Concerns have grown from the Egyptian revolutions about the country’s priceless antiquities. Despite Zahi Hawass’s assurances that many items have remained safe, it appears much has been damaged.
Egypt also has invaluable Jewish sites, like the synagogue at Alexandria, but these are not mentioned in the media as much. During all the chaos, what has happened to Jewish historical sites in Egypt?
According to Hawass, “Museums all over Egypt are safe, Sakkara, the Valley of the Kings, all the synagogues, all the Coptic monasteries….the Islamic monuments, and pharaonic and Greco-Roman [artifacts and sites] are completely safe.”
Why did he specify synagogues amongst Egypt’s cultural patrimony that remains safe from looters? I suspect that Hawass wants to placate his international audience, which includes American Jews, by assuring them that they have nothing to worry about.
As far as I know, no news outlet has reported extensively on the fates of individual synagogues. I have found only scattered reports about various sites. Apparently, some synagogues are being guarded and others are shuttered, but not much info is available. The Ben Ezra synagogue, original home of a cache of documents about life in the Middle Ages, provided scholars with a priceless fount of information about Jewish commerce in that time period. What is known about its fate during the chaotic Egyptian uprising? I don’t know.
As of late January, the synagogue of Eliyahu Hanavi reported that its employees were safe, but shops in the surrounding area have been looted. Another synagogue that was reported on was in the Egyptian town of Ghabes. There, a few weeks ago, a synagogue was set aflame and Torah scrolls were burned.
Why have we not been informed about what is happening to the Jewish cultural patrimony in Egypt? Are they so destroyed that news outlets just won’t tell us what happened? Can they not get close enough to figure it out? According to some, little synagogue damage has occurred in Alexandria or Cairo because “there remain only a handful of elderly Jews in Egypt’s second-largest city and virtually none in the capital.” Therefore, there doesn’t need to be coverage if nothing has happened, some might say. But I believe that the international Jewish community would like to know what has happened to these sites.
If ancient Egyptian relics are the cultural patrimony of the Egyptian people, then are synagogues the heritage of all Jews or just Egyptian Jews? The claim of cultural ownership is one that could be endlessly debated. Whether or not people can lay claim to that heritage justly isn’t as important right now as their interest level, which should be high. If news sources can bother to report on every artifact missing from the Cairo Museum, they should at least give a roundup of Jewish synagogues in Egypt.
Who’s to say what’s more important—ancient Egyptian artifacts or synagogues? The interest level definitely varies, but both are significant to different groups of people. The news media should inform the people of the world just what’s going on with the synagogues of this embattled country.