In the last several years, following the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and Israeli battles against Lebanese-based PLO fighters of the 1980s and Israeli fights against Hezbollah since the 1990s, rumors circulated that the Lebanese Jewish community had ceased to be, and that the last handful of Jews had surreptitiously found a home in Israel.
The rumors of the death of Lebanese Jewry, it turns out, were premature.
Repairs began last month on the shell of Beirut’s historic Magen Avraham synagogue, coordinated by the 200-member Lebanese Jewish Community Council, funded by private donors and the Solidere construction firm, and approved by all of the country’s political parties, including Hezbollah.
“We respect divine religions, including the Jewish religion,” said Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahhal.
The renovated building on Wadi Abu Jmil Street in central Beirut, surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings a few hundred yards from the Lebanese parliament, may serve as a museum, some Lebanese newspapers and television stations reported, but the community council’s Web site states that Magen Avraham will retain its status as a site for Jewish worship. “The synagogue … will remain at the heart of the Lebanese Jewish community’s religious practices and social-communal activities.”
“We hope this initiative will ensure that the community grows once again,” said Isaac Arazi, president of the community council.
More than 20,000 Jews lived in Lebanon before the civil war, and Beirut, home to most of them, had 18 synagogues. Magen Avraham is the last remaining one. During World War II, it became a center of underground Zionist activity and a temporary shelter for refugees on the way to Palestine.
The 80-year-old, cream-colored stucco building, inset, suffered structural damage — including a gaping hole in the red-tile roof, and shattered chandeliers — during the civil war and the 1982 Israeli-PLO fighting. A construction worker, above, reviews drawings of the dawn-to-dusk, yearlong restoration project.
Workers, mostly Shi’ite Muslims, have begun to clear debris from the site and erect scaffolding in the synagogue’s interior.
The community council also plans to restore Beirut’s Jewish cemetery, home to 4,500 graves.
In related news, Israeli sources confirmed earlier this month that most of Yemen’s 250-member Jewish community is planning to leave the country in the face of persecution and violence.