Can Beirut’s last shul still be saved?

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY JOSIE EN­SOR BEIRUT

A SCHEME to ren­o­vate Beirut’s last stand­ing shul is run­ning out of money.

Maghen Abra­ham Syn­a­gogue, lo­cated in the for­mer Jewish quar­ter of the Le­banese cap­i­tal, was de­stroyed by Is­raeli shelling in 1982. It has been aban­doned ever since, leav­ing Le­banese Jews without a syn­a­gogue build­ing.

Ren­o­va­tion work be­gan on the 85-year-old syn­a­gogue in Au­gust. The rusty pad­locked gates were re­moved and benches once used for prayer were re­stored to their for­mer state.

But now, the Le­banese Jewish Com­mu­nity Coun­cil (LJCC), the non-profit group in charge of the ren­o­va­tions, has been forced to ap­peal to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as funds run low.

“Your sup­port for the syn­a­gogue is not merely a fi­nan­cial ges­ture, but a reaf­fir­ma­tion of your be­lief in Le­banon’s rich tra­di­tion of cul­tural plu­ral­ism and re­li­gious di­ver­sity,” said LJCC’s Aaron-Mi­caël Bey­doun. “Help us en­sure we can con­tinue with the ren­o­va­tion, be part of his­tory and con­trib­ute to­day.”

Le­banon is of­fi­cially es­ti­mated to have just 100-150 Jews, down from 24,000 in 1948 — al­though some be­lieve the real count is higher, with many Jews afraid to iden­tify as such. The syn­a­gogue’s last rabbi fled in 1997.

While there were once 17 syn­a­gogues op­er­at­ing in Beirut alone, there are now just four syn­a­gogue build­ings re­main­ing in the whole of Le­banon — all of them dis­used. Jews in the cap­i­tal have spent the past 30 years pray­ing in spe­cially des­ig­nated houses as they wait to have their places of wor­ship re­stored.

The ren­o­va­tion project was first given the green light by the late Le­banese PM Rafik Hariri more than five years ago. It un­ex­pect­edly re­ceived the pub­lic sup­port of Hizbol­lah, with a party spokesman wel­com­ing the work.

Ear­lier this year Solid­ere, a ma­jor Le­banese construction firm owned by the Sunni Hariri fam­ily, agreed to pay $150,000 to­wards the ren­o­va­tions. This was part of a larger do­na­tion made to 14 re­li­gious groups to help them re­store their places of wor­ship.

But the LJCC is yet to re­ceive the first of three promised pay­ments.

LJCC says $1 mil­lion (£660,000) is needed to com­plete the build­ing work, which is ex­pected to take a year.

“The lim­ited ‘Phase 1’ fund­ing of this his­toric ren­o­va­tion was made pos­si­ble by the Le­banese Jewish Coun­cil and Le­banese Jewish busi­ness­men abroad,” Mr Bey­doun said. “Th­ese funds merely cover the cost of a new roof, a clean-up and vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture re­pair.

“The money we have is from our own mod­est re­sources and I can’t imag­ine the first phase tak­ing too long be­fore [more] fund­ing will be needed to con­tinue,” he says.

Much of the fund­ing al­ready re­ceived has come from the 65-yearold leader of the di­min­ish­ing com­mu­nity, Isaac Arazi, who raised $40,000 (£26,400) from pri­vate donors in the ex­pa­tri­ate Le­banese Jewish com­mu­nity and other anony­mous bene­fac­tors in the di­as­pora.

The Maghen Abra­ham shul in Beirut needs £660,000 for ren­o­va­tions

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