Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt
Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt iStock

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, represented by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has started a project to restore the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt Today reports.

Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mustafa Waziri, explained that the synagogue is located inside the Babylon Fortress. It is of great importance as it is the oldest synagogue in Egypt and the Middle East.

He explained that a joint committee has been formed in cooperation with the Projects Sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities to launch the synagogue’s restoration project, as it was last restored in 1991.

The synagogue consists of two floors. The first floor is for men and the second for women. The center houses the preaching platform where the Torah is read, and in the east is the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the Torah scrolls on a high platform obscured by a carved door and a curtain from the inside.

Assistant Secretary General for the Restoration of Antiquities and Museums and Chairman of the Committee, Mustafa Abdel-Fattah, explained that the restoration work began in the Holy of Holies, and included preliminary cleaning of the walls and floral decorations.

Restoration works also include insulating the roofs to protect against the effect of moisture resulting from the intrusion of rainwater; treating the color layers from the influence of different weather factors, which resulted in the accumulation of dirt; and treating cracks. Abdel-Fattah also stressed that all restoration work will be carried out using the latest methods and equipment.

There were between 80,000 and 120,000 Jews in Egypt up until the mid-20th century, but the 1948 War of Independence led to the disintegration of the community, with many leaving Egypt or being forced out under the regime of then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In 2018, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi allocated $71 million for the renovation of synagogues and Jewish heritage sites in the country.

A year earlier, the Egyptian government approved a $22 million plan to restore the 160-year-old Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, which is the last active synagogue in the city but which had been forced to close after part of its ceiling fell down.

Israel later thanked the Egyptian government for its decision to renovate the ancient synagogue.