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Out of Egypt

For Egyptian-born Jews, the current crisis elicits a mix of emotions—from nostalgia for an idyllic existence under the monarchy to the terror of being chased out to calls of ‘kill the Jews’

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A group bat mitzvah in Alexandria. (Nebi Daniel Association)
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On a Saturday night in late January 1952, Sidney Miraz and his family gathered in his uncle’s apartment in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. Then, as now, angry crowds swarmed the streets demanding the removal of Egypt’s leaders. Though his parents tried to keep him away from the window, Miraz, a young boy, could see a large blaze glowing in the sunset. The commercial district of Cairo was engulfed in flames. An uncle who lived in the city called every 15 minutes, updating the terrified family.

Miraz, now 68 and living in San Diego, is one of the many Jews watching the current crisis in Egypt with a sense of déjà vu. Before the creation of Israel in 1948, the Jewish community in Egypt boasted 80,000 members. In three waves of immigration—after the 1948 war, after the Suez Crisis in 1956, and after the Six-Day War in 1967—the community has dwindled to its current population of fewer than 40.

Fragments of Jewish manuscripts in the Cairo Geniza, a depository for religious books found in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo, date Egypt’s Jewish community back at least 2000 years. In the 12th century, Maimonides and his family fled Spain and settled in Egypt. Centuries later, Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition found a haven along the Nile. In the late 19th century, the opening of the Suez Canal provided Jews with irresistible economic opportunity as they flocked to Cairo and Alexandria from Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

The upper echelon lived well in pre-1952 Cairo, or the “Paris on the Nile,” as it was called. Residents marveled at the city’s cleanliness, the rich aroma of French perfumes emanating from department stores stocked with European goods, the trees lining the streets heavy with fragrant mangoes and tangerines. Jews thrived. They founded the banks, hospitals, major department stores, contributing to every aspect of Egypt’s modernization. The monarchy sent a delegation to the main synagogues on High Holidays as a sign of respect and solidarity.

After the founding of modern Israel, demonstrations of anti-Semitism abounded, and Jews left Egypt in droves. About half went to the new Jewish state. Others relocated to Brooklyn, settling in the Jewish Syrian community in Midwood. Many still express anger about their own suffering in the aftermath of the last revolution. “We were never treated as real Egyptians,” wrote Yosef Marzouk in an email from Israel. “We were treated as strangers.” At the time of the 1952 revolution, Marzouk, then 23 years old, had just completed a degree in pharmacology at Cairo University. After graduation, he and some classmates went to Alexandria to celebrate. As they sat in a coffee shop along Alexandria’s Mediterranean corniche, they saw tanks drive toward the king’s summer palace nearby; Marzouk fled his homeland for Israel the following year. His brother, a doctor, decided to stay behind, and in 1955, Dr. Moshe Marzouk was executed after being convicted of spying for Israel.

Viviane Franco, now 62 and living on Long Island, wrote in an email that the current protests have brought back terrifying memories of her childhood, like the times she was forced to hide in her family’s Cairo apartment, shutters closed, listening to people on the streets chant idbahu el-Yehud— “Let’s kill the Jews.” Franco’s family immigrated to Naples in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, when she was 18. She has little faith in the current protesters, saying that they are trying to “hoodwink the Americans into thinking Egyptians want democracy.” And she claims that numbness, not terror, is the lasting result of her childhood. “When I heard about the riots,” she wrote, “I didn’t even cry because I felt nothing.”

Miraz’s reaction is seemingly more measured on the surface, but equally pessimistic. “As a Jew who grew up in an Arab country, I know firsthand that Islam can be tolerant and kind to others,” he wrote from Israel, “as long as they are inferior or weak—dhimmi—in their group.”

Other Egyptian-born Jews expressed concern for the fate of the synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, as well as the Torah scrolls and religious articles.

