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Monday, September 03, 2012

Egyptian Jewish community sort of denies Alexandria High Holiday story

Last Thursday, I quoted the Point of No Return blog as saying that Egyptian authorities had canceled Rosh Hashanah services in Alexandria this year for "security reasons."

The story got picked up in Egyptian media.

Now, the Egyptian Jewish community is denying the story - sort of. Let's sort it out:

BBC Arabic says they say they will have services, but...
We already postponed the issue of inviting some visitors to join us during prayers, but we certainly we will establish our celebrations, where we will celebrate the High Holidays here with our small community we hold dear.

We have already postponed inviting visitors to offer prayers during the Jewish New Year (this year), and we hope that the situation improves and becomes more stable. It is known to the whole world that we are in the midst of a transition, and security measures are still being arranged, police are still working to achieve security and safety on the streets again, and no doubt that the necessary safety for all Egyptians, and our dear visitors.

The decision to postpone inviting visitors is a decision taken by the community alone, and is not imposed by the authorities as falsely claimed in the press.
JPost adds:
Yousef Gaon, the caretaker of the Eliahou Hanavi Synagogue, was quoted by a Jewish official as saying services will be held at the 180-year-old house of worship this year albeit without an ordained rabbi or cantor.

"The only difference is a rabbi and cantor who usually lead the services were denied entry to the country," the official, who is in close contact with the remaining Jews in the country, told The Jerusalem Post.

"Gaon said he would lead the services together with other members of the community. Prayers at the synagogue in Cairo will be held as usual. The rabbi who flies in every year was given a visa."

The official asked to remain anonymous not to jeopardize ties with Egyptian authorities.
Let's add a detail from Chabad:
Two weeks ago, the Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Alexandria, Egypt, Rabbi Avraham Nino-Dayan, contacted Chabad.info with a request to send Bochurim [young men] for Tishrei to help with a Minyan in the city which has had close to 2,000 years of continous Jewish presence.

After much hard work we were able to convince some Bochurim to go there, and discussions were taking place about the dates for the flights.

At the last moment, the Egyptian government decided to cancel the trip and notified the Jewish community that "for security reasons" they will not allow Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services at the "Eliyahu Hanavi" synagogue, the last functioning synagogue in Egypt.
And one more fact from Al Masry al Youm to complete the picture:
The number of Jews in Alexandria is 18 women and 4 men, most of them elderly, all between their seventies and nineties, and most live in senior homes, some of them in their apartments with their aides, and for most of these, their children and grandchildren are living abroad.

Now it becomes a little clearer.

For the first time in some 2000 years, Alexandria will not have a minyan (quorum) for Rosh Hashanah. Their recent practice of importing people to help make the minyan will not occur this year because of the security situation in Egypt. Whether this was an explicit decision by Egyptian authorities or because of fear from the Egyptian Jewish community is not really the issue - the fact is that the Egyptian government will not protect any Jews who wish to visit as they have every year.

The community statement saying that services will be held is disingenuous, because Rosh Hashanah services without a minyan - even in a synagogue as beautiful and historic as the Eliyahu HaNavi shul - is not much better than doing it at home.  (Of course, they are afraid to say this explicitly.) Critical parts of the service cannot be done without the requisite ten men. Whether they are being barred explicitly or implicitly, the reason is because Egypt cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish visitors.

Because Egyptians would lynch them.