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



15 March 2000 article
"Remaining Jews in Egypt Want Relics to Stay Put"
the WSJ article

In his article of March 15 "Remaining Jews in Egypt want relics to stay put" Mr. Steven Glain made a commendable effort to present fairly the position of the once thriving but now sadly shrunken community as well as that of former members of that community now living abroad laying claim to what they believe should be theirs. I would however like to make a few comments.

1. Mr. Glain refers to a Mr. Avner Assel, who had to leave his Torah behind when he left Egypt, and "spent years trying to get it back". He might have had more success if he had, like many others, taken advantage of the new situation created by the Peace treaty signed twenty years ago between Egypt and Israel to come himself to Egypt. He might have discovered that many properties and assets--let alone privately owned Holy Books--confiscated in the sixties have since been returned quietly to their owners. Indeed, one of the largest property owners in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Maadi, a member of the Jewish Diaspora now living in Paris, came back to claim her property. It took years of litigation but she eventually won the day.

2. Jewish artifacts located in the synagogues of Cairo and Alexandria belong to these temples; they can be seen by visitors on High Holidays as is the case in any synagogue worldwide. Later, Mr. Glain refers to a diplomatic wrangle of international proportions over the fate of these artifacts. Need I remind the instigators of this row that possession is 3/4 of the law.

3. I am puzzled by the reference to century-old Torah scrolls "stored in wooden cases embellished with traditional Hebrew icons" in the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Since I have never seen them, or heard of them, I should be grateful for information on their alleged location.

4. In Egypt, all public buildings, embassies, tourist hotels, churches, and Synagogues are indeed under 24-hour protection and guarded by ordinary--not military--policemen. Many of them are recruited from the provinces and have little education. They seldom know what exactly they are supposed to be protecting. Using them as a primary source of information or as a second hand quote is not serious.

5. Birth, death and marriage registers are indeed located at the offices of the Jewish Community Council in Cairo (JCC). Information is provided by the JCC against a standard fee. Granted there are delays but these are for purely logistical reasons. The JCC is understaffed. But to use their alleged non-accessibility as an excuse so that a former Egyptian Jew living in Paris can claim "he was unable to prove the woman he lived with for 37 years was his wife" is somewhat absurd. The man had three decades in which to show up at the doorstep of the nearest French rabbi or civil registrar to rectify his contrite situation. However, I would like to reassure date-seekers that the JCC is embarking on a program to digitize its archives. Hopefully this will solve some of the problems.

6. Lastly, plans for a Jewish Museum and a Jewish Heritage tour are still at the blueprint stage. But in all fairness, how long did it take to set up a Jewish Museum in Paris, home of one of the richest communities outside the United States? Museums need funds and money. Neither are forthcoming from a Diaspora which seems only interested in getting all Judaica out of Egypt. One need only remember that even if Pharaohs are no more, it took 7000 years to put part of their legacy in museums. I believe that with a positive outlook, our waiting time will be far less.

Carmen Weinstein
JCC Board Member and Public Relations Director


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