October 30, 2012 | 5:53 am
Posted Zuzanna Jakubowska/ Poland
During all my visits to Israel and throughout the time I lived there, I always wondered what it is like in the country next to the Holy Land, the country to which travel is strictly prohibited. Especially because my Jewish grandfather lived there for several years and I have friends in Beirut. I "saw" Lebanon many times from across the Israeli border and in my dreams I could just walk across. In 2010 I went there for the first time, putting behind me the whole political issue... and I really fell in love with this country.
When we think about Lebanon, especially never having been there, we don't have in mind the best associations. And of course, especially for Jews, it is not the easiest place to visit, but I discovered there a country full of culture, beautiful architecture, great people and the best of food and nightlife. Lebanon is different from other Arab countries, with so many types of religion - Sunni, Shia, Druze, Maronite Catholics, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and others, making for an amazing mix of people. I was very lucky to meet Hiba, a wonderful Shia girl from Beirut, who was very interested in Jewish history, the Arab - Israeli conflict and had some knowledge of Hebrew. During my stay in Beirut she told me a lot about Jewish history in Lebanon, and showed me what is left of it there.
The Jewish population in Lebanon, located mainly in Beirut, then Saida and Tripoli, reached around 24 000 people in 1948, with sixteen synagouges located just in Beirut. In the mid-50's only 7,000 people were left and finally in 2008, fewer than a 100. Now only 30 Jews live in the entire country. The main Jewish quarter - Wadi Abu Jamil, formally known as Wadi Al-Yahoud, located in Beirut's center, was the hub of the Lebanese Jewish Community. Alongside the main, oldest and largest of them - Beirut's Maghen Abraham Synagogue. The synagogue was constructed in 1925 and badly damaged during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). Wadi Abu Jamil is really a beautiful area, but the old Jewish quarter that surrounded the synagogue was never rebuilt. When we walked by I saw high stone walls and Lebanese soldiers looking at my camera, telling me that "the building is closed" and "no photos". I was really disappointed, hoping to see the building from the inside. In 2009, Magen Abraham Synagogue started to be renovated by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council, with its leader - Isaac Arazi. The project was confirmed by the Lebanese government, Hezbollah, and other community leaders. Arazi has managed to collect 40 000 dollars, however the full cost of renovation may reach 1 million. The situation regarding the only Jewish cemetary in Beirut is no better, located near Sodaco on Damascus road, it was used as a boundary for the Christian Phalange and was damaged during the Lebanese civil war. The first burial took place in 1829, and since then 3,300 people have been buried there. The Jewish Community Council of Beirut is hoping to renovate the cemetery as they are the synagouge. Thanks to Hiba, I saw the cemetery by climbing a wall, it does not look good, however - half of the graves are destroyed and the entire cemetery is overgrown like a jungle. In any case, my entire trip to Lebanon was a great experience. So great that I went back. The website of Lebanese Jews - www.thejewsoflebanonproject.org
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