Ita Lezmi, an octogenarian born in Alexandria, has lived in Brooklyn for decades. “Jews were lucky to be in Egypt,” she says. She says her childhood was an idyllic existence, calling life under the British-administered monarchy “sweet, easy, beautiful and magnificent.” Lezmi realizes that such a life came at great cost to others, and she says that the lower class has suffered greatly under Mubarak. “Here’s the situation,” she says. “They’re starving. Mubarak doesn’t give the poor a chance to breathe.” She was one of the few people I spoke with who was hopeful about the country’s future. “Look at this beautiful new generation, how the students stood to protect the museum, the schools, the hospitals. They’re educated. They want freedom.”

Lezmi and her family were expelled from Egypt after the Suez War; her husband was a French national. The family was given 24 hours to leave. “They took the house,” she says. “They took everything.” The Lezmis went to Genoa, Italy, where they “lived like dogs,” she said, before continuing for America.

Desire Sakkal, president of the Historical Society of the Jews from Egypt, based in Brooklyn, was 2 years old during the 1952 revolution and remembers little. But the terror that followed the Suez War remains clear to him. His grandfather, Halfon Safdieh, who would later be chief rabbi of the Egyptian community in Brooklyn, and his uncle, Solomon Safdieh, were beaten in the streets. His father was summoned to the local police department several times on the charge of being a Zionist. Still Sakkal’s father wanted to stay. In 1962, the government confiscated the family’s prosperous business, a button factory. The family fled, living in France for several months before settling in New York.

On one point everyone I spoke to agreed: No matter how much they suffered after being forced out of their homeland, they were happy they were no longer in Egypt.

“When you leave, you are still suffering,” Sakkal says. “But in the long run, it’s a blessing.”

“What kind of life would we have in Egypt? What would we do?” Lezmi wonders. “Thank God for America.”

CORRECTION, February 9: The Sakkals left Egypt in 1962 after their button factory was confiscated, not in 1967. This error has been corrected.

February 15: Sidney Miraz left Israel for France in 1980 and now lives in San Diego. This error has been corrected.

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This is a really beautiful and important story. Thank you!

Ilene Singh says:

For a poignant account of Jewish life in Egypt I suggest a wonderful memoir “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.”

Lawrence says:

Terrific piece! There’s much to be worried about, even besides the precarious peace treaty with Israel, from the fate of the Bassatine cemetery to the beautiful Sha’ar Shamayim synagogue in Cairo. Last I heard, only a couple of guards were on duty there and even that was tentative. It houses many old documents and what’s left of community leadership there isn’t exactly proactive in caring for it. Sadly, I also don’t expect much from the predominately Ashkenaz American Jewish leadership or publications.

Allison says:

As the daughter of one of those displaced Jews from Egypt, I loved this piece. It resonates with truth as I have watched my father and uncles react to the current crisis in Egypt.

Dr. Michael Zidonov says:

Jew Hatred/Judenhasse is just as bad now as it ever was in america, and getting worse every day with the ever increasing influence of Arab/Moslem population growth in the Ststes, and the Arab/Moslem who has usurped the White House, while pretending to be Black … We need to get everything and ebery one that is not Jewish out of Israel, and get all Jews back to Israel, to strengthen all efforts for our survival as a Nation … We must trust Ha’Shem to do what He has said He will do … It is His Right Arm that will sustain us … The Goyim smile at us and make nice, while another is sneaking up behind to cut our heads off … When will we ever learn ??? The time for talking and negotiation is long over, and it is patently stupid for us to continue to believe that Islam will ever tell the Truth, or actually live properly with us or around us … We have a Duty to Conserve, Preserve, and Defend Israel … With so many Secular Jews around us, who needs Islamists … Let us pluck the thorn from our sides, Trust Ha’Shem, and Stand Fast together … Let those who will not join us, go somewhere else, and take an Islamist under each arm with them …

A.L. Bell says:

“Sadly, I also don’t expect much from the predominately Ashkenaz American Jewish leadership or publications.”

I think that’s because people tend to be ignorant about the diaspora in general and everyone is broke right now.

I think any Ashkenazic Jew who’s thought about this at all understands that saving the history of the Jews of North Africa is absolutely critical.

