06.16.16

AS ANCIENT JEWISH COMMMUNITY THERE SHRINKS TO ALMOST NOTHING, SCHUMER CALLS FOR BETTER PROTECTION OF HISTORIC JEWISH SITES IN EGYPT

Jewish Heritage Sites in Egypt Face Neglect and Vandalism; Egypt Not Yet Providing Adequate Protection of These Sites

In Letter to Egyptian President El-Sisi, Schumer and Congressional Supporters Push to Save Jewish Sites in Egypt & Better Preserve Jewish History, Heritage & Artifacts

Schumer: Egypt Should Work in Partner With Historic and Cultural Organizations and Do All It Can to Preserve the Thousand-Plus Years of Extraordinary History of Jewish Life in Egypt

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, along with twenty-eight Members of Congress, wrote to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi asking to help better protect and preserve many Jewish sites across the Egypt. In their letter, the lawmakers express concern about the damaged Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria built in the 14th century, the 12th Century Maimonides Yeshiva in Cairo, the Bassatine Cemetery, and the lack of care and use of dozens of sacred Torah scrolls. Schumer today said that these sites are an integral part of the Jewish community’s sense of shared history and culture throughout Egypt.

“For quite some time, long-standing Jewish historical sites in Egypt have been under the threat of dissolution and ruin,” said Schumer. “It is imperative that we work with Egyptian authorities and President El-Sisi to preserve and maintain the history, heritage, and artifacts of Jewish life in Egypt.”

In recent years, Jewish heritage sites in Egypt have lacked the care and concern necessary to preserve the centuries old relics, artifacts, and Judaica. Jewish heritage sites throughout Egypt have long suffered from crumbling exteriors, groundwater damage, and vandalism.

In their letter, Schumer and others proposed working alongside key Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian Cultural Ministry, and the Ministry of Antiquities in order to establish cooperative, international efforts for the restoration and protection of this heritage, such as a Museum of Egyptian Jewish Heritage.

A copy of their letter is below:

Dear President El-Sisi,

As Jewish Members of Congress with a strong interest in Egyptian-American relations and the preservation of the long history of Jewish life in Egypt, we write to request your assistance in preserving Jewish heritage sites in Egypt.  Synagogues, cemeteries, libraries, Torah scrolls and other Judaica, as well as irreplaceable records of a community that once numbered nearly 100,000, are in grave danger.

The Jewish community in Egypt has shrunk dramatically, and the few Jews who remain have acknowledged their inability to preserve and maintain the history, heritage, and artifacts of Jewish life in Egypt.  We have immediate concerns for many Jewish sites including the crumbling roof on the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria and the groundwater damage to the historic 12th Century Maimonides Yeshiva in Cairo, which was painstakingly restored by Egyptian antiquity specialists only five years ago.  We are also concerned about the protection of the centuries-old Bassatine Cemetery, which has been vandalized and overrun by squatters; the long-term preservation of the remaining synagogues in Cairo and Alexandria; the care and use of the dozens of Torah scrolls in Egypt some of which are individually owned by Egyptian Jewish families living in the United States; and the preservation and access to the Egyptian Jewish community registers.

In recent years, representative associations of Jews from Egypt, key Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo have been in close contact with the Egyptian Cultural Ministry and the Ministry of Antiquities to propose cooperative, international efforts for the restoration and protection of this heritage, such as a Museum of Egyptian Jewish Heritage.

Mr. President, we respectfully request that you act now to save these heritage sites that reflect Egypt’s rich history, and its once-thriving Jewish community, by supporting international initiatives, which should include the input and involvement of Egyptian authorities, to ensure their long-term preservation.  We believe conservation projects such as the proposed museum would bring in tourism revenue in addition to informing Egyptian and international students about the country’s diverse cultural heritage.

We stand ready to assist you in these efforts, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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