Carmen Weinstein: Leader of Egypt's Jewish community

 

Carmen Weinstein, who died on 13 April at the age of 82, was the leader of Egypt's dwindling and aging Jewish community, known for her tireless work preserving synagogues and a once-sprawling Jewish cemetery. She is due to be buried in the Bassatine cemetery she had worked to save since 1978. It is the only Jewish cemetery left in Cairo and is the largest in Egypt.

The transformation of Bassatine mirrors the changes Egypt has undergone as its population increased rapidly and poverty grew. The cemetery is now a slum of tightly packed redbrick buildings housing thousands of poor Egyptians from villages in the south. Parts were turned into a rubbish tip, while another area was seized by antiquities officials. Weinstein was able to preserve a small area as a Jewish cemetery. Several members of her own family are buried there.

Egypt's once thriving Jewish community largely left more than 60 years ago during hostilities between the country and Israel. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, around 65,000 Jews have left, their departure fueled by rising nationalist sentiment during the Arab-Israeli wars, along with harassment and expulsions by President Nasser. According to a friend of Weinstein, Magda Haroun, only around 40 Egyptian Jews remain, some in Cairo, others in Alexandria.

Like other young Jews, Weinstein attended school and university alongside Muslims and Christians. She was a graduate of Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, where she studied literature. Weinstein's father owned a large print shop in Cairo, and she worked there for half a century after his death. The family's name remains on the shop, which now sells stationery.

As the president of the Jewish Community in Cairo, Weinstein helped persuade Egyptian authorities to renovate at least four Cairo synagogues. The day before she died she had travelled to the Maadi suburb to inspect a renovation. Haroun said that one of her other triumphs was in convincing Egypt's remaining Jews to come together and use Cairo's main synagogue after it had been closed for years. "We were scattered all over Cairo and she managed to regroup us and keep us together," she said. "She insisted that we all celebrate religious events at the synagogue."

Weinstein worked to remind people that Jews in Egypt were once part of the country's vibrant economy and cultural and political life. Haroun said she often reminisced of the Egypt she knew growing up, when neighbours did not ask about one another's religion.

In her last community newsletter, Weinstein wrote about this year's Passover ceremony in late March that was celebrated by about 50 people, many of them diplomats, in Cairo's main synagogue: "The recent declining numbers notwithstanding, we're thankful that we are still a crowd, albeit a small one."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam