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February 22, 2019 3:04 pm

Leading US Jewish Group Praises Egyptian President’s Decision to Restore Cairo Cemetery

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A view of the area around Egypt’s largest surviving Jewish cemetery. Photo: Cairo Jewish community.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Friday gave a warm endorsement of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision earlier this week to clean and protect the historic Jewish Bassatine Cemetery in Cairo and to make available the country’s Jewish Communal Registers.

A statement from AJC noted that the global advocacy organization had “long called for these and other measures to preserve the heritage of the Egyptian Jewish community, which once numbered more than 80,000 and today is estimated to be fewer than 20.”

“Egypt’s commitment to preserve Jewish sites and records is vitally important,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs, who has visited Cairo regularly to meet with government officials.

Bassatine Cemetery, which dates to the ninth century, contains thousands of Jewish graves. Neglected for years, most of the inscribed headstones have been looted and squatter’s apartments cover much of the original site. Broken walls leave it unprotected, and garbage is strewn throughout the cemetery. The cemetery is the only remaining Jewish gravesite that remains in Cairo and is Egypt’s largest.

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Following Sisi’s announcement, bulldozers and other equipment were dispatched to the cemetery to begin the clean-up process.

The Communal Registers contain important personal data, including births, deaths and marriages, of the Jewish Communities of Cairo and Alexandria.

“For many Egyptian Jews these are the only formal records which might otherwise be inscribed in civil records,” Baker said. “And there are cases where they are very important in proving a person’s Jewish identity, for burial or for marriage.”

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