tiring, Simon Arzt, Gaon, Gattegno, Golliger...

But the tide eventually turned for Egypt's Jews and foreign minorities --Greeks, Italians, Armenians... During the spread of nationalism which characterized the '50s they were no longer as welcome. The collision over Palestine and the subsequent creation of the State of Israel brought on the unfortunate 20th century contraction of Egypt's Jewish population. The Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Lavon Affair followed by the 1956 Tripartite Agression and later socialism, triggered the wholesale departure of Egypt's Jews. The coup de grace came during the June War of 1967. By then the once thriving community of 80,000 had shrunken to a three digit figure.

Those who remained behind did their best to carry on as before. Absence of a rabbi and a kosher butcher notwithstanding, holidays were discreetly observed for some time. Today however, there is a noticeable increase in attendance as evidenced during last October's (1998) Simha Torah's festivities where the estimated congregation reached 300 including visitors.

Throughout the lean years, both the Alexandria and Cairo Jewish Community Councils (JCC) continued to operate unhindered and uninterruptedly. Community elections were held, boards nominated and charity foundations such as La Goutte De Lait, sustained. But the niggling question remains: for how much longer?

One cannot deny that Cairo's Jewish community, a living testimony of the city's metropolitan character and pluralistic values, is altering at an alarming rate in both its numbers and gender gap. It was therefore less to do with breaking ranks with tradition and more to do with the higher incidence of female Jews in Cairo that the JCC General Assembly of August 19, 1996 elected, for the first time in the council's century old existence, a woman president. I [Mrs. Ester Weinstein, owner of Weinstein Stationery and Printing Press founded by Moise Weinstein in 1918 on Cherif Street] succeed a line-up of distinguished male presidents including Moise de Cattaui Pasha, Senator Joseph Cattaui Pasha and Salvatore Cicurel Bey. Whereas these gentlemen presided over a thriving community, half a century later my painful task was to pick up the broken pieces left by my immediate predecessors: Messrs. Iskaki, Dana and Rousseau.

My forecast regarding the Jewish community in Egypt are optimistic on the long run for despite their numbers, Jews have always been an integral part of Egypt. This is where it all began. They are inseparable from one another. And if we are nowadays going through a period of contraction, it is simply part of a recurrent cycle.

While the present JCC's activities are manifold they can be summarized into the upkeep of Cairo's synagogues many of which are closed for lack of funds. The maintenance of the historic Bassatine Cemetery --the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. The promotion of two reference libraries. The supervision of Jewish cultural and historic interests in Cairo --in this respect the JCC maintains close ties with the Ministry of Culture's Antiquities Department.

Thanks to the incumbent board's assertive community outreach there is an increased attendance of Jewish events and celebrations in Cairo. The JCC's policy to revive its synagogues accounts for the high attendance of the 1998 High Holidays which were celebrated for the first time in forty years in the beautifully restored Ben Ezra Synagogue where a tent was especially set up in the courtyard to accommodate bus loads of visitors. The Maadi Synagogue (Meyr Biton) where Yom Kippur has been celebrated for the last two decades has received its share of attention and its adjoining garden finally restored.

In an effort to change the fading image of a JCC gone complacent and inactive, the new administration started off by resurrecting its neglected headquarters at No. 13 Khazindar Street, Abassia. The refurbished offices are open to the public twice a week or by appointment. Uniformed guards were hired to control access to several Jewish sites. Funds permitting, additional guards will be retained in the future. Anyone wishing to visit Bassatine Cemetery or any of the heretofore inaccessible synagogues and hoches (private enclosures) must contact Ms. Carmen Weinstein at the JCC by phone, fax or e-mail and make appropriate arrangements.

Trips for members of the community have been re-instated. Those who felt they were too inconvenienced to travel can now partake in organized tours.