My suggestion would be for Egyptian Jews who know anything about the details about what needs to be done to call the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles and ask if there’s any way to make people like Stephen Spielberg aware of this crisis. This is a really cinematic kind of story, and I think someone like Spielberg, or, say, any of the topic Google executives would desperately want to help with this. If people aren’t helping, it’s because they don’t know that help is needed or don’t know how to help, not because they don’t care.

Also: my guess would be that, in terms of saving any super-important, cultural treasures, like Cairo genizah documents, the U.S. embassy and the Israeli embassy and intelligence agencies must already be pretty frantic. There are probably already heroic people risking their lives to rush ancient manuscripts through sewers tunnels and that sort of thing. We ought to pray for those people’s success and safety.

mosaicj says:

Thank you for telling this important story, and telling it so well.

Very touched by my Egyptian Jews rendering of their sufferings.
i too am a Jewish Refugee from Egypt and have gone thru (with my parents and family) very difficult moments. The Egyptian police had the disturbing habit of knocking at your door at 2.a.m.Then the questioning would start…
Finally they put so much fear in our hearts that leaving everything behind we took our £10 allowed and our one suitcace and scrammed to safety!
Suzy Vidal a.k.a. Sultana Latifa

David Zohar says:

The Eliahu Hanavi Synagogue, the only one still open in Alexandria, contains over 30 Sifrei Torah which have been registered by the Egyptian government as state property. Egypt has refused repeated Israeli requests to allow the transfer of most of the Torah Scrolls to Israel where they could be used in many synagogues. The synagogue is guarded by the Alexandria police but there is barely a minyan of elderly Jews left. When they depart this life the building will be taken over by the government.

David Zohar
former Israeli Consul General in Alexandria

Isaac Cohen says:

Excellent article. I am a refugee from Egypt and my parents left in 1956 after the Suez Campaign while I was in college in France. I would like to point out, however, that following the 1952 revolution, the military leader General Mohammad Naguib tried to soothe the anxiety of the Jewish population and visited the beautiful Sha’ar Hashamyim Great Synagogue of Cairo where he made a very moving speech. Later Naguib was de facto deposed by his deputy Gamal Abd el Nasser, of cursed memory. Everything changed after the Egyptian defeat of 1956. My father, a pharmacist, was arrested in his pharmacy together with thousands other Jews and submitted to humiliating conditions. He was given the choice to leave with his family and leaving everything behind except for two suitcases. He was herded handcuffed to a ship in Alexandria bound for Brindisi, Italy, in a wire cage fit for animals and was released to his family after the ship left the Egyptian territorial waters. When my mother and two sisters arrived in Alexandria to board the ship, they were met by military officers who ransacked the 2 suitcases looking for the gold of the Jews. They even threatened to keep one of my sisters in Egypt for fear she would join the Israeli army. My mother had to sign a document asserting she would never go to Israel or set foot in Egypt again. My parents left for Israel via Italy and lived there very happily. Tout est bien qui finit bien.

Henry Mourad says:

Very familiar story and taken to heart. I loved the article because I identify with it. My family and I experienced life during King Farouk and the revolution thereafter before we left Egypt for good in 1963. Life was simple and pleasant during the King’s reign and mixed at best afterwards. “Exodus II The Promised Land” is a book that documents our ordeal and history in Egypt. The book and is available on Amazon.com

I live near the Sphardic communities and have been to Egypt. It’s tragic that the Jews couldnn’t understand what was happening to them by being dhimnie.In America at least we can respond to the anti-semitism, but I don’t take anything for granted. At this time we can no longer feel that we must separate ourselve from Sephardic and Ashkenazie. We we learn to be Jewish one and all.

Etty Levy says:

I would like to receive more articles and / or more details on Egyptian Jews. I was born in Alexandria and left Egypt in February 1957. Thank you.

@Feb 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM
That is a very malicious accusation.

MARC KHEDR says:

I WAS BORN IN EGYPT 1946 AND I LEFT EGYPT 1970 AFTER THE SIX DAYS WAR
THANKS GOD

David Harari says:

to A.L. Bell

After close to 40 years of keeping to themselves, and not writing about their ordeal, Egyptian Jews finally let the lid open and started telling the joys and also the sorrows of their life in Egypt, the conditions of their expulsion or flight in the face of anti-semitism disguised as anti-zionism.

