The Adly synagogue, Cairo
There are only 14 Jews left in Egypt, and they need the ministrations of a rabbi and government aid to pay for medical care, acccording to their new leader, Magda Haroun, in this JPost interview with Kenneth Bandler of the American Jewish Committee. Although the AJC has established a fund for the maintenance and preservation
of Jewish cultural, religious and historical landmarks, including cemeteries, Haroun again shows her willingness to abdicate responsibility for Egypt’s Jews and their heritage to Christians and Muslims.
‘I knew that one day I would be the one that closes the door,” says Magda Haroun,
one of Egypt’s last Jews. Numbering 80,000 more than 60 years ago, today only 14
remain. “It is sad and very heavy to bear.”
Haroun became president of
Egypt’s Jewish community in April, following the passing of longtime community
leader Carmen Weinstein. She comes with a dual commitment – enable the remaining
Jews, mostly elderly and in need of assistance, to live in dignity, and ensure
that the door on this historic community’s legacy will always be left ajar. To
that end, she vigorously is making arrangements for the preservation of
cemeteries, synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites.
“It is my duty as
a Jew and as an Egyptian,” says Haroun. She has spoken a lot with Egyptian
media, reinforcing the historical fact that Jews have always been integral to
Egyptian society. “We don’t want secrecy about Jews. Egyptians have to
Her immediate concern is finding ways to give the older Jewish
women in Cairo “an easy end of life.” Ideally, she would like to establish a
home where they could live together, and receive medical attention and social
support. Three of the nine women in Cairo are in need of hearing aids and two
require cataract surgery. The other three Jews in Egypt, one man and two women,
also elderly, live in Alexandria, the Mediterranean city that was home to the
country’s second largest Jewish community.
“Our community economically is
worse than the economy of Egypt,” says Haroun. “We have no
The Egyptian government had provided a $1,000 monthly stipend
for the Jewish community, but that lapsed following the revolution that brought
down the Mubarak regime. Haroun recently sent a letter to the Ministry of
Welfare requesting resumption of this vital assistance, and is optimistic that
the government will restore the monthly allowances. “The Egyptian government
should help these ladies who chose not to leave Egypt and are alone,” she
She also is seeking support for sustaining religious practice. “We
asked the government to provide a rabbi and kosher food,” says Haroun. “I want a
rabbi 24 hours a day, all year long. It is our constitutional
Though not raised in a religious home – Haroun attended synagogue
only on major holidays – she is deeply committed to assist, however she can. She
lived abroad for 12 years for business reasons in Kuwait, Hong Kong, Tokyo and
Istanbul, but returned home to Cairo in 1992. Egypt, she told me on a recent
visit to the US, is her home.
The Egyptian Jewish community, once one of
the largest in the Arab world, fell victim to the hateful politics of Arab
leaders who punished local, centuries-old Jewish communities in vengeful
response to Israel’s independence.
“One of the mistakes of the Arab
regimes was to throw them away, to push the Jews through the open door,” says
Haroun, who was born just days before the 1952 Nasser revolution. Most Jews left
Egypt unwillingly after 1948 and the rise of Nasser, with additional waves
exiting after the 1956 and 1967 wars.