CAIRO — The 19th-century synagogue of Maimonides in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter reopened Sunday after a nearly two-year restoration by Egyptian authorities, participants at the opening told AFP.
They said some 150 people attended the opening, including Yitzhak Levanon and Margaret Scobey, the ambassadors of Israel and the United States respectively.
About a dozen rabbis from Israel and abroad also were at the ceremony.
"When I first set foot here only five years ago, the synagogue was in ruins and its roof opened to the sky", said Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
Baker praised Egyptian authorities for recognising that Jewish religious sites are also an integral part of Egyptian heritage and Egyptian culture, and for leading the restoration project, the AJC said in a statement.
Egyptian officials were absent from the ceremony, and Culture Minister Faruq Hosni explained that was because Sunday's opening was a purely religious ceremony.
Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said that a more formal opening on March 14 would be attended by Egyptian officials.
Egypt is happy to tout its Pharaonic antiquities, but authorities remain more discrete when it comes to restoration of ancient Jewish sites.
Egypt restored diplomatic ties with Egypt in 1979, but many in the predominantly Muslim country remain opposed to better cultural ties with the Jewish state.
Egypt began restoration of its Jewish sites several years ago.
Egypt's Jewish population, which numbered in the tens of thousands and enjoyed complete religious freedom, began a mass exodus after Egypt and several other Arab countries fought a war in 1948 with the new state of Israel.
Only a few dozen Jews still remain in Egypt.
The synagogue of Maimonides, known in Egypt by its Arabic name of Musa bin Maymun, is named after the 12th century Jewish scholar, philosopher and physician.
Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1135 and fled from persecution to Egypt where he died in 1204.
The synagogue is built over the site where he was briefly buried before his remains were moved to Tiberias, in what is now Israel.
Egypt has 11 Jewish houses of worship. Some of them have already been restored, such as the Ben Ezer synagogue in Old Cairo and the Shaar Hashamayim in downtown Cairo.
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