There are now a number of books, memoirs published by some of the involuntary actors of this “second exodus”.

Starting in 1948 there were roughly 4 episodes of exodus. The first one when the State of Israel was created. Then after the 1956 Suez “Affair”, then again after the war in 1967 and finally from 1968 through 1973. By then there were no more jews left in Egypt, (perhaps
100 are left today, 90% being older women). In 1948 it is estimated that there were 80 000 jews living in Egypt.

As to the Genizah, it has long been emptied of its content (around the late 19thcentury) and the documents are in the UK and the US mostly (including at the Yeshiva University), being studied and deciphered by scholars.

There have been attempts to collect memories of the Egyptian Jews on video and tape recorders in a variety of countries, mostly in Israel, France and the US, in a manner similar to that of the survivors of the Holocaust, but given that the scale and the breadth of the tragegy (1 million jews left the arab countries in a matter of 10-15 years in the second half of the 20th century), many jewish communities around the world, still reeling from the tragedy of the Shoah, never realized the drama, the sorrow and the terrible uprooting that happened to us, Jews living in the Arab countries (i.e. mostly, but not only sephardic Jews). Hopefully, documents will remain and will later be studied to realize that the Jews of Arab countries did face terrible hardships and had their universe collapse in front of their eyes before they fled their homelands.

but if you listen to the lefty papers it is the poor Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes,nothing about the Jews in Arab lands being forced to run for their lives,it was ever thus,nothing changes for us my friends.am israel chai that is all that matters.

Thank you for this article. I never realized what the Jews of Egypt went through. I just wish them peace-they all deserve it. Come to think of it….all Jews deserve peace. I can only hope in our life-time we get
it.

Here’s the good news. Looking at the Cairo Museum it heartening that there are assets with which the vile Egyptian people can repay their victims.

To be clear, these reparations will not only make the victims whole, it will also serve to humiliate the enemy: the enemy being not the Egyptian government, rather the Muslonazi Egyptian people.

Yallah, Mubarak! Crush ‘em to smithereens!

Bad things happen to our people, in every place, you are a stranger, every country we have lived has done the same over centuries. Whats new? Nothing!

Mordecai Hayehudi says:

Shame on Israel for not including the return of the Torahs and all religious article as part of the peace treaty with Egypy. Isarel gave back the Sinai + other land, oil fields, removed Jewish settlements in Yamit. Evacuating over 77,000 Jews. (what did Israel get in return? What kind of worthless peace was negotiated when Egyptians were dancing in the street as rockets from Irak were landing in Israel?
The hate and antisemitism that is spwed by the Egyptian press for the past 15 years was worth than Hitler’s Germany. (remember: the press is the Government in Egypt)

As for what is transpiring at this moment: Think of the ridiculous amount of media ink and diplomatic attention that has been poured onto the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the years, while much of the Arab world was suffering and smoldering, and tell me this is not criminal negligence. Do you ever recall seeing a UN resolution or an international conference in support of Middle Eastern Arabs not named Palestinians?

Of course, now that the Arab volcano has finally erupted, all those chronic Israel bashers have suddenly discovered a new cause: Freedom for the poor oppressed Arabs of the Middle East!

Imagine if, instead of putting Israel under their critical and hypocritical microscope, the world’s Israel bashers had taken Israel’s imperfect democratic experiment and said to the Arab world: Why don’t you try to emulate the Jews?
Well, now that the cesspool of human oppression in the Arab world has been opened for all to see, how bad is Israel’s democracy looking? Don’t you wish the Arab world had a modicum of Israel’s civil society? Would you still be worrying about “stability in the Middle East?”
You can preach to me all you want about the great Jewish tradition of self-criticism — which I believe in — but right now, when I see poor Arab souls being murdered for the simple act of protesting on the street, I’ve never felt more proud of being a supporter of the Jewish state.
AM ISRAEL HAI.