And for the sake of transparency, the JCC took over Bassatine News --a semi-annual newsletter put out by 'The friends of the Bassatine Cemetery Association-- and placed it on internet's world wide web so that the Egyptian Jewish Diaspora can have easy access to it. From the amount of feedback it looks like Bassatine News' on-line service is doing quite well.


by Egyptologist Morris L. Bierbrier

In December 1996 and again in March 1998 I visited Egypt together with my wife and friends, and these trips included visits to the Jewish cemeteries in Cairo and Alexandria as my wife [Linda Btesh-Collins] had family connections in both cities. We were interested in tracing the resting places of various relations notably great-great-grandparents Elie Joseph Dana and his wife Oro Dana of Alexandria as well as other connected families such as the Greens of Cairo.

(photos Samir Raafat)

In December 1996 we went by local taxi from Maadi to the cemetery of Bassatine near Cairo. We had some difficulty locating the area and gaining entrance, so other potential visitors should arrange with the JCC authorities before attempting to pay a visit. As is well known, the marble gravestone were removed from the cemetery by vandals during the unstable conditions in the 1960s. The site itself was not destroyed. Thanks to the energy of Mrs. Carmen Weinstein, the present Secretary of the community, the site is now well protected, enclosed behind a thick wall, and difficult to access except with the authority of the community.

The outlines of the graves and the bases for the lost marble tombstones remain as well as a few larger structures. A few gravestones, not of marble, survive. Initially, the first reaction is one of desolation but on closer inspection the basic structure of the cemetery remains intact. Even with tombstones, the cemetery would in any case have presented a stark appearance being set in the desert and not the normal green cemetery as perceived by Westerners. The lack of vegetation can be a positive advantage for visitors as the cemetery is not obscured. It would not be difficult to restore the names of the original burial sites if the plans of the cemetery and names of those interred there exist, as they probably do, in the archives of the Jewish Community of Cairo (JCC). This can be done relatively simply and not in the previous marble used. However, even simple headstones are an expense which the community itself cannot bear out of its meagre resources and those with family in Bassatine might consider setting up a fund to put at least names back on the graves so visitors can find the tombs of their relatives.

(photo Samir Raafat)

The main cemetery is not the only Jewish cemetery in Bassatine. There are a number of smaller private cemeteries in the area. In March 1998 we were able to visit the Mosseri cemetery complex under the guidance of Mr. Samir Raafat author of the book Maadi 1904-62; Society & History in a Cairo Subrub. The mausolea of the Mosseri brothers, lined inside with marble, remain intact and the cemetery also contains a large area of tombstones of the Mosseri and other families adjoining the mausolea. Some of these are quite large and impressive. Natural wear has take its toll and some of the gravestones have cracked or toppled but a substantial section of the cemetery remains in place. These include some tombstones inscribed solely in Hebrew and many from the 19th century. It is imperative that all these tombstones be properly copied and so preserved. My wife and I made preliminary copies of those in European languages in the sort time of our visit. This cemetery has been protected thanks to the efforts of the resident caretaker who died shortly before our visit. measures should be taken quickly to ensure its preservation under the wing of the Jewish community in Cairo, as are other private mausolea such as Cattaui and Ades which we have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

In Alexandria there are three cemeteries --the earliest located in Mazarita, and two cemeteries in Chatby -- all under the care of the Jewish Community of Alexandria (JCA). The cemeteries, having had the benefit of the original protective walls, have not suffered from any human deprivations but only natural weathering. Each cemetery has a local resident guardian and access is easy. Because of the climate in Alexandria, the natural vegetation can be quite lush in these cemeteries especially in the summer months. Much of it is quite attractive but is also impedes access to tomb sites. The community has taken active measures to cut back the growth and on my second visit more tombs were visible. The cemeteries are well preserved but obviously additional funds would allow further clearances and consolidation of the large mausolea.

The future of these cemeteries in unclear as the community is elderly and contracting. It would be important to record the inscriptions which are almost all in European languages. The Egyptian tombstones of married women often give their maiden names so family relationships can be more easily traced. It would be a pity for these historical records to decay through neglect and lack of resources.

