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Under the domed ceiling of the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue in downtown Cairo, the seven mostly elderly women gather on Sept. From the ceiling hung a huge chandelier in the shape of the star of David. It is a humid Cairo evening in early September and clothes cling to bodies. The Muslim call to prayer drifts in through the windows, along with the sound of gridlocked traffic.The country’s Coptic Christians say they are regarded as second-class citizens, barred de facto from the top ranks of the military, harassed by the security forces and menaced in some parts of the country by jihadists.Egypt’s Bahai’s and Shia communities have also long struggled for rights under a state that refuses to recognize them. It’s very frightening.” Yet she is still intent on proclaiming the legacy of Egypt’s Jews even to their dying days.That cultural flourishing ended soon after the 1948 war that birthed the neighboring state of Israel.Coinciding with a surge in Egyptian nationalism in the 1950s, in the years following the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser began a mass expulsion of Egyptian Jews, sending many to Europe, Israel, and the US.
In addition to apples and honey, the traditional Rosh Hashanah snack, the spread includes red wine in small plastic cups, pomegranate seeds and dates—“a symbol of Egypt,” says Haroun. After the reception she sits smoking a cigarette and sitting on the stone steps of the Synagogue courtyard.Haroun only has Egyptian citizenship, and like all Egyptians, her religion is printed on her national ID card, a fact that sometimes elicits disbelief—many Egyptians simply can’t believe that there are Jewish Egyptians.“Sometimes at the bank, they say, ‘We have to have the permission of the embassy.’ I said, which embassy? ” Jews are not the only religious minority to have faced persecution in Egypt.Despite their invisibility today, as recently as the mid-1940s, Egypt’s Jews made up a diverse and vibrant community that at its peak numbered more than 80,000 people.Egyptian Jews were writers, film directors, business figures and political activists.