Beirut's Largest Synagogue in Danger of Being Demolished

Lebanese sources tell Haaretz there are Jews living in Lebanon, but only few admit their religious identity.

The largest synagogue in Beirut is in danger of being demolished as part of a city center renovation project.

Lebanese sources involved in preserving Jewish tradition in the country published pictures last month of the desolate synagogue, Magen Avraham, and surrounding buildings.

The photos, which were taken covertly because of the proximity to government offices, show that buildings in the area are in the process of being demolished. The roof of a building next to the synagogue has been dismantled, which some fear is the first stage of that building's destruction. At this point, the synagogue itself does not appear to have been damaged.

However, the Lebanese sources said that widespread demolition is taking place even though the structures in the area had previously been declared designated for preservation.

The renovation of central Beirut is being carried out by the Lebanese construction company Solidere, in which the Hariri family own shares.

Magen Avraham has been left desolate for about 20 years. The Jewish community, which constitutes one of the 19 official religious communities in Lebanon and at various points included tens of thousands of people, pretty much disappeared from the country in the 1980s.

Sources have told Haaretz that there are still Jews living in Lebanon, but only a few admit their religious identity, fearing they would be harmed if their neighbors discovered they were Jewish.

The community's silence is a problem when it comes to Jewish communal property. The head of the Jewish community apparently lives abroad, and it is not clear who is in fact running communal affairs.

Solidere has said that it is working to preserve many buildings in the heart of Beirut, including the three buildings surrounding the synagogue. The company said it submitted an opinion to the high council for urbanization saying that the buildings should be preserved, but the council has allowed the landowners to demolish the buildings as long as the original front is reconstructed.

It is not clear whether the synagogue belongs to the Jewish community or has been sold to private owners.