Huntington Woods, Michigan resident Nancy Berman is using her decades spent in leadership roles in the Detroit Jewish community to help to restore Egypt’s neglected Jewish cemeteries.
After meeting Joseph Douek, a New York City entrepreneur of Egyptian Jewish descent, who worked for the Trump administration as United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Berman began a partnership with Douek and the last two Jews in Egypt to raise over $1 million to preserve and restore the Jewish cemeteries in Cairo, the Detroit Jewish News reported.
In October, Berman made a trip to Egypt with Douek to speak with high level government officials and to see Cairo’s cemeteries up close, taking photos and video to use for raising funds.
“My trip to Egypt was like walking through Jewish history. There is a high educational value in learning about Jewish communities that once flourished and existed,” Berman told the Jewish News.
“There are things we can do as individuals to make an impact to preserve Jewish history so future generations can come one day and learn and see for themselves about the Jewish community that was once there.”
Berman said that you can learn a lot about the history and culture of Egyptian Jews by walking through the three cemeteries in Cairo.
Berman said that out of the hundreds of acres that used to compose the Bassatine cemetery – the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the world after the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem – only 38 acres are left, with the two remaining Jews in Egypt to tend to it along with the Fostat and Karaite cemeteries in Cairo.
During their meetings with government officials, they met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Douek, whose great-uncle was the last chief rabbi of Egypt, brought up to el-Sisi that a major issue was the need to preserve the cemeteries.
“There is no doubt that whether you are an Ashkenazi or Sephardi or Mizrachi Jew, somewhere you have an ancestor who lived in Egypt because, centuries ago, that’s how the world was,” Douek told the news outlet. “Over the centuries, Jews wandered the world for work, for trade or for safety. So, there’s no doubt that every Ashkenazi Jew most likely has an ancestor buried in Egypt, and that’s why this preservation project is so important.”