Dr. M. L. Bierbrier is the Assistant Keeper in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, British Museum, and author of Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs and Who Was Who in Egyptology. Co-author of Ancient Faces; Mummy Potraits From Roman Egypt



BN announces the passing of

Mrs. Renee Harari a.k.a. Cecile

at the Italian hospital in Abassia two days before Yom Kippur. Some of you may remember Cecile's cameo roles in films starring Laila Mourad and Mariam Fakhredine. Her favorite song was "Meen yakhod al ward meny?" (Who will take flowers from me?")


As more and more letters are posted in BN's Guestbook, we urge you to periodically visit this section and whenever necessary, respond to inquiries if you recognize any names. Many of you have already discovered software programs such as Family Tree Maker and are re-constructing your own family trees. BN's Guestbook section could be an auxillary tool to help locate some lost relations. So by all means make use of this forum and let us know how things turn out.


Did you know there was a Jewish synagogue (an oratoire, actually), a Jewish hospital and the residence of Egypt's last Grand Rabbi in the posh Cairo district of Garden City? For more details read the telling story which appeared recently in Cairo Times. Click on: Garden City


At the bottom of this page is a photo of the commemorative plaque hanging in the garden patio outside the JCC Office in Abassia, Cairo. It lists some of the pillars of Egypt's interwar Jewish community.
This issue's quiz: Which trading or retail activities were

(1) Renato Del Mar
(2) David "Daoud" Ades
(3) Jacques Calderon

famous for?

Answers will be posted next BN issue.


by David Hirsch of UCLA

When I was asked to write about my experiences with the Jewish community in Cairo, a flood of memories, happy and sad rushed through my head. Happy, remembering so many people and places that I had visited and sad, thinking how many of them are no longer with us.

I spent 1980-1983 living in the dining room of Madame Julia Salamon Rafael Pinto on Sharia Soliman al-Halaby (ex Dubré) not far from Souk el-Tewfikia. Madame Pinto's late husband, Emil Pinto had been the Gabbay of the Adly Street synagogue for many years. I was studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo but Madame Pinto insisted that I learn French if I wanted to be considered "bien eleve". Our building had a wide variety of elderly "khawagat" living in it, including Greeks, Italians, and Armenians, with Madame Pinto and I being the only Jews. Madame Pinto rented out another room to Mr. Mourad Gabbay, the cantankerous Gabbay of the Adly St synagogue after Mr. Pinto died. Mourad spoke only Arabic and a little French, having been born and raised in Zagazig. Neither had ever had children and both treated me as an adopted son.

Through Madame Pinto and Mr. Gabbay, I had the privilege to meet almost everyone in the Jewish community and learn a little about what life must have been like before World War II during the golden age of Egyptian Jewry.

I often visited elderly Jews and synaogues in Haret el-Yahoud. The majority of the few remaining Jews lived in the "'Odesh" in Haret Qa'at al-Faddah... Since none of them have anyone to say Kaddish for them, I would like to mention each by name so that at least there memory is preserved: Julia Zafarani, Marie Grunstein, Jack Hamaoui the Shohet and his wife Emilie, Enis Azulay, Maurice Levy, Rachel Levy, Cecile Harari, Masouda Max and her daughter Vicki and Clement Castro. I think Marie Sol is the only one still living. There were also two elderly Karaite sisters, Esther and Aziza who lived in Haret el-Yahoud el-Qara'iyin. There were three Rabbanite and one Karaite synagogue remaining in the Jewish quarter when I lived in Cairo: Rab Moshe (the Rambam synagogue), Rab Hayyim (named after Rabbi Hayyim Cappoussi) and Bar Yohai. Rab Moshe was a popular place for people to visit. Anyone who had health problems would spend the night in a small room in the inner part of the synagogue and the Rambam would come to them in their dreams with a cure. While I was really not much of a believer in such things I did have one interesting experience relating to Rab Moshe.

