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Tears for a Neglected Synagogue

Suzy Eban, wife of Israel’s former foreign Minister, Abba Eban, was born in Egypt and remembers well the Shaar Shamayim Synagogue in downtown Cairo. The contrast between her memories and the shabby, nearly deserted aspect of the synagogue today brought her to tears.

Suzy and Abba Eban are among the guests Premier Menachem Begin invited on his trip to the Egyptian capital. They accompanied him to the synagogue this afternoon where the Israeli party attended mincha services. Standing outside the building, surrounded by reporters representing the world’s news media, Mrs. Eban wept.

“It is very difficult to get used to the idea,” she said. “It was once such a big community, a community full of life” Now there are only 150-170 Jews left in the congregation: “I was told there are only five Jewish children here in Cairo” Mrs Eban said ” It looks so unattended, so neglected. It used to be the pride of the community.” She recalled the days when the Egyptian Chief Rabbi Nahum Effendi, used to lead the congregation in prayer. He also officiated at her wedding.

Today the entire remnant of the congregation attended services, mostly elderly men and women The heavy pall of dust hanging in the hat air almost obscured the ornamental stained glass windows. Yet it was an unforgetable moment for all present. Begin and his party occupied the place of honor.

After the reader chanted the prayers in an Oriental accent, the Premier rose to tell the tiny congregation, “I brought unto you the greatest of missions–peace.” He said there was consolation in their small numbers, noting, “The majority of those (Jews) who lived in Egypt are today living in Israel.” The worshippers responded with loud “amens.” Begin urged them to “preserve our belief.”

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