According to an official statement issued by the US embassy in Cairo, the diplomatic entity has decided to fund the conservation of the Bassatine Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries worldwide, in the Egyptian capital.
The news was announced on Thursday on the embassy’s website as well as social media accounts.
The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) will provide the implementation of the much-needed conservation work which will be carried out by the American Research Center in Egypt in collaboration with the Drop of Milk Foundation.
“We are proud to partner in preserving and protecting Egypt’s heritage sites. This Ambassadors Fund project at Bassatine Cemetery is an investment in Egypt’s diverse cultural history, and an opportunity to raise awareness of Egypt’s diversity,” stated the newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen at the inauguration event of the project.
In a bid to assist in the preservation of cultural and historical sites as well as projects in developing countries, the AFCP acts as financial support to efforts keeping local heritage alive.
In Egypt in particular, Jewish intangible and tangible heritage is perceived in a dire state. Many of the country’s temples and cemeteries, worn from a lack of consistent use and care, have been left discarded.
Former head of the Jewish community in Egypt, Carmen Weinstein, was buried in the Bassatine cemetery which dates to the 9th century. Weinstein herself worked to save the burial ground, one of the largest in the country, since 1978.
The burial ground of Bassatine is the resting place of various Jewish sub-communities – namely Karaite and Rabbanite – as well as of famed Rabbi Haim Capusi and reputable, wealthy Jewish families.
Lately, more efforts have been dedicated to maintaining structures of Jewish heritage. Last week, the Egyptian government re-opened the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, which is one of the largest in the Middle East. Its restoration took three years, and cost around 65 million EGP.
Egypt’s Jewish community shrank over the years due to the time of hostilities between the country and Israel.
Estimates say that since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, about 65,000 Jews left Egypt — most of them traveling to Europe and the U.S.
According to the Economist, Egypt’s Jewish population is rapidly dwindling. Although the number was estimated to be at 80,000 before the second World war, the number is well around 20 today and mostly composed of elderly citizens.
A number of synagogues exist in Egypt, namely Cairo, such as the Ben Ezra synagogue, Khokha Synagogue, Pahad Itzhak Synagogue, the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synanogue downtown and Vitali Madjar Synanogue in Heliopolis. However, only the downtown temple seems to be in most use.