March 2, 2021

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How Beirut synagogue benefactor mystery was solved

It was serendipity, only possible in this era of social media.

 Nagi Zeidan, the historian whose book Juifs du Liban  is about to come out, was missing one last piece of information before the book went to press. He was trying to track down the identity of the benefactor who funded the building of Beirut’s Maghen Avraham synagogue in 1926. 
 It was then that Nagi’s Facebook information-seeking post, written 90 minutes before the port explosion on 4 August 2020, came to the attention of journalist and author Tim Judah, who lives in London, and his daughter Esther Judah, who travelled  to Beirut for the news agency WFP after the port exploded. 
Tim’s great-. great-grandfather from Calcutta funded the construction of the Beirut synagogue in 1926 (another benefactor paid for the land.) After the war all contact was lost.
 Tim Judah is the son of Joseph-Vivian, son of Emmanuel Judah. Emmanuel was married to Ramah, daughter of Moise, son of Abraham Sasson. Ramah’s father Moise paid for the construction of the Maghen Abraham synagogue in memory of his father Abraham Sasson, who was buried in Beirut in 1897.

This photo would have solved the puzzle: it shows two plaques in memory of Moise Sasson’s father on either side of the front entrance to the synagogue. Esther Judah visited the synagogue on 8 September 2020 to ascertain the damage cause by the port explosion. The plaques were missing – probably stolen for their marble.

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