04 July 2007

Egypt: Jewish history, restored property

The Jerusalem Post offered an interesting story on the Jews of Egypt and efforts to present claims for property restitution and develop a museum dedicated to the community.

The largest number of Egyptian Jews live in Israel, with communities in Brazil, the US, France and Argentina at about 10,000 each.

The World Congress of the Jews from Egypt, at a late-June conference in Haifa, focused on recent actions to reclaim property confiscated from Egyptian Jews since 1948, when about 100,000 Jews lived in that country. Today, estimates run from 20-100. Many were killed and thousands expelled after wars in 1948, 1956 and 1967.

The congress lobbies for the restitution of property and recognition of the historic tragedy of Egyptian Jewry, and seeks to add their story to Jewish education curricula around the world.

Earlier this month, the Cecil Hotel, a four-star hotel in Alexandria that belonged to the Metzger family until it was nationalized in 1952, was returned to the family. Nationalized five years before the family was expelled, the 86-room hotel was resold to Egypt after its return, according to Agence-France Presse.

Although an Egyptian court ruled, in 1996, that the hotel should be restored to the family, implementation was delayed for fear it would create a precedent for restitution of other Jewish property.

Organization head Prof. Ada Aharoni said the Egyptian Jews "were always a bridge between culture and created bridges."

"Philo in the first century created a bridge between Hellenism and the Jews. Saadia Gaon translated the Bible into Arabic, and this Bible is still used in schools and libraries around the Arab world, and the Rambam, thought to be the greatest philosopher in Judaism, lived in Egypt. Now we're asking many communities, from England to Australia, to add the culture and literature of the Jews of Egypt into Jewish schools and Sunday schools."

Aharoni stressed that Holocaust study should not wipe out all other tragedies, such as those which befell many Jewish communities in Arab and Moslem countries.

Her organization works to restore cultural treasures in Egypt that have been damaged since the forced departure, and there are plans to establish an Egyptian Jewry museum in Nesher (near Haifa), with a branch at the Library of Alexandria.

The reclamation effort is under way, and Israel's Justice Ministry has registered Egyptian Jews' property claims and sent them to Egypt and the US Senate, which has also recognized them as refugees.

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