Cairo: Rededication, Maimonides synagogue, March 7-9

Yves Fedida of the International Nebi Daniel Association has announced the dedication of the restored Moses Maimonides (Rab Moshe) Cairo Synagogue and Yeshiva on March 7-9, in Cairo, Egypt.

The event is by invitation only. Read below to learn how to request an invitation.

See a video (9:47 minutes) on the Maimonides project and visit the association’s website, available in several languages.

Learn about the synagogues of Egypt here. To see a short video on Alexandria’s synagogues, click here. This is the El Nabi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria:

Cairo’s Rabbi Moshe complex – and another nine synagogues in Egypt – are historical heritage sites under the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Through an extensive restoration program, the Supreme Council of Antiquities – with the help of the Jewish Community of Cairo – has completed the renovation of the Maimonides complex.

The rooms have niches where, until recently, sick people of all faiths and genders would spend the night praying for recovery or fertility.

The synagogue adjacent to these rooms was built in the early 19th-century. The yeshiva suffered recurring flooding from underground water and the synagogue was badly damaged in the 1992 earthquake. The restoration has been a painstaking effort returning the compound as faithfully as possible to its original splendour .

The three-day event program includes visits to synagogues and cemeteries, music presentations, history talks, refreshments, brunches and dinners.

– Dinner in the communal centre of the main Synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim, built in the early 20th-century and faithfully restored in its rich decorations.

– Visit to Fostat (Old Cairo) where the oldest remaining synagogue in Egypt stands, believed to have been first built around 340BC.

The pre-Islamic Ben Ezra Synagogue which has also been perfectly restored was the synagogue where Rab Moshe prayed and held services as the head of the Jewish community of the time. The famous Geniza Papers were found at the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the new Geniza museum in the Ben Ezra complex has a number of reproductions of these papers.

– A visit to the also recently restored Moussa Dar’i Synagogue built by the Karaite community in the 1920s. It features Art Deco lotus flower columns and an imposing dome.

– Finally, a visit to the Jewish cemetery at Bassatine, in the southeast outskirts of Cairo, a vast site that has not been easy to maintain.

The Jewish Community of Cairo has made heroic efforts to defend it against a highway overpass and squatters’ buildings which have encroached on the territory itself. Most of the marble tombstones have been stolen in 1967 so that the majority of the tombs are today unidentifiable. However, the Cairo Community has built a perimeter wall and continues to landscape the cemetery and guard it against vandals. It maintains a list of a number of tombs that have been identified.

Events on Sunday, March 7 start at 2pm at the complex, with a presentation, Ladino music, prayer, refreshments, history of Maimonides, history of Jews in Egypt, Arabic songs and a program by the Supreme Council of Antiquities. At 6pm, attendess will have an oriental Egyptian dinner at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue.

On Monday, March 8, attend a meeting at the Ben Ezra Synagogue, a presentation on Maimonides and his letters discovered in the Genizah, and brunch, followed in the evening by a 9pm dinner reception.

On Tuesday, March 9, attendees will visit the restored Karaite Synagogue, hear the community history. There will be optional tours of other synagogues and the Bassatine Cemetery.

Attendance is by invitation only, which can be applied for from the Cairo Jewish community. Email here or here for more information.

UK: 1939 census may hold answers

Looking for ancestors who lived in the UK in 1939? The following new resource may help, according to London researcher Laurence Harris.

While census records are a major source of information for family historians and genealogists, access to recent records is limited in most countries, thus access to this 1939 collection may be useful to researchers.

Laurence writes that there has been a UK census (England and Wales), recording individual names and other relevant details, every 10 years since 1841, with 1911 being the last publicly released census data for individuals:

  • There was a 1921 census (data to be released in 2021).
  • The 1931 census data was destroyed during WWII.
  • There was no 1941 census due to the war.
  • There is a massive gap (1911-1951) in currently available UK census information.
  • In preparation for war, an effective census (1939 National Registration Act) was taken on September 29, 1939, including such details as name, sex, age, occupation, marital status and membership in the armed forces.
  • Data was later used for issuance of ID cards, post-war National Insurance numbers, and other purposes.

In a recent development, individuals may now apply to have a copy of the data in this 1939 register (relating to those then living in England or Wales) by applying to The Information Centre of the NHS (National Health Service).

CAVEAT: Data is only supplied about individuals known by the NHS to be deceased (they know about the deaths of most individuals who died in the UK) or whom the researcher can prove is deceased.

Laurence has personally contacted the NHS department handling applications for 1939 data and shared the following information.

There are two main ways of applying:

  • Supply the full name and (exact) date of birth of an individual – and you will be sent all the details they have about that individual including their 1939 address, OR
  • Supply a 1939 address in the UK and they will supply the details of up to 10 persons living at that address at that time.

The data is not publicly available online, and each application costs a hefty non-refundable £42. CAVEAT: The fee is non-refundable even if no information is found or if it is incomplete or illegible, or if information is located but cannot be released because it relates to a person whose death cannot be proved by the NHS or the researcher.

However, says Laurence, “Despite the high cost of obtaining this data and the restrictions on its availability, this unique source may provide some researchers with breakthrough information about their ancestors at the outbreak of WWII.”

For details about the process (England and Wales only), click here for the application form, payment information and more. For access to the 1939 Scottish data, click here for more information.

Researchers should bear in mind, adds Laurence, that to get details of family members in 1939 – if you don’t know their September 1939 address – might require two separate sequential applications:

  • Step 1: Apply to obtain an address, AND
  • Step 2: Apply to find out who else was living at that address.

No information will be given for individuals who are or could be living.

Those who request an address search will only be provided the names and details of people known to be deceased. If there were other family members who could still be alive, the researcher will not be told.

Readers who would like more information about this data or other sources for tracing people who lived in – or passed through the UK – from 1880-1950, should contact Laurence, who is a specialist in UK Jewish family history research.