I have been blessed for the last number of years to travel the globe in support of many Jewish communities. I generally find myself in situations where I have an opportunity to engage locally with our brothers and sisters. Understanding the needs and challenges of Jewish communities around the world is so important for the health and continuity of the Jewish people. As my travel took me to Egypt this past week, I felt a certain amount of conflict that I hadn’t before.
Egypt figures so prominently in our history. Having celebrated Passover just a month ago, we are all aware of the slavery that Egypt inflicted on our ancestors. It was the place of one of the greatest examples of hate the Jews have ever encountered. It was also the birthplace of the Jewish people as Moses and the Almighty led us to freedom.
In 1948 there were over 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Today, due to the antisemitism of the government decades ago, there are a few dozen Jews left, effectively making Egypt “Judenrein” (bereft of Jews). As opposed to the UAE or Bahrain which also have a peace treaty with Israel, Egypt fought many wars against Israel. In speaking with some of the current Egyptian leadership this week it became clear that many in Egypt view Israel as the past and present aggressor. Incredulously, one of the prominent longtime Egyptian political players suggested that if Israel would just give up their nuclear program all would be solved. This is in addition to hearing how Egypt had been victorious but magnanimous in their past conflicts with Israel. In all, I felt a little like I was given a window into a warped version of what I knew to be the truth.
That was until I walked into the Sha’ar HaShamayim synagogue. This shul is over 100 years old and quite beautiful. There we met with Mrs. Magda Haroun who is the head of the small Jewish community. This woman was wonderful in every way. She spoke frankly about what it was like to be a Jew in Egypt and was open about the bleak future of Jews there. There are over 150 Torah scrolls in Egypt for less than 40 Jews. After her talk, I presented her with a gift and we asked if we would be able to say the afternoon prayers. She readily agreed on the condition that she would be able to join us as she does not often have that opportunity. We readily agreed as nothing is more joyous than Jews praying together.
After I led the prayers we sang and danced Am Yisroel Chai, the Nation of Israel lives. As we started to leave, Magda pulled me aside and asked if I could do one more thing for her. She said she had not heard the sound of the shofar in a long time and asked if I would blow it. I said it would be my pleasure and we set out to look for a shofar. When we finally found one, I blew a full set of shofar blasts. By the end we were both crying. The call of the shofar had joined our souls in a way that nothing else could have.
I walked out of that synagogue understanding the lesson I had learned in Egypt. I was standing in a country where 3000 years after enslaving us, they locked up the Jews in the 1950’s and would only let them out if they agreed to leave the country. A country where at the Cairo International Book Fair in 2019 they openly sold the long discredited antisemitic Protocols of the Elders to Zion. A country which ostensibly has peace with Israel but does not embrace its overall existence. With all of these points, I realized that nothing can destroy the spirit of a Jew.
The strength that I sensed in Magda’s heart truly moved me. By all rights she did not have to openly celebrate her Judaism let alone take responsibility for her community. Yet, that is precisely what Jews do. We take responsibility for each other. We stay committed to the Almighty and the greater Jewish Nation. We yearn to be together. We yearn to pray together. We yearn to hear the call of the shofar together. May the Almighty bless us to hear the ultimate call of the shofar and bring us back home and into His loving embrace.