EGY.COM - JUDAICA
EGYPTIAN GAZETTE, August 23, 1996
CAIRO - It was reminiscent of a "constitutional coup." The tiny Jewish community, fed up with its present command, decided early this week it was high time for change. At an impromptu meeting of the board held at the Adly Street synagogue ÷ Chaar Hashamaim, the community elders did the unthinkable when they passed a unanimous resolution allowing women on the board of directors for the first time in the history of the 1,000 year old community. Not only that, but they elected Mrs. Ester Weinstein as their new president. Sweeping changes was the order of the day, all of which gained the general assembly approval during a meeting convened the following morning.
The architect of this reform is conservationist-playwright Carmen Weinstein, daughter of the newly elected president and long regarded as a dissident within the community. The Weinsteins, along with the approximately 100 other Egyptian Jews of Cairo, are all that remain from those who chose not to join their brethren who moved to Europe, Americas and Israel in the late 1960s.
Rumblings and warning signs of unrest within the community started several years ago when it was asserted that some of its former presidents had a penchant for running the show single-handed as though it were a private foundation. Muffled accusations of asset-stripping were compounded with cries that artifacts and other Judaica belonging to the abandoned synagogues were 'disposed of' without prior consultation with JCC's board. Accountability was altogether absent, says Weinstein fille. Crucial resolutions were taken without the knowledge of those supposedly in the know.
"All this will now change," says Carmen Weinstein, who, besides her responsibilities as PR of the community, is the indefatigable curator of the millennium old Jewish cemetery of Bassatine. "The board needed new blood and a strong infusion of vigor. And since the gender gap within the community is 2:1 favoring women, it was only natural that they should have a say in its affairs."
The once thriving Jewish community of Egypt had several pashas and beys for its presidents. Early this century, Cairo's Sephardi board was headed by Moise de Cattaui Pasha whose roots in Egypt went back several hundred years. At one point he was ennobled by the Austrian emperor Franz-Jozef for services rendered to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Another president was Cattaui's nephew, Senator Youssef Aslan Cattaui Pasha, minister of finance in Ahmed Ziwar Pasha's government of 1924.
In 1946, communal leadership slipped out of Cattaui hands and was taken over by Salvatore Cicurel Bey, Egypt's fencing champion at the 1928 Olympic games. He was owner and chief executive of the department store chain that still bears his name today. After Cicurel's resignation in the mid-fities, the communal presidency was headed successively by Maitre Albert Romano, Felix Isckaki and Youssef Dana.
The last president of the community was Mr. Emile Rousseau, a former employee of the Banque Belge et Internationale en Egypte. Presently summering overseas, he is unaware of these latest developments. A palace coup was the last thing he expected of his previously docile flock.
As for the new Madam President, she is the proprietor of Weinstein Printers & Stationery on Cherif Pasha Street. Visit its antiquated backroom and you will quickly realize that even though it houses one of Cairo's oldest surviving printshops, it still bustles with animation, just like the dauntless mother and daughter team that run it.