Lyn Julius

When Jews mark Ramadan

It is all the rage, apparently, for Jews to be observing Ramadan. The BBC carried a report of Jews and Muslims breaking the Ramadan fast with a ‘Kosher’ Iftar meal in a London synagogue. According to the Times of Israel, another London rabbi, Natan Levy, ‘ stunned members of the Jewish community by observing the Islamic month of fasting after witnessing first-hand the lack of engagement between the two faiths’.

Then Yachad, dubbed the British J-Street, announced its Tisha-b’Av/Ramadan fast dedicated to ‘non-violence’ and to ‘peace’, a ‘choose life’ fast: “All over the world Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, will be fasting together, against violence, and for peace. “

And now we hear that the Adly synagogue in Cairo hosted an Iftar meal. This is the meal eaten at sunset at the end of a day’s fasting. In the comments thread to an item in the Egyptian press, Omar gushes: “This is such a great thing, dispelling the absolute hatred for Jews and showing us “Hey, we’re all Egyptians too!” Another reacts approvingly: “This is the true spirit and teaching of all three monotheistic religions. A beautiful step in the right direction and I hope it doesn’t stop there and it’s not just during Ramadan but throughout the year and years to come! Salam, Shalom and Peace to all!”

The latter demonstration of ‘interfaith harmony’ is the saddest of all.

The Egyptian Jewish community comprises just 15 people, mostly widows or elderly women married to non-Jews. They are led by the fiercely anti-Zionist Magda Haroun, 62. She is her father’s daughter. So fanatically patriotic was Shehata Haroun that he chose to let another daughter die of leukaemia rather than forfeit his Egyptian nationality to seek medical treatment abroad.

Since becoming leader of the Jewish Community Council in April 2013 on the death of her predecessor Carmen Weinstein, Magda has not done much to celebrate her own faith: at least Carmen marshalled what was left of Egypt’s Jews, together with Israeli diplomats and interested tourists and well-wishers, to mark Jewish festivals. Since Carmen’s passing, the Jewish community has not celebrated the Passover Seder. It was cancelled this past year – ostensibly out of respect for Magda’s sister Nadia, who died suddenly aged 59. Similarly, the community found excuses not to mark Rosh Hashana in 2013.

Magda wants to show that Jews are good Egyptians; they built Egypt. They must not be confused with Zionists. But the spurious distinction between Jews and Zionists did not save a thriving 80,000 strong community from being expelled. Jews were targeted not for what they believed, but what they were. Neither can Zionism be the pretext for the persecution of Egypt’s other harassed minority – its eight million Coptic Christians.

As if it is not enough for the Jewish presence to be wiped out across the region, Jewish history is being erased, synagogues are being demolished, and ancient shrines with a distinctive Jewish character converted to mosques.

This does not mean that Jews and Muslims should not share each others’ festivals. These well-intentioned grass-roots initiatives humanise Jews and Muslims to each other, especially during times of war. After all, more and more Gentiles, all the way up to the White House, are celebrating the Passover Seder. Why should Jews not mark the most important month of the Muslim religious calendar?

There is a difference, however. Whereas Natan Levy belongs to a robust Jewish community with the self-confidence to practise its faith, Magda Haroun is a beleaguered ‘dhimmi’. She has failed to call Muslim Egyptians to account for driving her community to extinction. Instead they are allowed to feel good about themselves and their ‘ tolerance’ of others.

The sun is setting on the Jewish community of Egypt. Soon there will be ten, or five Jews left in Egypt. How few do there need to be for someone to hail them as proof of Egyptian ‘pluralism’?

Magda, as the youngest Jew in Egypt, will be the last person to turn off the light. At the Iftar celebration at the Adly synagogue in Cairo, Muslims by far outnumbered Jews. After three thousand years, Egyptian Judaism is on its last legs, and Jewish life reduced to empty synagogues without Jews. This Iftar celebration marked the triumph not of ’tolerance’, but of capitulation, humiliation, and ethnic cleansing.

About the Author
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of 'Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.' (Vallentine Mitchell)