Paula Sadok says:

Before I started doing my own research, I didn’t know anything about the 1,000,000 Jews who were kicked out of the Middle East in the last century. My own family left their countries of origin (Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Kurdistan) voluntarily, so until I started researching for a novel I had no idea.

What scares me, when I read about Jews in Egypt or other areas of the Middle East, was how they just didn’t see it coming. Life was so good for so long, no one could have imagined that it would cease to be the case.

I love America, and I’m grateful to live here, and I feel completely safe here. But it’s terrifying to know that Jews in Cairo or Tehran or Tunis most likely felt the same way in 1944.

That’s why it’s so important to tell these stories.

Thanks for all the great feedback.

Best,
Paula

Mordecai Hayehudi says:

Most of the Jews presently living in Egypt are intermarried with Goyims. They are playing to the good hearted Americans for handouts. They refused to leave years ago when given the chance.

The money that Edgar Bronfman and his sister poured into Egypt for the renovation of the Synagogues and other ancient Jewish sights could have been put to use helping Jews and Jewish causes in Israel. Eventually these sights will be turned over the Government and used as Museums with a paid entrance fees. Shame on the Bromfmans for medling in a culture they know nothing about.

As a Jew who happened to be born in Egypt, I have detached myself completely from it’s land and culture. Jews should have left Egypt in 1945 (YES, BEFORE THE CREATION OF ISRAEL) and never looked back. Not after the regime backed Hitler’s Germany. We as Jews were never welcomed. Arab Egyptians Moslems and whatever,(including Copts and Christians, had one smile on their faces for us Jews living in Egypt for 2000 years and lots of “SINAA’ in their hearts. I have no pity for either of them.

Mon père a vu venir l’orage en 1955 quand Nasser a fait un discours antisemite, imputant aux juifs le refus du financement américain du barrage d’Assouan.Il est parti en touriste vers d’autres cieux sans savoir qu’il ne pourrait pas revenir, il laissait, momentanément pensait-il, a un associé arabe depuis 40 ans (sur 2 génération)son magasin. Il laissait 2 immeubles à Alexandrie -dont un sur la corniche. Il laissait sa concession et sa participation dans une usine qui a été nationalisée avec le reste et qui emploie aujourd’hui 2700 employés.C’est lui qui a apporté l’aluminium en Egypte. Il a du reçevoir et heberger une partie de sa famille après leur expulsion violente.
Il n’y a plus de juifs en Egypte -plus de quoi faire un minyan-, malgré cela les médias occidentaux n’ont pas voulu montrer (comme sur Al Jazeera)des manifestants avec les photos de Mubarak portant un Maguen David dessiné sur son front et sur son visage. Ils n’ont pas montré la haine des intervieuwés qui disaient que l’Amérique est dirigée par des juifs. Cette haine que les médias occidentaux cache pour ne pas avoir à la combattre va exploser un jour contre Israel, à moins qu’il ne décide de responsabiliser personnellement chacun des chef d’état concerné

Sherri says:

What a well-written and well-researched article. Touching, sad, important. Thank you!

Paula and I went to high school and graduated together, i was very excited to read this article. It’s about time Egyptian Jewish Jewry got some attention about their struggle.

I am a product of a middle eastern Jewish heritage that i am proud of but yet cant totally relate to. My family is the Algazi family who left during the 6 day way, were claimed as italian citizens and went to italy then france thru a Jewish Organization and later settled in Brooklyn amongst the American syrian community.
it’s 2011 as an American Jew I hardly feel like there is any danger or threat surrounding us. I grew up in brooklyn where kosher restaurants, Jewish oriented stores, shuls and yeshivas flood the area. Its hard for me to fathom the thought that my family were refugees from a country where they had the same comfort as i do for the most part.

I work in production and if anyone is interested in pursuing a project documenting Egyptian Jews and their stories please contact me at nellyslist@gmail.com
thanks Paula for this wonderful piece ~

George One says:

Thank you for your article. As a Jew who lived in Egypt in the 40s and early 50s, I have kept several Egyptian Moslem friends who were educated in more open tolerant times. They underline the fact that corruption and military dictatorship did not start with Mubarak but with Nasser in the early fifties. They are happy with the idea of western style democracy but fear that the spontaneous uprising of the young is being taken over by the Moslem Brotherhood and Hamas. Then the country would end up in a worse situation than military dictatorship – they would have a theocratic dictatorship and the same level of corruption. As one Egyptian told me – they fear “one man, one vote, one time” with the accent on the last two words.

