Many of you probably heard the same NPR report that I did this morning. It was about the 12 Jews left in all of Egypt. Twelve. Some of those left are elderly in care facilities with no family. The synagogues are mostly closed. The building that housed all of the birth and death records for the Jewish community lies filthy and in disrepair, all the files in need of organization. The Jewish cemetery, one of the oldest at 1500 years old is unkempt and untended.
Apparently the 100,000 Jews that used to live in Egypt were expelled in the 1950’s and 1960’s when Egypt was in conflict with Israel. Jews were thought to be spies. How these 12 remained, I have no idea. And what has it been like for them to watch their history and culture disappear? Who will be left to mourn or remember? How soon before they join the worlds disappeared?
This report aired on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that is marked by a ten-day period of reflection, review, and repentance of the past year. The period ends with the High Holy day, Yom Kippur with a 25 hour fast, the symbolic casting off of sins and the tasting of apples dipped in the sweetness of honey to signify a sweet beginning to the new year.
Coincidentally I happen to be reading Simon Wiesenthal’s book, The Sunflower, which relates his Holocaust experience and the question of “the possibilities and limits of forgiveness.” A series of essays by different authors is added to the book to explore this very question of the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. One of these authors, Cynthia Ozick, has written in other anthologies of the consequences of the Jewish Holocaust. She talks about not just the loss of life that happened but the loss of potential. Of what could have been created or offered the world by those who were slaughtered. That empty void created by the loss of those voices that can never be filled.
It makes me wonder about the last 12 Jews in Egypt. After their deaths, there will be no others to contribute or carry. An entire people’s voice will be lost. I find myself struggling to find the sweet taste of the honey-dipped apple in the midst of this bitter reality.