"As a Jew and an Israeli citizen, I find Egypt full of
associations, both contemporary and historic, and it was with a mixture of excitement
and anxiety that I made my preparations to go there.
Flying time between Cairo and Tel Aviv is a mere 50 minutes - 50 minutes which separate two such different cultures. The Egyptians in general are a simple folk, relaxed and friendly to all, including to their local Jews. In contrast, a feeling of insecurity pervades the Jewish community. The rise of fundamentalism intensifies the feelings of insecurity of the Jews, and the community is understandably reluctant to draw attention to itself. Those Jews who are left, about 100 souls, are mainly elderly and poor. Their survival, therefore, is more important to them than cooperating with an unknown photographer.
The infrastructure of the community was very similar to other Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Today, the synagogues, community centers and offices serve the handful of Jews left in Egypt. Its schools, which were once attended by Jewish children, are rented out to the locals - today there are only three Jewish children left in the community. The old-age homes are empty, and those poorer Jews who can no longer fend for themselves are sent to Christian old-age homes, and die under the sign of the cross. There is no longer a rabbi or kosher meat. On Pesach, matzoth are brought in from Israel.
The synagogues which remain are memorials to a rich and flourishing past, as are the ornate cemeteries of Alexandria. The Ibn Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo, which has been restored, is today an historical site, and this will probably be the fate of the other remaining synagogues, such as the Sha'arei Shamayim and the Karaite in Cairo, and the Eliyahu haNavi in Alexandria.
At a funeral in Alexandria of an elderly spinster, I was requested by the president of the community to officiate. I was the only person there who could read Hebrew. Despite the absence of a minyan I still said kaddish. During the funeral the thought came to me that in 20 or so years the only Jews in Egypt will be outsiders - visitors, businessmen, diplomatic corps, etc. The synagogues and Jewish libraries will, like the pyramids, become possessions of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority."