N.Y. Donor Funding Renovation of Cemetery of Extinct Lebanese Jewish Community

The anonymous donor, who is originally from Sidon, has committed to clean up the Jewish cemetery in the town, the last of whose Jews left in 1975.

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Sidon synagogue
Sidon synagogueCredit: Wikipedia

The old disused Jewish cemetery in the Lebanese port city of Sidon is being renovated by an anonymous former Jewish resident of the town who now lives in New York, Al-Jazeera reported on its English-language website on Monday.

Nagi Zeidan, a Lebanese Christian who is writing a book about Lebanese Jewry and is overseeing the cemetery renovation, said he does not know how much the donor has pledged for the project, but Zeiden told Al-Jazeera that he and the donor are committed to clean up the cemetery.

"This is not being done by the municipality," Zeidan said. "This is paid for by one man from the Jewish community here, and I have been sent to oversee it."

The Beirut Daily Star reported in 2009 that only two Jews were registered as residents of Sidon at the time, although the newspaper noted that the city had a significant Jewish community until the outbreak of the Lebanon's Civil War in 1975, most of whom lived in the town's Jewish quarter. There were 40 Jewish families in Sidon in 1975, all of whom left Sidon, Zeidan found. The last burial recorded in the cemetery was in 1985. There are still 200 Jews living in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Al-Jazeera noted.

The Jewish community of Sidon, a city mentioned in the Bible using its Hebrew name, Tzidon, reportedly dates from the 10th century C.E. In Arabic, it is referred to as Saida.

In May a post on a Facebook page called "Friends of the Saida Jewish Community" announced that the rehabilitation of the cemetery had begun. "This marks the first effort to reintegrate the memory of this old community into the rich and diverse human tapestry of Saida. So far the cemetery has been cleaned up and a protective wall built around it," the Facebook post reported.

Al-Jazeera noted that some reconstruction work was carried out on the cemetery by the Israel Defense Forces, when Israel invaded the country in the first Lebanon war, adding that "it was heavily vandalized by locals after Israeli forces retreated in 1985, with many of the engraved gravestones completely removed from the tomb tops." The cemetery is located next to a slaughterhouse and huge dump "infusing it with the stench of rotting carcasses and refuse," Al-Jazeera stated.

A sign in Hebrew at the entrance to the cemetery has reportedly been removed. Zeidan told Al-Jazeera that it was put up by the IDF to mark the renovations that the Israeli army made. The sign, Al-Jazeera said, was thought by Zeidan and the donor in New York to be "unnecessarily provocative."

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