Jewish Lebanese expat funds restoration project for Sidon’s cemetery
An initiative to restore a rundown Jewish cemetery in southern Lebanon was funded anonymously by a New York-based member of the diaspora. (YouTube)
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A rundown Jewish cemetery in southern Lebanon marked by a tangled mess of uncut weeds, barbed wire, garbage and cracked gravestones inscribed in Hebrew, Arabic and French is in the process of rehabilitation thanks to an anonymously funded initiative.
Restoration of the Sidon cemetery after decades of neglect is a new project funded by a Lebanese-Jewish expat, al-Jazeera reported on Sunday.
The cemetery is located on the outskirts of the coastal city and is home to over 300 tombs scattered over 20,000 square meters, with some dating back to the 18th century.
Nagi Zeidan, a Lebanese Christian historian writing a book on the Jews of Lebanon, says he is leading restoration efforts on the donor’s behalf.
“This is not being done by the municipality,” said Zeidan, who has been using local birth and death records to research Lebanon’s Jewish community since 1995.
“This is paid for by one man from the Jewish community here, and I have been sent to oversee it,” he said.
“He wants to fix all the stones on the tombs,” Zeidan said of the man funding the renovation project. The donor, who lives in New York and is of Lebanese-Jewish descent, wishes to remain anonymous.
According to Zeidan, the cemetery first fell into disrepair during the country’s 15-year civil war when fighting gripped the southern coastal area.
He said Israeli soldiers renovated the graveyard somewhat when IDF troops were deployed inside Lebanon in 1982. Following the army’s retreat, however, the cemetery was vandalized by local residents.
Zeidan’s research indicates the southern city was home to approximately 40 Jewish families, all of whom left during the first Lebanon War. He says the last known burial at the Sidon cemetery is dated 1985.
After a several years of work by a handful of local groups, a new gate and wall enclosing the site was recently unveiled.
In Sidon, where there are still buildings bearing the names of Jewish families like Nigri, Hadid and Balanciano, the community numbered more than 1,000 in 1956, but had disappeared completely by 1985. Zeidan said Jews left Lebanon steadily for Israel, Brazil, Europe and the United States, but the community’s real exodus began after the 1967 Six Day War.
Zeidan said he hasn’t run into any opposition from local authorities doing the restoration work. “We have had no problems so far,” he said. “But we have also been very discreet. This is how we work.”
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