Egypt Restores Historic Synagogue, but Few Jews Remain

'I'm very proud of what my country has done, and it symbolizes living together, today there is no difference between Egyptian Muslim, Christian and Egyptian Jew,' says head of Cairo's Jewish community

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Egypt's Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany attends the opening of Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt January 10, 2020.
Egypt's Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany attends the opening of Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt JanuaryCredit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ REUTERS
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Egypt reopened a historic synagogue on Friday in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria after a yearslong government renovation.

But only a handful of Jews remain from Egypt's once-thriving community, most of them elderly. The country's Jews largely left more than 60 years ago amid the hostilities between Egypt and Israel.

A man opens the door to the ark inside the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt January 10, 2020.
A man opens the door to the ark inside the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt January 10, 2020.Credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ REUTERS

The two-story Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria partially collapsed in 2016. Antiquities officials said the renovations, which began the following year, prevented it from becoming a total loss.

The site has a long history. An earlier synagogue dating to 1354 AD was built in the same location, and the current building dates to roughly 1881, when the Jewish community was large and influential. Marble floors and rose-colored columns line the main hall.

A partial interior view of the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria, January 10, 2020.
A partial interior view of the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria, January 10, 2020.Credit: AFP

“I'm very proud of what my country has done, and it symbolizes living together, today there is no difference between Egyptian Muslim, Christian and Egyptian Jew,” said Magda Haroun, the head of Cairo's Jewish community, at the reopening ceremony.

Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue is one of two remaining Jewish houses of worship in Alexandria. The city alone had some 40,000 Jews in the 1940s, half of the country's Jewish population, according to the official page of Alexandria province.

Part of a bima inside the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt January 10, 2020.
Part of a bima inside the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue during its reopening after the completion of a restoration project in Alexandria, Egypt January 10, 2020. Credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ REUTERS

The renovated synagogue now has openings in the floor to show the layers of history — what remains of the earlier structure.

The Jewish community's modern exodus from Egypt began in 1948, after the creation of the state of Israel.

A view from the women's balcony of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, January 10, 2020.
A view from the women's balcony of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, January 10, 2020.Credit: AFP

More Jews left for Israel and the West after the 1956 Suez war, when Israel, France and Britain launched a military offensive against Egypt.

Amid the war, animosity in Egypt increased towards Jews, who were seen as complicit in Israel's actions.

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel in 1979.

Coptic priests leave after visiting the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020.
Coptic priests leave after visiting the newly renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the northwestern Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 10, 2020.Credit: AFP

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