A Synagogue’s Unveiling Exposes a Conundrum

March 21, 2010

Author: Michael Slackman

Source: The New York Times


Down a winding alley, deep in a quiet neighborhood of rutted roads and donkey carts, where food vendors sold cheap sandwiches and children chased after a soccer ball, an extraordinary moment passed here with little notice: Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Egyptians sat together and celebrated their shared heritage.

But no one outside the small group of invited guests was allowed to see.

Egypt spent $1.8 million to restore a part of its historic past, the synagogue and office space of Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, known in the West as Maimonides, the 12th-century physician and philosopher who is considered among the most important rabbinic scholars in Jewish history. On March 7, security men held up a canvas curtain to block the road and barred the news media from attending.

The restoration project, and its muted unveiling, exposed a conundrum Egyptian society has struggled with since its leadership made peace with Israel three decades ago: How to balance the demands of Western capitals and a peace process that relies on Egypt to work with Israel with a public antipathy for Israel.