07 June 2008

Egypt: Jews appeal for records access

What would you do if all the records of your family, your synagogue, and your community were to suddenly disappear? What if those records were hundreds, even thousands of years old?

Births, deaths, weddings, divorces, deaths - the history of an entire community, gone.

According to an appeal from a New York-based non-profit group - The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt - whose members are from the diaspora of Jews exiled from Egypt since the 1950s, this is what might happen if the new minister of culture has his way. He has offered to personally burn any Jewish books he finds in Egypt.

Descendants of this community number about a half-million.

According to the Egyptian Jewish group,

Years of requests to the Egyptian authorities for access and the right to photocopy the documents of the Jewish patrimony were met with obfuscation and silence. In view of the candidacy of Egypt's Minister of Culture to head the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt (HSJE) has asked UNESCO to convince Egypt on its behalf and take custody of a copy of these archives under the Organization's World Heritage protection

In response to its members' expressions of concern at the controversy surrounding press reports of Minister Farouk Hosni's 10th of May statement that he "would himself, burn any Israeli book found in Egypt", HSJE has appealed directly to UNESCO.

The group states that registries and archives in Cairo and Alexandria represent the history and identity as Egyptian Jews. All attempts over the past decade, to get access from the Egyptian authorities to photocopy these documents, have failed.

UNESCO was urged "to take custody of this "intangible heritage" of the Jews from Egypt, by negotiating with Mr. Hosni to photocopy the registers and archives in Egypt and to hold these copies under UNESCO World Heritage protection.

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