Friday, December 22, 2006

Egyptian Jews are wary of admitting their religion

According to JTA News, the remnant of Alexandria's Jewish community prefers not to associate itself with Israel. In some cases, they are wary even of mentioning that they are Jewish. This in a country which has signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state...(With thanks: Albert)

"Most community members in Alexandria and Cairo today are elderly women, many of whom are widowed or who intermarried long ago with Christian or Muslim men.

"But it’s also clear there are some tensions that go along with being Jewish in an Arab country that has fought four major wars with Israel. Growing up Jewish in Egypt has not been a black-and-white experience, says an attractive elderly woman who gave her name only as Mrs. Bilboul.

"There are very positive things about living in Egypt, such as being able to attend the Eliahou Hanabi synagogue in Alexandria to celebrate the Jewish holidays, Bilboul said.

“We could come every Saturday, but it’s much better to not go around and say I’m Jewish,” she said. “It’s much more clever not to mention it. But if someone asks me, I would never say I’m not.”

"Earlier this year, while playing bridge, Bilboul — who is married to a Christian — was asked by a Muslim friend of at least four years whether she was Jewish. When Bilboul responded that she was, the surprised woman asked her in a friendly manner a series of questions, including how Bilboul prays and how she raised her children.

"Bilboul told her she prays all day and raised her sons to be loving people, to have a respectful attitude toward everyone and to become children that she is very proud of today.

“She couldn’t say one word,” Bilboul said. Most of her friends know her religion and are “very respectful” of her, she adds.

"The woman who had asked whether she was Jewish was young and perhaps had never met an Egyptian Jew. They are still on friendly terms.

"But some in the community tread cautiously.

"An elderly woman in the community asked an American visitor living in Israel to contact two of her friends there, also from Egypt, to tell them she was doing fine. She didn’t have an international phone line at home and thus would have to go to a telephone center and request to make the call to Israel through a clerk — something she wanted to avoid.

“With some people who are ignorant, when they hear the name of Israel, they think something else,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “Things are not running very smoothly with the situation in Israel. They’ll think that maybe I’m a spy.”

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