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August 03, 1979 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1979-08-03

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Friday, August 3, 1979

Jewish Community `Slowly Dying in Alexandria




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A little old man with clear
blue eyes interrupted the
flow of conversation sud-
denly and asked: Is there a
way to bring Jews here?"
For a moment it seemed
as if he was joking. Sitting
at the quiet Eliahu Hanavia
Synagogue shortly after
Premier Menahem Begin
held the mincha prayer last
week, one might have ex-
pected a different question,
about prospects of allowing
the 250 Jews of Alexandria
to immigrate to Israel or at
least come for a visit. The
main concern of Elli Danon,
75, was the future of the


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Jewish community in
Alexandria. He wants it to
survive after him, but he
can see plainly that it_ is
slowly dying.
The Jews of Alexandria
do not suffer because of the
government nor their Arab
neighbors, said Danon. It is
time that is their worst
enemy. The rabbi is almost
90, "and he is not of much
use. We have to accept him,
as they say in Frei-loll, for
the mieux" — the time be-
Danon describes him-
self as a "Yom Kippur
Jew." Although he is one
of the six members of the
local Council, he does not
care much for religious
Perhaps this is the reason
that he speaks in very down
to earth terms. He mentions
the beautiful 19th Century
synagogue, the old-age
home the community main-
tains and other buildings
and says: "All these are
worth millions. What will
become of them when we
disappear? Something
should be done."
He does not know,
though, just what should be
done. "Perhaps they should
send -us rabbis. . . . Perhaps
we can turn the old-age
home into a rabbinical sem-
inary." He does not know
who would teach there but
then he says, "I could give
them free lessons of law."
Danon is a member of the
first graduating class of the
Hebrew University Law
School in 1924. When Act-
ing Foreign Minister Butros
Ghali of Egypt was once
asked about him, he re-

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ferred to him as the "Israeli
among us." Indeed, Danon
was born in Jerusalem and
even though he never re-
turned- to that city after
1925, he speaks Hebrew
fluently, switching from
English to Hebrew, and
then to French and Arabic
without difficulty.
He came to Alexandria
in 1925 to work as_a coun-
sel on the Court of Inter-
national Justice of the
League of Nations. Now
he lives on his pension,
alone in an eight-room
apartment in downtown
Alexandria. A bachelor,
he has no family in Egypt.
He does not hold Egyp-
tian citizenship but says
he has no purpose in leav- _
ing the country. He is
happy here with his
friends, none of them
"I am the only Jew in the
building. When I first
moved in they were all
Europeans but they have
slowly moved out and now
all my neighbors, as well as
the landlord are Arabs. My
landlord lives on the third
floor. Once a year I go up to
him, pay my rent in ad-
vance, and that's it."
His friends are either
Jews, Italians or Greeks,
remnants of the large Euro-
pean community that used
to live in Egypt. In the
morning he meets in a coffee
house with a group of pen-
sioners and cracks jokes. In
the evening he goes to the
French Cultural Center. He
is also a member of the At-
talier, a center for artists
and writers. He himself
wrote three books in
French. "I feel as a for-
eigner," he admits, after
almost 55 years in Egypt.
We have a quiet peaceful

life here," said Clement R.
Setton, president of the
Jewish community. "But it
is boring. We feel too alone,
too separated from the
Jewish world."
The Jewish community of
Alexandria used to be one of
the more flourishing Jewish
communities outside of Is-
rael. Jews first settled in
Alexandria at the begin-
ning of the Third Century
BCE, according to Josephus
Flavius, in the time of Ale-
xander the Great. They
have always been a driving
force behind the city's
economy, which as the
country's main seaport, was
based on trade with the out-
side world.
But in recent times the
Jewish community suf-
fered three waves of de-
partures. On the out-
break of Israel's War of
Independence in 1948, re-
lations with the Arabs
worsened. Several Jews
were placed in detention
camps and there were
several assaults 'on the
Jewish community by the
local population. A bomb
was thrown into a
synagogue in July 1951.
Many_ left for Israel.
When President Gamal
Abdel Nasser assumed
power in February 1954,
many Jews were arrested
on charges of Zionism,
Communism and cur-
rency smuggling.
After the Sinai campaign
in 1956, there was a large
exodus of Egyptian Jews.
The 1960 census showed
only 2760 Jews in Alexan-
dria of a community that
once numbered 100,000
Jews. After the Six-Day
War about 350 Jews ; includ-
ing Chief Rabbi Nafusi,
were interned in the Abu