Very interesting and well-written piece.

monique haber says:

Ms sadok this article was very interesting to me and my family. I am looking forward to reading any more articles you will be writing.

Karen Rosenberg says:

Another great story by Paula Sadok. I love reading her stuff!

This is a wonderful piece.Learning about Sephardic Heritage is always something I appreciate. It is not something I come across often and the rich culture and history are something we should all be aware of. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. Can’t wait to read more pieces like this.

Judy. May says:

Thanks,Paula! Kol ha k’vod!!

murray says:

I suspect there is an important lesson here also for the millions of Christians still living(for now) in Egypt.

Another great piece. I love reading your articles. I hope you will be writing more in the near future.

Absolutely fantastic piece. Thank you.

Fascinating, Looking forward to reading the next one.

As an Ashkenazi Jew I can always count on Ms. Sadok’s articles for education and enlightenment about the Sephardic community. Thanks for another great piece!

A great piece! It’s not just a story of what goes around comes around & history repeats itself, but it gives intimate insights of how Jews lived & survived in that time frame in our history.

The writer allows us to partially feel the life of a Jew in Egypt, what Jews did for Egypt & how their lives were affected. It’s what every Jew should be informed of.

It’s a story that should be told & what a poignant time to have told it. Great timing & a great piece.

Lauren G says:

Such an important and nuanced story. I’m glad there are educated and articulate writers like Ms. Sadok to lead the discussion.

Wow! I really was not aware of the severity and the hardships. Very enlightening. Thank you to the author!

Mayeer Karkowsky says:

Super Story! Terrific Read!

What a fascinating, meaningful, and important piece. These stories need to be told and I hope you continue to do so.

In 1990 I made my first trip to Egypt – by bus from Tel Aviv. I visited two synagogues in Cairo. One was in Cairo proper. The other was a bit of a trek – it was built where Moses was found by Pharoah’s daughter. The second synagogue was undergoing renovation.
In the first synagogue, I talked with some men – all were elderly. They told me they barely had a minyan. All the Jews had left. Their grievance at the time was that the city was planning to build where an old Jewish cemetary was located. They got little to no support from Jews outside Israel.
That was 20 years ago. It is almost surprising that any Jewish family is still in Egypt.
The article is interesting because of the description of Cairo before 1948. There did not seem to be any animosity toward Jews. Some pre WW2 publications suggest that the Jewish football teams from Palestine were welcomed with open arms (Notably, Palestine was referred to as the homeland of the Jews – Nobody denied this.).
So what happened? Where did all the “Kill the Jews” invective come from? Was there European influence?
Some of the comments here from people who escaped from Egypt are interesting. I would be interested to know more about relationships of Jews with their Muslim governments and communities pre-1948. It seems it was not so bad. Two milestones are 1948 Jewish Statehood and 1967 6-Day war. The cycle of hatred of Jews that we see today (recognizing that it comes in irregular cycles) has been linked to those two historic events. BUT, were those events the cause of hatred, or just a catalyst?
If you have insight please send a message at:
http://www.worldsways.com/contact-us/
Thanks

Looking for truth, not narrative.

