What Jews taught a Copt

I’m an American Copt. My family immigrated (legally) to the United States decades ago. Being Christian in an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country was miserable. Though leaving posed a litany of challenges, doing so was wise. The condition of Copts in Egypt has only deteriorated.

To ensure that I recognized the value of my ethno-religious community, my parents took me to Egypt nearly each summer. I got to visit with family, make friends, swim in the glorious Red and Mediterranean Seas, and absorb the grandeur of the Great Pyramids at Giza. I learned Arabic, Coptic, and visited some of the world’s oldest, most magnificent monasteries.

Though I’m as “American as apple pie” as we say, those yearly trips affected me in the best ways possible. My home is filled with beautiful iconography, and I enjoy being able to recite my prayers in Coptic, Arabic, and English. I don’t think any baptism ceremony is as beautiful as the Coptic Orthodox one, and the smell of our incense calms me when I am distraught. I take pride in my heritage.

It pains me, then, to criticize my own.

Many Middle Eastern Christians view Jews as objects of derision. This propensity says far more about us than it does them.

To be sure, the contempt we harbor is not nearly as poisonous as that which our Muslim counterparts harbor. This is clear. A gulf separates us. Though there are plenty of indecent Christians and decent Muslims, thoughtful people recognize that there is a growing problem within Islam. There is no brutal Christian State, for example, in which innocents are abducted, raped, and murdered in the most barbaric ways. No one can compare the two (Cc: @BarackObama) and still claim to be governed by reason. 

Still, there are too many in our community who harbor a special and profoundly irrational disdain for Jews. I know this because I was and am exposed to so much of it. 

Let me give you a few personal examples. 

Let’s say I serve you, a Copt, a piece of pie after dinner. You think I’ve shortchanged you. How do you express your displeasure? By calling me a Jew. (They’re cheap, remember?)

If I lament our tendency to shop on Thanksgiving Day itself (as opposed to the day after), I hear endlessly of how that is because the economy is run by money-hungry Jews, who have no such thing as family.

If I turn on the television? Well, you know. Jews control the media.

One of my favorites happened when I was about ten. I accidentally took the wrong homework assignment to Sunday School (where you’re supposed to learn about, you know, God’s love). It was a report on the Holocaust. What followed? A lecture on how it never happened and Jews are wicked masters of propaganda.

Then there were the two (gasp!) times I interned for the Shoah Visual History Foundation while at Occidental. Clergy and congregants alike warned me that such work threatened my very identity as a Copt.    

Dating a Jew? Forget it. 

Hamas? The Muslim Brotherhood? ISIS/L? All creations of the evil State of Israel, don’t you know? The Jews did it.

Now, a few of my experiences.

So far as I can tell, they seem to be humans. I even know a few who are parents and who appear to love their children. 

They, like Christians, are jihadists’ primary targets.

While at Shoah, every Jew there (every single one) welcomed me warmly. They knew I was Egyptian; I told them.

When I was in college and embraced atheism, it was my Jewish religious studies professor, Rabbi Sanford Ragins of the Leo Baeck Temple, who gently encouraged me to reconsider, and spoke to me extensively on the beauty of Christianity. (His generosity of spirit, I should note, prompted me to study more extensively Judaism.)

While mourning the sudden death of someone I love dearly a decade ago, it was the writings of Rabbi Harold S. Kushner and Viktor E. Frankl that comforted me most.

Nothing matched. 

Surely, you can appreciate my confusion. So many of the same people my own told me were dangerous and didn’t value family embraced me, educated me, strengthened me. Clearly, this does not mean every Jew is good. Such a notion is just as preposterous as the one that all Muslims are terrorists. What it does mean is that I should assess each one based on his/her character. This should be common sense.   

So often Copts get overlooked for positions of power in Egypt—positions for which they’re entirely qualified.  None of the country’s new governors, for example, are Copts. None. These injustices happen as often as they do because, culturally, too many of our younger brothers and sisters think we’re inferior. Why? Because we’re different. We’ve done nothing wrong, necessarily--we’re just different. How can we complain of this discrimination when we often harbor toxic (again, less so comparatively speaking) attitudes about our older brothers and sisters?

To conclude, I am not a traitor for writing this. I know that the threat originating from the Muslim community differs entirely from any emanating from any other. I know that there is a difference between speech and behavior, and that we’re not waging a global war in Christianity’s name against anyone who dares offend us.   

But that can’t be the standard.

Scripture trumpets over and over our duty to treat others the ways in which we, ourselves, wish to be treated. To do so, we must address our long-standing bias against Jews. Doing so will increase our credibility in the eyes of the world and, more importantly, in the eyes of our God.