Monday, May 28, 2007

Unloved last Jews of Lebanon live in the shadows

The Beirut Daily Star reports on the shadowy existence of what remains of the Lebanese Jewish community:

BEIRUT: Just a two-minute walk from the sit-in launched almost five months ago by the Hizbullah-led opposition, an abandoned and crumbling synagogue stands as the last remnant of a once-thriving Jewish community in Beirut. Known as the Magen Abraham Central Synagogue, it is located in the heart of Beirut in Wadi Abu Jmil, directly under the Grand Serail where Prime Minister Fouad Siniora works - an area that has become the focus of ongoing political tensions in Lebanon.

Lebanon's few remaining Jews live out their lives in the shadows The synagogue's rusty gates are held shut with chains, and its punctured roof howls when the wind blows. While thick weeds and grass have taken up residence around the building's foundations, the Star of David still crowns its every column.

Given the obscurity of the structure - which dates to 1925 - amid the posh new edifices of the Beirut Central District, some people in the locale understandably said they were surprised a synagogue sits in the area.

Several private security guards patrol the area around the synagogue and have been instructed by Solidere, the publicly held company that owns many properties Downtown, to keep an eye on the place.

"Just in case of trouble," said one security guard. "Besides the synagogue, there is also some private property around here [owned] by Jewish Lebanese."

The site was allegedly part of Solidere's renovation plan, initiated by slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but that has been put on hold.

Not far from Downtown, a Jewish cemetery in Sodeco contains hundreds of tombstones with names and epitaphs etched in Hebrew.

The Jewish community in Beirut, estimated at less than 100 and nearly impossible to identify, once numbered as many as 14,000 and can trace its roots bacy to 1000 BC.

The Jews are one of 18 religious groups officially recognized in Lebanon but generally keep their religious identity secret for fear of persecution from other sects.

"No one likes us here, so we keep a low profile and pretend to be Christian or Muslim," said one Jewish Lebanese businessman who spoke on the condition that he remain "untraceable."

"We can't even bury or visit our loved ones in the Jewish cemetery out of fear someone might see us," he added.

A 2004 report said one out of 5,000 Jewish Lebanese citizens registered to vote had actually participated in municipal elections held that year. Most of those registered are believed to be deceased or to have fled during the Civil War that divided the country along sectarian lines in 1975.

The largest exodus of Jews from Lebanon began in earnest after 1982, when Israel invaded the country (An unfair dig -many left in 1967 and after 1975, during the Lebanese civil war - ed).

Some say most of the remaining community consists of old women, and one particular one, a 50-year-old known as Liza Sarour, lives in grave poverty in Wadi Abu Jmil and refuses to talk to the media.

Read article in full

Restoration of Jewish cemetery(via Jews of Lebanon blog)

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