Stella says:

Such an interesting perspective on what is happening in Egypt…

Joseph Abdel Wahed says:

Thank you Paula for your accurate and touching article. I appreciate your thor ough research on our history.(You can read a similar article Leila by Gilbert in The Jerusalem Post) Also, I urge you to see our documentary: “THE FORGOTTEN REFUGEES” on uTube which shows the sufferings of the Jews under Arab/Muslim rule.
In 2001, I and a few other Middle East Jews founded “JEWS INDIGENOUS TO THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA” (JIMENA)to tell the world our story. We gave hundreds of speeches all over the country and abroad. But, the Ashkenazi Jews remain clueless on our story and tragedy. Steven Spielsberg doesn’t care about us, only about European Jews and the Shoah. Here in America, many Jews even support the mosque at Ground Zero.
My family was expelled in late 1952. We were stripped of our assets and sent packing. I’ve written many articles on our situation,including one called “The Jews are our dogs” I even wrote a special prayer for Passover telling our story and thanking God for our Second Exodus.
Today, Egypt is a virulent anti Semitic country. I have nothing but contempt for it. It’s culture of hate is disgusting. I am happy to be away from this country.
Joseph Abdel Wahed
Moraga, Ca.

Joseph Abdel Wahed says:

Those of you interested in our story, I urge you to read “In Ishmael’s House: A history of Jews in Muslim Lands”
by Sir Martin Gilbert. You can find it on Amazon.com

Joseph Abdel Wahed says:

Those of you interested in our story, I urge you to read “In Ishmael’s House: A history of Jews in Muslim Lands”
by Sir Martin Gilbert. You can find it on Amazon.com

Lea Reiter says:

Thank you for writing this. My mother left Egypt in 1956 and doesn’t like to talk about her experiences there. It’s only recently that she’s taken an interest in locating relatives who left Egypt for Australia and Argentina. If anyone knows of any Egyptian Jews named Aladjem, please post.

esthermiriam says:

Also for good reading on/about this topic, DREAM HOMES: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Story, by Joyce Zonana (Feminist Press, 2008).

LazerBeam says:

The German Nazis and the Muslim Arabs were a natural alliance prior to WWII. The German Nazis gained access to Middle East oil, and the Muslim Arabs were assured that the world would soon be free of the accursed Jews. Of course, as an inferior people to the German supermen, they would have been next, but, in their culture, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Like the Germans, the Muslim Arabs needed an enemy from within to blame for their problems, and the Jews have always served as a handy scapegoat.

When the Nazis failed to make the world Judenfrei, it fell to the Arab Muslims to finish the job. The creation of Israel rubbed salt in old wounds. Even when there were no Jews left to expel, intimidate, or kill, they were still blamed for all of the country’s problems, because, according to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jews are capable of manipulating events on a world-wide scale to effect their Zionist ends.

The young, well-educated Egyptians are outnumbered by the uneducated, easily manipulated masses, and if push comes to shove, the educated few will join with the uneducated many, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, in condemning the Zionists to achieve a parliamentary majority, even if they know its a blatant untruth. The first test of the new government will be whether the peace treaty with Israel will survive the revolution. The ultimate test will be whether the politicians running for parliament pander to hate of Zionists and the West or appeal to the better angels of the Egyptian people, including tolerance for Jews and accommodation with the West.

But why should we expect more of the nascent Egyptian democracy than we do of our own? Democracy, like charity, must begin at home, and pandering to the fear and hatred of Muslims, immigrants, gays and atheists is beneath the dignity of this country! We are better than that, even if the Muslim Arabs aren’t!

Interesting article and comments. no mention of the Lavon affair I see, and No mention among the commenters. Perhaps they never heard of it, but one expects better.

Travis says:

There are two points I want to mention is response to some of the comments found here.

The first, I see people excorciating Islam and Muslims for intolerance towards the Jews. But Muslims have killed no where as many Jews as Europeans have in the last hundred years, in the last thousand years. Egypt and Algeria and Morocco had large Jewish communities that left due to anti-semitism but they faced no where near the levels of violence that European Jews faced in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania. More Jews were murdered by Christians Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians after the END of World War II, after the Nazis had left their countries then have been killed by Muslims in the last century (if not thousand years).

Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in the world before the war, had over 90% of its Jewish population, or about 3,000,000 Jews, murdered by the Nazis. Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Latvia each had over 70% of their Jewish population killed. Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Norway, and Estonia lost around half of their Jewish population, the Soviet Union lost over one third of its Jews, and even countries such as France and Italy each saw around a quarter of their Jewish population killed (shipped to the death camps with help of local police).

Say what you will about the exodus of Jews from Arab lands, there was nowhere near the European level of violence or murder used.

