Egypt’s tiny Jewish community, a frail remnant of a once flourishing minority, has held a rare public ceremony in memory of its veteran leader, Carmen Weinstein, but the country’s Islamist leaders stayed away.
Weinstein, 82, died last Saturday at her home in Cairo where she was known over the past two decades for leading efforts to preserve the overwhelmingly Muslim country’s Jewish heritage.
Diplomats from the United States and Israel yesterday joined about 100 mourners at a ceremony, partly broadcast on one private television channel, at the heavily guarded Sha’ar Hashamayim (Gate of Heaven) synagogue in downtown Cairo.
The Jewish community has struggled to keep the faith alive and maintain its culture after its numbers dwindled to a few dozen members in recent years from some 80,000 in the 1950s.
Most Jews fled Egypt because of attacks on the community during and after the 1956 war, when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula along with Britain and France in an attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal.
Ms Weinstein was buried later at the Bassatine Cemetery, Cairo’s only active Jewish burial site, which she had helped safeguard against vandalism during her lifetime.
On its English-language website, the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper called her “The ‘Iron Lady’ of Egypt’s Jews”.
“She was a very dignified woman who was very committed to the existing Jewish community. She was a real asset …She stayed here when many other people left over the years,” said Barry Friedman, a US Jew living in Cairo.