When Magda Haroun was out on the streets during the unrest now rocking Egypt’s
capital, she saw someone standing over the body of a dead soldier.
even a Jew would do this,” she heard him say.
Haroun, the president of
the Egyptian Jewish community, doesn’t enjoy hearing anti-Semitic slurs on the
street. She gets nervous when she hears Egyptians are burning the churches of
Coptic Christians, a much larger religious minority than the country’s tiny
She assumes that most of her compatriots have forgotten
there are any Jews left in Egypt.
But when protesters filled Cairo’s
Tahrir Square at the end of June calling on president Mohamed Morsi to step
down, she was right there with them.
“The amount of people in Tahrir was
breathtaking,” she tells JTA. “The unity between people was
Some of the people recognized me because I was on TV. They
were shaking my hand and telling me, ‘God bless you. You are a real Egyptian.’”
Haroun, 61, is the youngest of the 14 women who make up Cairo’s dwindling Jewish
Most are now in their 80s, living off charity and rental
income from properties the community has owned for generations.
though small in number, Haroun says, the community is proud of its country and,
like many Egyptians, supportive of the army’s campaign to quell Morsi’s Muslim
The latest round of unrest in Egypt began last month after
mass protests in Tahrir Square led the army to depose Morsi, the country’s first
democratically elected leader, and install a new government.
Brotherhood denounced the move as a coup, and confrontations raged between its
supporters and the military, leaving more than 1,000 Egyptians dead in the last
Jews have lived in Egypt for millennia. Around the time of
Israel’s founding in 1948, the community was estimated at 75,000, but in the
decades that followed, the vast majority fled.
Those who remain are happy
to call Egypt home, Haroun says. Although she has relatives in several European
countries, she vows “never, never, never” to leave.
“I’m very proud to be
here,” she says. “I want to do whatever I can to help. We are a strong people. I
am very happy now that people [are] in the street. Instead of talking about
football, they are talking politics. There is more awareness about the
importance of our country.”
On Tuesday, CNN reported that the White House
was withholding some military aid to Egypt in protest of the military’s violent
crackdown on Morsi supporters. But for Haroun, the army’s assertion of control
is a welcome development that she sees as “fighting terrorism.”
the Jewish community thus far has not experienced any anti-Semitism as a result
of the fighting – probably, she says, because it’s so small.
Morsi’s rule, however, it was a different story.
Soon after taking
office, the government voted to end a monthly subsidy of $1,000 that it had
provided to the Jewish community for more than 20 years.
“The way they
wanted things to go, it’s a fascist movement,” she says. “I hope we’ll start a
new era in Egypt where everyone will be equal regardless of political beliefs. I
am very confident in the future.”
Another believer in a more tolerant
Egyptian future is Levana Zamir, whose family was expelled from Cairo when she
was 12. Now living in Tel Aviv, Zamir – the president of the Association of Jews
from Egypt in Israel – remembers an Egypt that strived to be open to the
“I’m very proud of Egyptians that they want to go back to the
secularism and cosmopolitanism of Egypt,” she says. “They need someone like
[former president Anwar] Sadat, who wanted to open the Arab
Haroun says that as much as the casual anti-Semitism she hears
bothers her, she believes it comes from Egyptians’ unfamiliarity with
“It’s all talking, there is no action,” she says. “The talk
about anti-Semitism is ignorance.
The Egyptians are loving.
love each other.
It’s ignorance that pushes them to hate and to burn
The unrest will prevent the community from celebrating Rosh
Hashana together in a few weeks. In past years, the community has hosted festive
meals and invited foreign dignitaries and non-Jewish Egyptians.
due to the curfew the army is now imposing, they cannot meet in the synagogue. A
rabbi set to fly in for the holiday has canceled his trip.
community is providing support to the army’s campaign. When a call went out for
Egyptians to donate money to the government during the unrest, the 14 Jewish
women in the country decided to scrounge together what they could.
have no money, but do you agree we should contribute a small amount of money in
the name of the Egyptian community?” Haroun recalls asking the women. “You know
what they responded? ‘Yes, of course. We are not dead yet.’”