Courtesy Reuters Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut

Lebanon's Jewish Revival

An Embattled Minority Restores Its Past

Miriam Mizrahi Guindi, a Syrian Jew originally from Aleppo, set sail from Mexico City to Beirut in 1946. Already pregnant, she would soon give birth in her husband Elias’ hometown, the Lebanese capital. Miriam returned to the city on three occasions to deliver the youngest of her six children, spending five or so months there each time. Like many émigré Lebanese and Syrian Jews, Miriam and Elias maintained a strong attachment to the region despite having left their homeland. Both spoke French and Hebrew since their youth, but Arabic was their native and preferred tongue.

Although the pair immigrated early on to the Americas for better economic opportunities, most other Lebanese Jews would also leave in later years, fearing insecurity or the possibility of discrimination. Unlike the majority of Arab states, from which Jews left en masse after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Lebanon saw its Jewish community grow through most of the 1950s. But in the summer of 1958, clashes between Lebanese Christians and Muslims highlighted the instability of the country and region. The series of Arab-Israeli wars in the two decades following offered further confirmation: by 1970, a community that had once numbered over 12,000 had dwindled to fewer than 2,000.

For those who remained, things soon got worse. During the 1975–1990 civil war, Beirut’s historic Jewish quarter found itself along a fault line that divided warring East and West Beirut. The neighborhood saw regular clashes and mortar fire; in 1982, the Israel Defense Forces shelled the synagogue, leaving a gaping hole in the roof and the structure in disrepair as part of a campaign in the area against fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization. The persistent clashes convinced almost all of the Jewish community’s remaining members to leave the country. Fewer than 200 Lebanese Jews still live in Lebanon today.

But some Lebanese are now hoping this trend can be reversed -- and there is cause for cautious optimism. In a posh but heavily guarded area of downtown Beirut, a symbol

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