Egypt restores historic synagogue, decades after driving out Jews

Due to widespread persecution and discrimination, only a handful of Jews remain in Egypt, which was once home to a thriving Jewish community.

By World Israel News and AP

Egypt reopened a historic synagogue on Friday in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria after a years-long government renovation, despite the fact that all but a tiny remnant of the nation’s Jewish community was driven out decades ago.

In the twentieth century, Jews in Egypt faced pogroms, looting, murders and eventually expulsion, with many in the community finding refuge in the Jewish state.

The two-story Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria partially collapsed in 2016. Antiquities officials said the renovations, which began the following year, prevented it from becoming a total loss.

The site has a long history. An earlier synagogue dating to 1354 AD was built in the same location, and the current building dates to roughly 1881, when the Jewish community was large and influential. Marble floors and rose-colored columns line the main hall.

Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue is one of two remaining Jewish houses of worship in Alexandria. The city alone had some 40,000 Jews in the 1940s, half of the country’s Jewish population, according to the official page of Alexandria province.

The renovated synagogue now has openings in the floor to show the layers of history — what remains of the earlier structure. The Jewish community’s modern exodus from Egypt began in 1948, due to widespread persecution and eventual expulsion after the creation of the state of Israel.

According to Israel’s Museum of the Jewish people, “Following the United Nations decision [to] partition [the land of] Israel (November 1947), the Jews of Egypt became hostages of the authorities, their property was confiscated and many were arrested. About half of the 80,000 Jews emigrated to Israel and in 1956 only about 40,000 people remained. Following the Sinai campaign (1956) many more escaped to Israel. In 1967, only about 2,500 Jews remained in Egypt. When the Six Day War broke out, all Jewish men were arrested. They were released and expelled from the country in 1970. In 1996, only some 100 Jews were living in Egypt, in two communities, Cairo and Alexandria.”

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel.