Rescuing Cairo's Leishaa Jewish Cemetery

The conservation of one of Egypt's few remaining Jewish cemeteries

By American Research Center In Egypt

Leishaa cemetery, located in south Cairo, is one of the few Jewish cemeteries remaining in Egypt. This is the family plot of the Leishaa family of Karaite Jews. 

Leishaa Cemtery After Conservation by Project PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt

However, the Jewish community in Egypt declined sharply after most people left in the 1960's. The cemeteries have been neglected and repurposed by people living in the neighborhood. 

Leishaa Cemtery Before Conservation by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The people using the space had moved out by the time the conservation project started, but they left behind intrusive structures which had to be removed along with truckloads of garbage and debris.

Leishaa Cemetery Before Conservation by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The graves had been badly disturbed. 

Leishaa Cemetery Before Conservation by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

So in 2019, the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) initiated a project, funded by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, to clean and preserve two Kariate Jewish cemeteries in Cairo; Leishaa, which you see here, and the neighboring Menasha graveyard.

Leishaa Cemtery Before Conservation by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Dr. Louise Bertini, the Executive Director of ARCE, discusses some of the conservation challenges at Leishaa and Menasha graveyards.

The Preservation of Jewish-Egyptian HeritageAmerican Research Center In Egypt

After manual and chemical cleaning of the granite, the graves were reassembled and new paving stone placed in front.

Leishaa Cemtery After Conservation by Project PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The graves were originally inlaid with lead, which was removed and stolen. Conservators mixed zinc and black oxide to form a paste of the same color to act as a substitute for lead and recreate the inscriptions.

Gravestone in Leishaa Cemetery by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

There were also holes in the surrounding walls that needed to be repaired and strengthened.

Wall of Leishaa Cemetery Before Conservation by Ayman DamaranyAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The iron gate and stone façade were also cleaned, repaired, and protected.

Gate to Leishaa Cemetery After Conservation by Ahmed ShafiqAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The prayer house was where the family would congregate when visiting their deceased loved ones. The steps were rebuilt and the wood door repaired, and the walls stabilized.

Prayer House After Conservation by Project Staff PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Leishaa Cemtery Before Conservation, Ayman Damarany, 2019-12, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Leishaa Cemtery After Conservation, Project Photographer, 2020-08, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Leishaa Cemtery Before Conservation, Ayman Damarany, 2019-12, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Leishaa Cemtery After Conservation, Project Staff Photographer, 2020-08, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Leishaa Cemtery Before Conservation, Ayman Damarany, 2019-12, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Leishaa Cemtery After Conservation, Project Photographer, 2020-08, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
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Looking Forward

Now that the site is restored and secure, the next step is to add landscaping and informational signs. 

Sharing Heritage

In collaboration with the Drop of Millk Association, the team also developed a site management plan, including a visitors center, to ensure the site continues to be protected and available to visitors and locals curious about the history of Jewish families in Egypt. 

Wall and Gate of Leishaa Cemetery by Ahmed ShafiqAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The preservation of this small family cemetery is the first step in a mission to protect Egypt's Jewish heritage and bringing light to this aspect of the Egypt's rich history.

Wall and Gate of Leishaa Cemetery by Ahmed ShafiqAmerican Research Center In Egypt

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Credits: Story

This conservation of the historic Jewish cemetery of Basatin was conducted by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in collaboration with the Drop of Milk Association and funded by the  U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP).

Story created by Tessa Litecky, ARCE
Learn more about ARCE at arce.org  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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