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Heliopolis Synagogue Holds Cairo’s First Jewish New Year Celebration in 70 Years

September 16, 2023

The Jewish community in Cairo celebrated the Jewish New Year 5784, commonly known as Rosh Hashanah, at the Vitali Madjar Synagogue in Heliopolis, which has been closed for decades.

The celebration, held on Friday, marks the first time in 70 years the Jewish community has been able to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at this synagogue. It was cleaned and restored by the Drop of Milk Association, which aims to preserve and celebrate Egypt’s rich Jewish heritage.

The ceremony was attended by the head of the Jewish community in Egypt, Magda Haroun, as well as other members of the Drop of Milk Association, including women’s rights activist Soraya Bahgat.

Rosh Hashanah commenced on Friday, 15 September and will end on Sunday, 17 September at nightfall.

It is one of the most important celebrations in Jewish people, as it commemorates the creation of the world in their faith, and marks the start of the first month of the Hebrew Year and the 10-day period known as Days of Awe that lead up to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year according to Judaism.

During Rosh Hashanah, many Jewish families will spend some of the day at a synagogue. One of the traditions is to blow on one of the world’s oldest known wind instruments, the shofar, where a hundred notes are blown on the horn to create a special rhythm.

The Torah is read and Jews symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread into water and reading select passages.

In 2017, the Vitali Madjar Synagogue saw cleaning and repairing for the first time in 50 years.

Cairo was formerly the center of Jewish life in Egypt, it’s Jewish population roughly accounting to 80,000 by the mid-20th century. In the 1950s, Egypt saw a massive Jewish exodus, and most of Egypt’s Jewry became outcasted as a byproduct of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Today, Haroun aims to revive Egypt’s Jewish heritage, with plans to host cultural events that can honor the history, present, and future.

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