Beirut is still healing from the wounds inflicted by Lebanon's civil war. A large part of the city's architectural heritage was destroyed by years of fighting. Today, they have been replaced by modern buildings. Even places of worship have not been spared, as evidenced by the deplorable state in which restorers found the Maghen Abraham Synagogue. Located in the heart of the city, the building has been in the process of restoration for the past year and is due to re-open in the coming months.
The Lebanese Jewish community has 100 members within the country, mainly in Beirut, and 2000 in the world (of Lebanese nationality). There was a time when there were many more of us; there were about 20,000 at the end of the 1940s. But unfortunately, the Civil War ended that. In 1975, when the armed conflict broke out in the heart of the Jewish quarter, Wadi Abu Jamil, many were forced to leave the country, leaving everything behind. There was a haemorrhaging of all communities at that time.
Despite the mass exodus, we continued to celebrate prayers, weddings and religious festivals at Maghen Abraham, long recognised as the most prestigious synagogue in the Middle East. The construction of this synagogue started in 1920, on the initiative of an Indian Jew who had emigrated to Lebanon. The building officially opened its doors to followers in 1926, and the Selim Tarrab School just behind the synagogue ensured the education of the children of the community. But in 1982, the year of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, our synagogue was subjected to looting and vandalism. The building was devastated and the Talmudic school was completely destroyed by the war. Members of our community who stayed in the country were deprived of their place of worship.
It took a lot of time and effort for the restoration of Maghen Abraham to take shape. We had already collected the necessary funds for the restoration, mainly from members of our community (within and outside of the country), but also with the help of other religious communities. However, due to the precarious security situation, particularly with the Israeli War of 2006, we had to delay the project. Eventually, the restoration of the synagogue began a year ago, at the same time as the restoration of the Wadi Abu Jamil neighbourhood. The reopening is expected in six months' time. We are also planning to do the same for other Jewish places of worship in other parts of Lebanon which have been abandoned.
Many are surprised that we still live here, and believe that we ought to have crossed the border to where we belong; to Israel. It gets forgotten that we are the oldest religious community of the country. We belong here." (source)
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