I recently visited the Wadi Bou Jamil area in Downtown Beirut to check out the infamous synagogue, currently being renovated. The area itself is a security zone within a security zone – call it security zone-ception. They have security forces for Hariri’s “Beit el Wasat,” the Serail and the synagogue itself.
You can get to the synagogue by walking up the stairs of the Serail and then walking on the street towards the Capuchin church. Once you reach the church, proceed to the street that is sealed off with one of the red plastic barricades, with an ISF person guarding the entrance to the synagogue’s street. Don’t worry about him, though, just proceed as if he doesn’t exist.
As a result of the security zones, the synagogue is off limits by a huge gate that is sealed shut. You can still see the building from outside but you are not allowed to go in. Furthermore, you are prohibited from taking pictures of any kind whatsoever.
We asked the security guard present near the synagogue if we can get access if we happened to be Jewish and he said no. He then said no one comes to this area except for very few tourists who want to look around, which is understandable because the area is so segregated from Downtown Beirut and yet so close that finding it is a task on its own so many Lebanese don’t care it exists to begin with.
I wonder, though, what’s the point behind so much security if the synagogue’s renovation is supported by the different political parties in Lebanon? I guess what’s been declared is drastically different from the hidden intentions…. Typical of Lebanon.
Until then, the synagogue is such a beautiful location in Beirut, in a very serene area of Downtown Beirut, whose calm contrasts drastically with the bustle of the surrounding shops and streets. It won’t be long before they ruin it with high-rises as well. They’re already talking about demolishing the Roman hippodrome near the synagogue to replace it with a high-rise.