Beirut Shul to Be Refurbished, and Even Hezbollah's on Board

Project to be funded by private donors and funds from construction firm owned by family of Rafik Hariri.

Yoav Stern
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Yoav Stern

The ruined main synagogue in central Beirut is due to be renovated in the coming weeks, after an agreement between various religious denominations and permission from the Lebanese government, planning authorities and even Hezbollah. Several dozen Jews still living in Lebanon will fund the project, along with others in the Diaspora.

Renovations will include mending the gaping hole in the Magen Avraham synagogue's roof and repairing the chandeliers that once hung from it. The Torah ark and prayer benches will also be refurbished to their former states.

People involved in the project told Haaretz Tuesday by telephone that renovations were scheduled to begin "within weeks."

The job will be funded by a $200,000-donation from private donors, as well as $150,000 from Solidere, a construction firm tasked with rebuilding central Beirut from the destruction of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. The company is privately owned by the family of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister assassinated in 2005.

The project received the green light after political officials and community leaders became convinced it could show that Lebanon is an open country, tolerant of many faiths including Judaism.

Solidere's reconstruction contract stipulates that any places of worship must not be razed, but remain under the ownership of the religious community it serves, people involved in the renovation told Haaretz. The company has budgeted $150,000 for the rebuilding of each house of worship.

Lebanon's Jewish community is one of the country's 17 officially recognized faiths. The several dozen people in its remaining Jewish community hold few religious activities other than prayer services during the High Holidays. Many Jewish residents are in middle age or older, and affluent. Many live outside Lebanon, mainly in Europe.

"The Jewish community never served as a target for anyone in Lebanon. All the Jews who left the country did so of their own free will. We're not talking about renewing prayer in the synagogue, but only about renovation as a symbol of the great diversity of Lebanon and the history of the community," one source said.

Yitzhak Levanon, a Herzliya-based writer and translator who studied at the American University in Beirut in the late 1920s and early 1930s, told Haaretz: "The story of the Jews in Lebanon is over. It cannot be returned."

Since it was built in Moroccan style in the 1920s, the synagogue has served as a focal point for Lebanese Jewry.

Levanon said the Wadi Abu Jamil area once held eight synagogues, and Magen Avraham was by far the largest. But over the years the community dwindled due to emigration, including to Israel, and the synagogue was seriously damaged in fighting between Muslim and Christian forces during the civil war. Looters stripped the building of its Torah ark and prayer benches, and even gutted its electrical system.



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