The President of the Alexandria Jewish Community, Youssef Ben Gaon, has died after a long illness. A question mark hangs over the fate of the Jewish property which Mr Gaon administered.
Ben Youssef Gaon, who died earlier this month, was the last Jewish man in Alexandria (There are several widows or women married to Muslims, but they do not consider themselves part of the community).
As the president of the Jewish community in the city, he was said to control swathes of property, including synagogues, cemeteries and commercial and residential properties, all administered by a large team of Egyptians. A question mark hangs over the future of this property, much of it donated by Jews fleeing after the Suez crisis. Will it go to the Egyptian state?
Even during Ben Gaon’s lifetime, real control was said to have passed to an agent of the Egyptian state, the doorman of the Nebi Daniel synagogue, Abdel Nabi.
In his latter years Ben Gaon argued for urgent repairs to be carried out to Alexandria’s Nebi Daniel synagogue, the largest in the Middle East. The Egyptian government undertook the synagogue’s restoration at a cost of $4 million. The synagogue was re-inaugurated with great fanfare in December 2019. Egyptian Jews held their own inauguration in February 2020.
Ben Gaon was alleged to have converted to Islam, something required on marriage to a Muslim woman in Egypt. However, he divorced her and produced documentation affirming his Jewish faith. He was the nephew of Nessim Gaon, the Sudanese businessman and philanthropist who now lives in Switzerland.