Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cairo Genizah Update #1 - The Expedition

December 16, 2009

Dear Friends,

Shalom! This is the first in what I hope will be a series of updates about the exciting project I have been working on recently – my book about the Cairo Genizah. As you may know, for many months I have been researching and writing about Cairo Genizah story, and recently there have been some very exciting developments:


The book I am writing will be published by Jewish Lights Publishing ( The book is due to them by June 1, 2010, and they tell me it will be released the following November.

Also, Michael Strong, of the Regal Literary Agency in New York, is planning to produce a DVD version book, and an audio version, too.


After months of planning, which is now only partially completed, I have finally booked my flights for my upcoming Genizah Expedition. Here are some highlights of the trip:

February 20-26 – Cambridge England, where the modern Genizah story began.
• Meet with some of the world’s leading Genizah scholars, many of whom are affiliated with Cambridge University.
• A behind-the-scenes tour of the Genizah collection, seeing how the documents are stored and cared-for in one of the world’s leading library facilities.
• Examine some Genizah manuscripts up-close – the earliest known piece of Jewish sheet-music, handwritten letters and writings of Maimonides, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.
• Visit Castlebrae – the grand mansion where Solomon Schechter saw the manuscript that first directed his attention to the Cairo Genizah. Then, it was owned by Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis, wealthy Scottish twin sisters; now, it is a college dormitory.

February 26-March 2 – Cairo, Egypt, home of the Cairo Genizah
• Visit the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the original home of the Genizah.
• At the Ben Ezra, enter the actual Genizah room – see details below.
• Meet with leaders of Cairo’s Jewish community. The Jewish community of Egypt once numbered in the tens-of-thousands; today, there are only a few dozen indigenous Jews living in the entire country.
• Meet with Dr. Zahi Hawass, Chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Dr. Hawass, who often appears on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc., is in charge of all of Egypt’s antiquities – the Pyramids, the Sphinx, tombs and mummies, etc.

March 2-March 6 – New York, NY
• Visit the Jewish Theological Seminary, examine more exciting manuscripts.
• Meet leading scholars
• Begin work on filming the DVD that will be released in conjunction with the book.


It occurred to me today that Solomon Schechter first became aware of the Genizah in Cambridge, England. He then traveled to see it in Cairo. After studying its contents for several years, he moved to New York to become president of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Cambridge – Cairo – New York…sound familiar?


In Cairo, Schechter had to shmooze his way into the Genizah by wooing local Jewish leaders, government officials, and others. In my own attempts to get access to that room, I’ve found myself walking in Schechter’s footsteps. To get permission to enter it, I’ve been in contact with people all over the world – in Jordan, France, Egypt, England, New York, and elsewhere!

It has been a fascinating experience, and here is some of what I’ve learned:

• The leaders of Cairo’s Jewish tiny community are wary of foreigners – Jewish and non-Jewish – coming to Egypt and messing with their Jewish antiquities.
• There is also a huge worldwide Egyptian Jewish Diaspora. Many of its members feel strongly that these sites and these relics belong to the Jewish people, and that they need to be cared for not by the small remnant of local Egyptian Jews, but instead should be preserved professionally and by experts.
• In reality, the Ben Ezra Synagogue is owned by the Egyptian government. I have had to apply to the Supreme Council of Antiquities for permission to enter that room. I’m told that it looks good, but I don’t expect a final OK until the end of this week.

It begs an interesting question: When a civilization departs a place it has lived for centuries, who owns what it leaves behind? The dispersed community? The tiny fraction that stayed? The local government? I’m not sure of the answer to that question, and I’d be interested your thoughts.


Clearly, the cost of this trip will far exceed the money I will make from the book. Several generous donors have contributed funds to support the expedition, and I am waiting to hear from some others, as well as from a foundation in New York. However, to take this trip, I still need to raise more money. If you would like to help support the cause, please send a donation to my home (address below). I would greatly appreciate whatever you can offer.


I have attached a draft of the brief prologue I have written for this book – a couple of pages that will precede the introduction and, I hope, whet readers’ appetites to read the book. I would appreciate your feedback and thoughts.

Thanks so much for your interest in, and support of, this project. I will keep you posted as it continues to develop


Rabbi Mark Glickman
15030 232nd Ave. NE
Woodinville, WA 98077

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