When I lived in Cairo, I would occasionally be asked to take American and other foreign visitors to visit the Jewish quarter. I took an American couple, a rabbi and his wife from California, on such a tour in 1982. We visited Ben Ezra in Old Cairo, Adly Street, Hanan synagogue in Ghamra and then the Harah. We arrived at Rab Moshe and the then Bawaab, 'Am Muhammad, who is no longer with us, let us in. We visited the inner chamber, which though often flooded was dry that day. I showed the Rabbi and his wife the Tebila nd the cubicles where people used to sleep. Then we came to a framed portrait of the Rambam. Several Egyptian Jews told me that if you had a health or other problem, you should take a "shillin" or "bareeza" (5 or 10 piastre coin) and while holding it on the glass move it around the Rambam's head. If the coin stuck to the glass, that meant the Rambam had heard your prayer and would bring you a solution. The couple was a bit skeptical, and I told them that if they didn't have faith there was no sense in even trying. The wife seemed intent on trying and after moving the coin around Rambam's head, it stuck. I told her not to tell anyone what she had asked for but to let me know if her prayers had been answered. About 3 months later I received a letter from Los Angeles from the Rabbi's wife. She told me that her daughter had been married for almost 10 years, but had been unable to conceive. Two months after the couple's visit to the Rab Moshe synagogue, the daughter was pregnant!

While in Cairo, I had the opportunity to visit Jews of many different origins. The Cairo community, even in the late 1970's and early 1980's was far from homogenous. Madame Pinto was half-Turkish/half Romanian was born in Alexandria but moved to Port Said at a very young age. She and her sister owned a store there until she married her husband Emil in 1948 and moved to Cairo.

Mourad Gabbay was of Iraqi background but born in Zagazig. He worked as an agricultural engineer in the Delta and in Upper Egypt. He wrote Arabic beautifully and used to test me with Arabic dictation. I travelled to many cities in the Delta with Mr. Mourad including several visits to Mehalla el-Kobra where we visited the remains of the Rab Hayyim al-Emshati synagogue in the Khokhet al-Yahud. While the last Jew had left al-Mehalla in 1967 everyone still knew where the Khokha was. That synagogue in addition to the grave of Rabi Abuhatzera in Damanhour had been the site of a yearly Ziyarah which was one of the ways young Egyptian Jews could find a match.

I also became very friendly with Madame Rose Weiss-Klein Belahovsky whose parents had come to Cairo from Kishinev in the 1880's. Madame Rose had been an actress in the Yiddish Theatre in Cairo in the 1930's and 40's... yes! Yiddish theater in Cairo...but that's another story. Some of the Sephardim could not pronounce her name and called her Madame Bellawhiskey or simply Sitt Whiskey, thinking that Bella was her first name! Madame Rose, born and raised in Cairo, was an Egyptian citizen, and while she spoke fluent Yiddish, French, Italian and some Greek, she could barely speak Arabic. Madame Rose told me countless stories of the good old days in Cairo.

Two other friends were Nelly and Etty Sarda, two sisters of Greek origin. Nelly was an avid reader and collected first editions of French books. Nelly, along with Rose Belahovsky, was a member of the Academie des poetes, one of the few remaining French cultural organizations in Cairo. Etty had never married. Nelly had been married for a brief time.

Mr. David Hirsch is Middle East Bibliographer at the Charles Young Research Library, UCLA.



Carmen Weinstein with Ambassador Nevine Semeika Egyptian Consul-General in Paris.
(photo Samir Raafat)

Carmen Weinstein with Ambassador Nevine Semeika Egyptian Consul-General in Paris.

An Old Cairo alley leading onto Ben Ezra
(photo Samir Raafat)

An Old Cairo alley leading onto Ben Ezra

commemorative plaque hanging in the garden patio outside the JCC Office in Abassia
(photo 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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