Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt (Shutterstock)

Worshipers at the Alexandria synagogue arrived from across the Diaspora to pray in the 14th-century synagogue on Shabbat.

By United with Israel Staff

In a historic moment, 180 Jews gathered at the renovated 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt for festive prayers and celebration on Shabbat. This was the largest Jewish prayer gathering in Egypt in decades.

The event, closed to media, was organized in part by the Nebi Daniel Association, which strives to preserve Jewish sites in Egypt. Following the service, the group gathered to enjoy traditional Shabbat bread (challah) and wine, brought in from Israel, Times of Israel reported.

When Egypt elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in 2014, it saw the downfall of the radical Muslim Brotherhood along with warming relations with Israel and an appreciation for the country’s Jewish past. In fact, el-Sissi has vowed to “correct the mistakes of [Egypt’s] past,” which includes permitting the refurbishing of the Alexandria synagogue.

At a 2019 meeting with the Anwar Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Commission, led by the Jewish Ezra Friedlander, el-Sissi said he would build new synagogues if Jews returned to Egypt. He also approved the refurbishment of Cairo’s 9th-century Bassatine Jewish cemetery, the oldest in the world. Jews in Cairo date back to the Bible.

In another ironic turn of events, the Drop of Milk organization, presently headed by Sammy Ari, 53, a son of one of Egypt’s few remaining Jews, and his Palestinian wife Marwa, 44, is also working to preserve Egypt’s Jewish heritage. It puts on cultural events and distributes information to educate the public of the country’s Jewish history.

“From my experience in the Palestinian territories and the Intifada, it is part of my daily reality to be a commando,” Marwa said, according to the Times. Noting that her efforts in Egypt clearly do not help the “Zionist cause,” her contributions for preserving Egypt’s Jewish heritage have proven to be particularly valuable. “It [lets] people know that we are not secretly working for the Israelis,” she said.

The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, once the largest in the Arab world, is just one of two remaining in Alexandria. In its Jewish-populated heyday, the city boasted no less than 12 syagogues. There are four or five septuagenarian and octogenarian Jews currently residing in Alexandria and about 20 Jews residing in Cairo.

Stressing the importance to preserve Egypt’s Jewish history and hoping to increase tourism to Egypt for both Jews and non-Jews, Marwa said,  “The most important thing is that we seize this opportunity before [el-Sissi] changes his mind.” Emphasizing that their efforts have nothing to do with politics, she said, “The revolution has succeeded in terms of a new generation being accepting of others.”