Blog Photos

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Of Hidden Treasures And Taboos

- Venturing into the BEIRUT SYNAGOGUE, November 2008.

-Inside the BEIRUT SYNAGOGUE, November 2008.

Beirut synagogue awaits restoration
Hussein Dakroub • Associated Press • November 22, 2008 • From Lansing State Journal

One of Lebanon's sole remaining synagogues was set to get a restoration that has the rare blessing of all the factions in the divided country - even that of the anti- Israeli Hezbollah. But the global financial crisis has scuttled the effort for now, leaving the Magen Abraham padlocked, badly damaged and rife with weeds.
The synagogue, like the country's once-thriving Jewish community, fell prey to the savage 1975-90 civil war. Once the fighting ended, the few dozen Jews who remained could not maintain the proud old structure.
A $1 million project set to begin in November had been organized by the Lebanese Jewish community to restore the two-story ramshackle building, which is now surrounded by the gleaming new skyscrapers of Beirut's downtown building boom.
But potential overseas Jewish donors who were to provide the bulk of the funds said the reconstruction would have to wait because of the hard times brought on by the global financial crisis, said Isaac Arazi, leader of the country's tiny Jewish community.
"I'll wait for two or three months. If no money is forthcoming, I'll launch a fundraising campaign in America and Europe for the rebuilding project," he told The Associated Press.
The building's need is acute. Garbage, empty bottles, broken glass and shattered roof bricks are scattered on the synagogue's floor. Wide cracks cover the walls and stairways leading to the second floor.
But the Stars of David inscribed on walls have been left untouched, as have the Hebrew writings, even though Muslim militiamen had apparently used some of the building's rooms as offices during the sectarian fighting.
The 65-year-old Arazi pointed out that as many as 22,000 Jews lived in Lebanon in the mid-1960s. The number dropped to 15,000 at the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 and by its end, a mere 100 were left.
During the conflict in which 150,000 people out of a population of 4 million were killed, Beirut's main Jewish neighborhood, Wadi Abou Jmil, fell under the control of Muslim militias battling their Christian counterparts.
Jews did not take part in the fighting. But the violence forced many to emigrate. The trickle turned into a flood when the community became a target of Muslim militants two years after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied parts of the country and briefly Beirut.
Eleven Jews were kidnapped and apparently killed during the hostage-taking spree of the 1980s that targeted foreigners and Lebanese alike in Beirut. The bodies of only four were recovered, bearing the marks of torture.
Muslims displaced from other parts of the country gradually moved into the shattered old streets of the neighborhood that had once been filled with Jewish shops, until much of the area was razed in the rebuilding projects of the 1990s.
Liza Srour is the last Jew living in the old neighborhood, in a small flat in one of the few old buildings remaining.
"We had Christian, Sunni, Shiite and Druse neighbors with whom we had an excellent relationship," she said.
There was rare consensus among Lebanon's fractious factions that the synagogue should be restored, although none has offered up any cash.
Lebanon's Western- backed government, which includes Hezbollah's representatives, said it welcomed the restoration of the synagogue because it is a place of worship.
Even Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim group which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and has fought the Jewish state for decades, backs restoration.
"We respect divine religions, including the Jewish religion," said Hussein Rahhal, Hezbollah's media chief. "The problem is with Israel's occupation (of Arab lands), not with the Jews."