Beirut's Synagogue Gets a Facelift as It Edges Its 95 Year Anniversary

 The Magen Avraham Synagogue in Beirut 


This week's headlines saw Beirut, Lebanon in the news for the most devastating explosion that the country - which has known much war - has ever seen. The casualties in the Al Ma'arfa neighborhood blast are many, and it has left the country reeling.

Some ten blocks from the site of the explosion, just passed the ruins of an ancient Roman bathhouse, in the once-Jewish Wadi Abou Jmiel neighborhood, lies the Magen Avraham synagogue. The synagogue, which recently underwent decade-long extensive renovations after being heavily damaged in the Lebanese Civil War, was damaged by the explosion, though it did remain standing.

Among restaurants and food stands selling falafel, shawarma and labaneh cheese laffas, the Magen Avraham synagogue has stood for nearly a century. It represents a rich history of Jews in Lebanon, stretching far beyond the synagogue's ninety five years.

Lebanon is mentioned in the Torah seventy five times, and the southern part of the country was actually part of the the first Jewish kingdoms, with the territory of the tribe of Asher stretching all the way to Sidon, twenty miles south of Beirut.

Lebanon is so intertwined with Jewish history, that its very name is given special meaning, on two fronts:

Firstly, the Kabbalah (the mystical part of the Torah) divides the name Lebanon in two. The first half of the word ('לב') represents the divine power of creative wisdom, from which human wisdom stems, while the second half ('נון') represents the divine power of understanding, from which human understanding stems.

Secondly, Lebanon was also a name used for the 'Beit Hamikdash' - the Holy Temple which stood in Jerusalem - for it was partially made of Lebanese cedar wood. The Beit Hamikdash was not primarily a place of logical analysis, though the sages of the Supreme Court sat within its walls. The Temple was a place of spiritual light, where the joy and beauty of Judaism was palpable.

The name 'Lebanon' thus simultaneously represents joy, as well as intellectual power, encapsulating these two seemingly separate characteristics in one. For without joy, without faith and without a genuine love and pride in being Jewish, the intellect has nothing to build on. Yes, Passover and the High Holidays have countless pages of meaningful reasoning and explanations, but if one hasn't experienced a family Seder or Sukkot celebration, the reasoning and explanations fade away.

Ultimately, the mind is but a tool we possess. It builds on the morals, faith, family and joie de vivre which we can establish for ourselves as unshakable foundations. And it's spelled out for us right there, in a Middle Eastern country's name.

Rabbi Avrohom