27 July 2008

Lebanon: Jewish oblivion

It is sad to read about small Jewish communities facing problems - Lebanon's is one of those caught up in politics, aging and attrition.

Once a vibrant thriving community, today it stares at oblivion in this AFP article in the Middle East Times.

It's not easy being Jewish in Beirut where the synagogue is crumbling, the rabbis have left, the community is dwindling and where Jews are commonly branded "Israelis".

The last vestiges of the Jewish community in Lebanon, the Magen Abraham synagogue in the Lebanese capital, reflects a community falling into oblivion.

Built in 1920 in the area of Wadi Abu Jmil, formerly known as Wadi al Yahud (the Jews' Valley), the synagogue is today a place of desolation.

The building is in a state of severe disrepair, the grounds overgrown and the gate shackled with lock and chain.

"Everything was looted during the (civil) war, marble benches and even windows," bemoaned Samuel, a member of the Jewish Community Council in Lebanon, who preferred to use a pseudonym.

There is no synagogue, no rabbi for years, no kosher food, no Jewish schools. The Jewish cemetery is near the former border between Muslim and Christian neighborhoods.

The inscriptions in Hebrew and the stars of David on the entrance are covered with dust. "Very few people come," said Samuel.

Efforts are now being made, however, to revive the community with plans under way to renovate the synagogue and the establishment of an online blog called Jews of Lebanon.

Samuel said the synagogue will be renovated later this year or in 2009, funded by expatriate Lebanese Jews. The blog helps raise awareness of the community.

Lebanon recognizes 18 religions - Judaism is one - even as the Jewish community has dwindled after a 2,000-year history. Before the 1975-1990 civil war, some 22,000 Jews lived there. After the 1982 Lebanon war with Israel, it became much smaller.

Most lived in Beirut, Baalbek, Tripoli and Sidon, where synagogues have also crumbled after the community began leaving. Community members say many expat Lebanese Jews still own land but won't sell it; some even return for vacations.

Click on the above link to learn more.

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