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    Jacob & the Jewish quarter – Vayyechi

    Map of ancient Egypt

    Big European cities often highlight their old Jewish Quarter on the local tourist circuit. Rome, Prague, Vienna and Budapest are prime examples. Remnants of old synagogues and Jewish shops are visible and visited but mostly as mere sites of antiquity.

    Every now and then you find an active synagogue, a kosher restaurant and a handful of Jewish food stores, but generally there are few signs of viable Jewish life. What happened to the local Jews is well known: today’s Jews are mostly tourists.

    There are abandoned Jewish districts in a number of Middle Eastern localities too, though they are harder and more dangerous for Jews to visit.

    The origin of Jewish districts can probably be traced to this week’s Torah portion. Joseph, after years of struggle, had ended up as a high official in Egypt and had brought his father and family to settle near him in Goshen.

    Though the Bible shows how Jacob put a brave front on his move to Egypt, saying he wanted to see Joseph while he still could, he must have felt ill at ease. He probably realised as the family didn’t that having a pleasant Jewish Quarter to live in was all right for the moment, but who knew what might happen years later?

    A new Pharaoh could change the official policy towards the Jews and having a compact Jewish presence in one main neighbourhood could turn out to be a curse. That sounds like a warning against feeling over-secure.

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