Za'Bal detention camp,
known for its severe condi-

Today there . are only 100
men and 150 women; many
of the men married non-
Jewish women. "There is no
Jewish life here," said Da-
non. "Even though I am a
member of the Council, I
come here every fortnight."
The benches in the
synagogue are marked with
the names of members oft
community. Each Jew h
his own seat, but they
hardly ever occupy it.
Danon carefully avoided
any political comments.


Danon was well ac:
quainted with Israeli poli-
tics, although not quite up
to date. Only minutes after
Begin stood in the
synagogue praying, Danon
commented: "Abba Eban
and the other group (Labor
Alignment) deserve to take
part in the peace process.
They have worked on it for

Danon observes the
scene from afar, from the
point of view of a Jew
who has lived with Arabs
most of his life. Yes, he
would like to come to
Jerusalem, visit the fam-
ily, see the city he was
born in — but he would
not stay. He feels like a
foreigner. But he wants
to stay in Alexandria. His
only real concern is the
community, what will be-
come of the community?

Danon walks out of the
synagogue, and poses for a
photograph for the record, a
little old man, with lively
blue eyes, a symbol of a once
great community that is
slowly disappearing.

JWB Prepares for High Holidays

NEW YORK — The High
Holy Days this year will be
observed by U.S. Jewish
military personnel and
their families throughout
the world through ar-
rangements made by
Jewish chaplains and the
Jewish Welfare Board's
Commission on Jewish
"There are only 55 full-
time Jewish military and
Veterans Administration
chaplains," sayd Rabbi
Judah Nadich, commission
chairman. "The commission
will help mobilize civilian
and reserve rabbis to con-
duct Rosh Hashana and
Yom Kippur services at
every base where there are
This year, Rosh Hashana
will begin at sundown Sept.
21. Yom Kippur will begin
at sundown Sept. 30.
Both JWB's Commis-
sion on Jewish Chap-
laincy and JWB's
Women's Organizations'
Services have sent ship-
ments of prayer books
and prayer shawls, yar-
mulkes, Torah scrolls,
shofars, Jewish calen-
dars and literature for
use during Rosh
Hashana, Yom Kippur,
Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret

and Simhat Torah.
Services will run the
gamut for large assemblies
in base chapels to small
gatherings on isolated sites
or ships at sea.
The first services will
take place on Guam, just
across the International
Date Line, and starting
times will follow the sun.
Pearl Harbor is the last to
finish, its post-Yom Kippur
shofar blast signaling the
end of the High Holiday
The Chaplaincy Commis-
sion of JWB will work with
the placement services of
the Central Conference of
American Rabbis, the Rab-
binical Assembly and the
Rabbinical Council of
America in helping to ar-
range civilian rabbinical
coverage at the many mili-
tary bases and VA facilities
that lack permanent Jewish
prayers and liturgical
melodies of the High Holy
Days and Sukkot are avail-
able on three commission-
produced tape cassettes.
"While ambulatory
patients generally attend
hospital services," Rabbi
Nadich notes, "the cas-

settes are often played
over VA hospital net-
works so that bedridden
Jewish patients can par-
ticipate as well." Jewish
chaplains arrange spe-
cial "break-the-fast"
suppers for those
patients who fast on Yom
Holiday leave policy for
Jewish servicemen is tradi-
tionally liberal. Those serv-
icemen who can't get home
for the holidays are offered
home hospitality by local
Jewish families. Single milk
and women are often gue&W
of military families on their
Local Jewish communal
organizations cooperate in
holiday arrangements with
the Jewish chaplains, the
JWB Chaplaincy Commis-
sion and JWB's Women's
Organizations' Services.

Gelb to Chair

Gelb of Cleveland has been
selected as chairman of the
United Jewish Appeal East
Central Region Leadership
Conference which will be
held at the Marriett East
Hotel in Cleveland from Oc-
tober 19-21.

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