Carmen Weinstein, president of the Jewish community of Cairo, will be laid to
rest on Thursday between her father and her mother in the Bassatine
I was fortunate in counting her as my friend since our first
meeting more than 30 years ago.
Carmen was born to a well-to-do family in
1931, the last of the golden days of Egyptian Jewry. A graduate of the American
University of Cairo, she was fluent in French and English – and of course
Blessed with sharp intelligence and a ready wit, she was looking
to a bright future writing plays and being part of the cultural scene of her
country. Fate decreed otherwise.
When the Jews of Egypt were forced into
exile, she stubbornly refused to leave, and despite years of hardship and the
loss of many of her family’s assets, she managed to retain the printing shop
founded by her father and to turn it into a going concern.
mother, Esther, was elected president of the community in 1996 at the age of 86,
it was Carmen who actually took care of things. She became president in 2004
when Esther passed away.
By that time there were fewer and fewer Jews in
Cairo, all of them elderly. Soon there were no men left.
Carmen battled to save what could be saved of the heritage of a once vibrant
She took care of her aging flock though she was barely
younger. She fought to preserve the ancient Bassatine cemetery, threatened by
encroaching neighbors, vandalism and urban expansion.
instrumental in bringing about the restoration of the Sha’ar Hashama’im
synagogue and more recently, of the Rambam synagogue in what had once been
Cairo’s Jewish quarter.
When she passed away last week, she was eulogized
by the press in Egypt, which does not, as a rule, have anything good to say
about Jews. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who famously called Jews “sons of
pigs and monkeys,” published a communiqué praising “a dedicated Egyptian who
worked tirelessly to preserve Egyptian Jewish heritage.”
The New York
Times and The Washington Post, as well as France’s Le Figaro, all wrote lengthy
obituaries. This may not be too little, but it is certainly too late.
years Carmen had battled alone in an increasingly hostile environment. Virulent
anti-Semitic articles were published in the press, and she herself was not
immune to attack.
Sadly, some Jewish organizations abroad have condemned
her for not releasing records and documents concerning her community, but she
could not do so because of opposition from the Egyptian government.
recent years, her failing health made her work increasingly difficult. The
tributes now heaped on her would have been most welcome then, and would have
made her task so much easier.
Fortunately, she did have good friends,
both in Egypt and abroad, people who comforted her in difficult times and
rejoiced with her when things got better.
She will be remembered as the
last grande dame of a bygone era, the last survivor of a community which did so
much for Egypt and was so badly rewarded.
The writer is the wife of Zvi
Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. She is the author of The Ambassador’s
Wife, a personal account of the eight years she spent in Cairo with her
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!