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



Holy Pilgrimage or what??

Each January, bus loads of Abou Hassira followers arrive from Israel. Their destination? The Nile Delta town of Damanhour where Moroccan-born Yacoub Ibn Massoud Abou Hassira was buried in 1880. The purpose of this annual pilgrimage is to obtain the blessings of the 19th century Kabbalist. This supposedly takes place during an overnight ceremony characterized by prayers, dancing, singing and drinking. What usually starts off as a hallowed ceremony, degenerates into a boisterous carousal. So far, these affairs have been tolerated by Damanhourites, but if one were to believe recent press reports, they are starting to get fed up, and with good reason. Each year the situation keeps getting worse.

Can it be possible that what is supposed to be a pilgrimage of peace, meditation and tolerance, becomes a debacle of anger and aggressiveness? Last week things worsened when the situation got out of hand INSIDE Cairo’s Chaar Hachamaim (Adly synagogue). Moreover, and despite protests by the JCC representative, Rabbi Yehiel Abou Hassira (one of Yacoub Abou Hassira’s descendants) sought to apply break-and-entry tactics in order to obtain prayer and other valuable books stored inside the synagogue’s cupboards many of which were never returned! In the process the Rabbi rained abuse on Ms. Iman, the woman responsible for the maintenance of the Synagogue. That is the same woman who only days earlier had worked so hard putting Chaar Hachamaim in order, in anticipation of subject visit.

And when a visitor climbed into the pulpit requesting that the congregation offer a donation to the Synagogue, more abuse from Rabbi Yehiel who shouted him down claiming he had already given the Cairo Jewish community 200,000 shekels (US$ 50,000) in 1998 !!!

The JCC on behalf of all its member denies EVER having received the above sums from Rabbi Yehiel Abou Hassira or any one of his colleagues. Nevertheless, the “generous” big-mouthed Rabbi did in fact donate the sum of US$ 70 (seventy dollars) in 1998 and US$ 100 (one hundred dollars) in 1999 to the JCC. Both times a stamped JCC receipt was given to the Rabbi, a copy of which is available for all to see.

A replay of Adly’s disgraceful events took place in Old Cairo’s memorable Ben Ezra synagogue, this time verbal abuse was directed from several belligerent members of the same congregation led by a vocal female, onto some of the local officials on hand, much to the horror of passers-by and tourists. The offensive woman then took it upon herself to trespass into the synagogue’s elshal shrieking at the top of her voice “Egyptians should get out from OUR Synagogue.”

The JCC strongly condemns such behavior which cannot be waved off merely as one person’s (or a small group’s) paranoia. Adherents of Yacoub Abou Hassira should realize that their chosen means of expression is counterproductive to their objective --pilgrimage to Damanhour and visits to other Jewish shrines in Egypt. Unless they take immediate measures to control their outbreaks, these outbursts can only lead to a precipitated end to any future visits. There is undoubtedly a sense of crisis here which needs to be addressed. And the sooner the better.

Let it also be made clear that reckless behavior by Rabbi Yehiel and his cronies, prejudices other organized tours from Israel. It also guarantees that any provisions made to welcome, host and protect them, would not be honored for long. They should understand that trampling on Egypt’s civil code of ethics, mocking its laws and authority that guarantee their hospitality and safety, can only increase tension and poison existing tolerance and goodwill. Surely this is not what Yacoub Abou Hassira would have wanted.

From the JCC in Cairo
January 15, 1999

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