From Point of No return, Thursday, January 21, 2010, by Roger Bilboul and Yves Fedida of Nebi Daniel:
The Jewish Community of Cairo is to mark the inauguration of the newly-restored Maimonides (Rambam) synagogue and yeshiva with a three-day celebratory programme of events, from 7 - 9 March.
"The Rab Moshe complex as well as another nine synagogues in Egypt are historical heritage sites which fall under the aegis of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. Through an extensive restoration programme the Supreme Council of Antiquities, with the help of the Jewish Community of Cairo, will have completed the renovation of the Maimonides complex.
The Yeshiva included the consulting room of Rab Moshe in the New Cairo of the 12th century where he taught and discussed points of religion with his students and where, upon his death, his body lay for seven days before being transported to Tiberias for burial.
The rooms have niches where, until recently, sick people of all faiths, men or women, would spend the night praying for recovery or fertility. The Synagogue adjacent to these rooms was built in the early 19th Century. The Yeshiva suffered from recurring flooding from underground water and the Synagogue was badly hit by the 1992 earthquake. The restoration has been a painstaking effort returning the compound as faithfully as possible to its original splendour .
In addition to the Dedication of the restored Rab Moshe Synagogue and Yeshiva, the three-day programme will include:
- Dinner in the communal centre of the main Synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim, an imposing building built in the early 20th Century which has also been faithfully restored and where visitors can admire the richly decorated interior with marble and gilded patterns.
- Visit to Fostat (Old Cairo) where the oldest remaining synagogue in Egypt stands, believed to have been first built around 340BC. The pre-Islamic Ben Ezra Synagogue which has also been perfectly restored was the synagogue where Rab Moshe prayed and held services as the head of the Jewish Community of the time. The famous Geniza Papers were found at the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the new Geniza museum in the Ben Ezra complex has a number of reproductions of these papers
- Visit to the also recently restored Moussa Dar’i Synagogue built by the Karaite community in the 1920’s. It is a superb building and features Art Deco lotus flower columns and an imposing dome.
- Finally, a visit to the Jewish cemetery at Bassatine, in the southeast outskirts of Cairo, a vast site that has not been easy to maintain. The Jewish Community of Cairo has made heroic efforts to defend it against a highway overpass and squatters’ buildings which have encroached on the territory itself. Most of the marble tombstones have been stolen in 1967 so that the majority of the tombs are today unidentifiable. However, the Cairo Community has built a perimeter wall and continues to landscape the cemetery and guard it against vandals. It maintains a list of a number of tombs that have been identified."