A major advance in this preservation effort was made recently in Cairo on August 29, 2009, when important remarks concerning the community's genealogical records were made by Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny.
Nebi Daniel notes the ongoing protection and restoration of 10 of the last 15 synagogues in the country, fulfilling the minister's promises. View the website (in six languages) for much more detail, as well as the Links page for many sites of interest.
For genealogists and Egyptian Jews looking for vital records information on the community's records, success may not be far off. According to a Nebi Daniel press release:
In June, Fedida asked Hosny for "permission to copy the civil and religious registers still kept at the Jewish Communities for genealogical research, the issuance of civil identity papers and to study this exemplary cohabitation in an Islamic country.”Egyptian families worldwide seeking records have not been able to access those records, so this announcement is very important.
The Minister replied that “it is your right and I personally agree to it.” Fedida said “this commitment, proof of your attachment to education and culture, would augur well for your election to UNESCO. 3-400,000 descendants of the 80,000 Jews from Egypt, who have rebuilt their lives in over 80 countries, will applaud this gesture.”
Most important, during a Cairo meeting on August 29, 2009, Hosny reconfirmed his promise to allow all archives and registers currently held by the Jewish communities to be copied and the copy to be deposited for free access at the Egyptian National Library. We are therefore fully confident that our objective of making these archives available to researchers worldwide will be met within the next few weeks.
The Nebi Daniel website indicates that as part of the Ottoman Empire, the non-Moslem communities were solely responsible for maintaining civil registers recording births, deaths, marriages, divorces and conversions. in 1925, Egypt began registering the births of Egyptian citizens only. The Alexandria registers in Alexandria date to 1830 and cover a community that numbered as many as 40,000.
Today's aging community members are the last custodians of some 255 registers containing about 60,000 pages. In Cairo, some Ashkenazi and Karaite registers have already been, lost or stolen. The registers are not related to personal property, but are extremely important for descendants of Egyptian Jews because:
- They are often the only proof of Jewish identity for a Jewish marriage, determine Jewish lineage or be granted a Jewish burial, especially in the Diaspora.Also during August, two of Nebi Daniel's council members visited Cairo to see renovation work at Maimonides' yeshiva and synagogue, at the Karaite synagogue and in the main synagogue's interior courtyard on Adly Street.
- In civil matters, they are used to establish civil identity related to nationality, marriage, divorce, etc.
- Concerning authenticity, the current Jewish Community leaders in Alexandria and Cairo do not hold religious authority and are therefore not truly entitled to impart, on the certificates they still issue, the level of confidence required for their
legitimacy. Furthermore, there will soon be no one to offer any certification at all. - - For historical and genealogical research, the Registers are a rare collection covering 150 years of the history of a thriving Jewish community.
As far back as 2006, the Ministry of Culture had confirmed renovation plans to Nebi Daniel.
In October 2007, the association's representatives viewed the first renovations to the main Har Hashamaym synagogue on Adly Street, which also launched a permanent exhibit near the Ben Ezra synagogue demonstrating Middle Ages Jewish life in Egypt. There is a video to watch here.
Since then, renovation and infrastructure has been aimed at protecting the neighborhood from regular flood to allow reconstruction.
Cairo Jewish Community president Carmen Weinstein said, “it is a miracle that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) have initiated such a gigantic programme to save this synagogue whilst solving the underground water problem.”
To see a video and photos demonstrating the renovation work as of the end of August, click here.
For more information and photos, visit the Nebi Daniel website