Lebanon News

Sidon synagogue opens for rare prayers

The rabbis tour the synagogue, which now houses a Palestinian family. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Prayers were said for the first time in decades in Sidon’s main synagogue Monday, as two rabbis visited what is now the house of Palestinian refugees and other Jewish sites in the city, drawing the surprise of locals.

Rabbis Yisroel Dovid Weiss and Alter Vaskhkal from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta International movement toured the city years after the last of Sidon’s known Lebanese Jews left, entering what was once a synagogue in the former Jewish neighborhood of the old city.

Neturei Karta International calls for the peaceful dismantling of Israel.

A Palestinian family displaced during the June 1967 war – when Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt – now lives in the synagogue.

Taking off their shoes on the request of the current residents, Weiss and Vakshal, pro-Palestinian ultra-Orthodox Jews, performed prayers in the house.

The rabbis said they hoped the Palestinian family would soon return home, and that they are pained by the crimes and sufferings inflicted by the Zionist movement and Israel on Palestinians in and outside Palestine.

Residents of the former Jewish neighborhood stood in its alleys as the rabbis walked by, observing them with surprise and calling out greetings. Weiss and Vakshal seemed comfortable, acting playfully with local children.

Weiss stressed that Palestine should return to the Palestinians and that the Zionist occupation should end, calling Palestine the cradle of all civilizations as well as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with former Sidon MP Ossama Saad, head of the Popular Nasserite Organization, Weiss said the Zionist movement had made irrelevant Palestine’s standing as the cradle of religions and civilizations, adding that it is a movement which directly fights God.

Many Jews once lived in Sidon, especially in the former Jewish neighborhood. Their property is still registered in their names or in that of the Jewish community in Lebanon.

A small number of Jews left the city fearing persecution after the foundation of Israel in 1948, which forced the displacement of hundreds of thousands Palestinians. Significant numbers of Jews began to leave Sidon after the Civil War began in 1975.

Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Sidon, some former Jewish residents who had fled the city returned. Accompanied by Israeli officers, they examined the Jewish cemetery, the synagogue, and the place where Zebulun, the head of one of the 12 biblical tribes of ancient Israel, is traditionally believed to be buried.

During the 1982-1985 Israeli occupation of the city, returning Jews began to renovate the Jewish cemetery and Zebulun’s grave, which was hit by Israeli jets at the outset of the invasion.

But Jewish sites were neglected once again after the Israeli army pulled out of Sidon in 1985.

Weiss stressed that there is no essential difference between Islam and Judaism, saying that people from the two religions lived together peacefully before the advent of the Zionist movement and the creation of Israel.

He explained that Israeli acts of violence have harmed the Jews and prompted hostility toward them.

Weiss and Vakshal visited the Zebulun site and the abandoned Jewish cemetery in the southern Dikirman neighborhood, carefully examining the names of co-religionists buried in the graveyard.

Last week, the two rabbis participated in a march to Beaufort Castle in Nabatieh to mark Land Day, which commemorates a violent 1976 crackdown by Israeli troops on Palestinians protesting land confiscations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2012, on page 4.




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