Israeli ambassador visits Alexandria synagogue

Israel's ambassador to Egypt tells of Alexandria's disappearing community and a rich heritage.

Nitsan Keidar ,

Ambassador David Govrin (left) meets Alexandria's Jewish community
Ambassador David Govrin (left) meets Alexandria's Jewish community
Israeli embassy in Cairo

This week, Israel's new ambassador to Egypt, David Govrin, honored the remnants of Alexandria's once-flourishing Jewish community with an official visit.

"I already visited the synagogues in Cairo," Ambassador Govrin told Arutz Sheva. "I saw great importance in visiting the Jewish sites and synagogues [in Egypt], and that's what I've begun doing."

Govrin continued, "I visited Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue. This was the largest, but there used to be 17 other synagogues in Alexandria. Today, only two are in Jewish hands. The rest were sold, like any other piece of property, to Muslim neighbors.

"The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue needs to be restored. The Antiquities Authority are the ones in responsible, and in recent years, they have sent delegations to see what needs to be done. It was actually decided to restore the synagogue, but coming up with the necessary sum of money - two and a half million dollars - is a problem. The Jewish community in Alexandria is working to find the money necessary for the project.

"There is no minyan (quorum of 10 men) anymore. There are not enough Jews, and the synagogues are empty and deserted. All of the Egypt's Jews immigrated to Israel in the 50's and 60's.

"Restoring the synagogues is important because it's part of our heritage, as well as part of Egypt's history. It's amazing and special to walk into an old, beautiful, magnificent synagogue. It's a symbol of the past, of a time when there was a flourishing Jewish community in this city."

Only 17 Jews still live in Alexandria, and six in Cairo. In fact, not all of these Jews have two Jewish parents. Some of them have a Jewish mother, and some have a Jewish father.

"The community here is tight-knit, but they are elderly," Govrin explained. "There's no continuity, and it's heartbreaking.

"Egypt's Antiquities Authority has, in fact, restored several synagogues. It's important to Egypt to preserve its multicultural past, and Egypt does try to help, but these things take time and money. In Alexandria's case, because of the large sum required, the process has become stuck.

"The State of Israel cannot help, however, since that would seem to Egypt to be interfering, and Egypt does not want to be pressed into handing over documents or properties.

"At the end of the day, it's about trust. As soon as Egypt understands that we want to help, and are not interested in any properties or or documents, we'll be able to move forward," Govrin concluded.

In addition, Ambassador Govrin emphasized that he and his staff would continue working to restore Jewish sites in Egypt, find documents from Egypt's various Jewish communities, and most importantly, to help the few Jews left in any way he can.