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Monday, March 08, 2010

Rambam synagogue and school rededicated in Cairo

From CNN-I:
[A] small group of Jews from around the world gathered in Egypt's capital on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the rededication of a 12th-century religious school once used by one of Judaism's most revered figures, and a neighboring 19th-century synagogue built in his honor.

The $2 million, 18-month restoration project of the Rav Moshe synagogue, in an area of Cairo once called "the neighborhood of the Jews," was financed by the Egyptian government.

The school attached to the synagogue was the study of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon -- better known as Maimonides -- a 12th century religious scholar and medical doctor who led the Mediterranean Jewish world and whose patients included Saladin, the Muslim ruler of Egypt and Syria.

The Egyptian government has kept largely quiet about its synagogue restoration campaign. There were no public officials on hand for the rededication of the Rav Moshe synagogue on Sunday, and Egyptian security forces prevented some journalists from entering the building.

Al Masry al-Youm describes it a bit differently:

Newly-appointed Israeli ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon attended the celebration, along with the US and Canadian ambassadors and French embassy officials. Officials from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), however, which funded the restoration operation, did not attend.

Festivities took place amid a heavy security presence, with police cordoning off a 500-meter area around the synagogue. Local residents were banned from leaving their homes during the event and were ordered to keep their windows tightly closed. All shops in the district were shut for the duration of the event.

In advance of the celebration, Cairo Provincial Authority workers had cleaned the area, paved the sidewalks and painted nearby building facades.

Israeli embassy security personnel, in charge of security inside the synagogue, barred Egyptian journalists from entering the building to cover the event. A Jewish reporter from Israeli daily Haaretz was also denied entry for lacking an official permit.

As to why Egyptian officials didn't attend:
Egyptian officials were absent from the ceremony, and Culture Minister Faruk Hosni said Sunday's opening was a purely religious ceremony. Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Antiquities Department, said that a more formal opening next Sunday would be attended by Egyptian officials.