Travis says:

The second point I want to make is the fact that this article does not mention the Lavon Affair. People have noted that before and just after World War II there didn’t seem to be any level of anti-semetism and they wonder where it appeared from. In great part if was fostered by the Lavon Affair.

The Lavon Affair was a failed Israeli covert operation, code named Operation Susannah, conducted in Egypt in the Summer of 1954. As part of the false flag operation, a group of Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli military intelligence for plans to plant bombs inside Egyptian, American and British-owned targets. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, “unspecified malcontents” or “local nationalists” with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupying troops in Egypt’s Suez Canal zone.

The operation became known as the Lavon Affair after the Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon, who was forced to resign because of the incident, or euphemistically as the Unfortunate Affair or The Bad Business (Hebrew: העסק ביש‎, HaEsek Bish or העסק הביש, HaEsek HaBish). After being denied for 51 years, the surviving agents were in 2005 officially honored with a certificate of appreciation by the Israeli President Moshe Katzav.

This cynical ploy by Israel (as well as similar actions in Iraq and Yemen) were aimed at creating animosity between Muslims and the local Jewish communities and getting these Jewish communities to settle Israel to increase its population. The lack of Zionist fervor among the population of these Arab nations is a common refrain in the writings of the early leaders of Israel (of particular interest are Chaim Weizmann’s condescending writings about the “backwards” Jews from Arab lands).

Not all Jews are happy to be “no longer in Egypt.” For some of us, Egyptian culture remains a very strong part of our lives, and Egyptian people of all faiths are an important part of our communities, wherever we happen to be living. Some of us rejoice with the Egyptian people in the departure of Mubarak, and we look forward to a future where Jews will again be an integral part of the social fabric of a great country. Certainly negative things happened in the past, but the future does not have to repeat the past, and we have a part to play in building that future.

Travis: while you are cutting and pasting from Wikipedia (we have a word for copying without attribution), you should also add in some of the text you excluded, such as:
“The operation caused no casualties, except for the members of the cell who committed suicide after being captured.” This sentence appeared between the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs in the wikipedia source for Travis’ 2:02 AM (!) message. I wonder why he left this out – could this sentence have weakened his insinuations?
For those who are interested in Travis’ unidentified source, the link is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavon_Affair .
For Travis, here is a link to wikipedia’s “terms of use” which requires attribution: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Terms_of_Use .

Since proper use of sources seems to challenge Travis, would he also give sources for his last paragraph, especially the Weizman use of the word “backward”?

travis says:

YOu do not contest my contention that the Mossad actively tried to alienate Muslims and Jewish communities in the Middle East.

As for casual Ashkenazi bigotry against the Jews of Arab lands here goes:
Ben-Gurion described the Mizrahi immigrants as lacking even “the most elementary knowledge” or “a trace of Jewish or human education.”
[Ella Shohat, "Mizrahim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims,"]
Ben Gurion “We do not want Israelis to become Arabs. We are bound by duty to fight against the spirit of the Levant that corrupts individuals and society.” [Israel: Pluralism and Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978)]
Abba Eban, “one of the great apprehensions which afflict us is the danger of the predominance of immigrants of Oriental origin forcing Israel to equalize its cultural level with that of the neighboring world.”[Israel: Pluralism and Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978)]
Nachum Goldman, chairman of the Jewish Agency and president of the World Zionist Organization in the late 1940s and 1950s, said, “A Jew from Eastern Europe is worth twice as much as a Jew from Kurdistan,” and continued, “We should return a hundred thousand of the Jews of the East to their countries of origin.” [Chetrit, Hamaavak Hamizrahi Beyisrael, p. 65.]
Golda Meir once asked, “Shall we be able to elevate these immigrants to a suitable level of civilization? ["Smooha, Israel: Pluralism and Conflict, pp. 8-89.] I assume you are aware of her frosty reception to Mizrahim complaints of being treated as second class citizens.

Paula Sadok says:

Dear Sean & Travis:

I did reference the Lavon affair, though not by name. I interviewed Yosef Marzouk, whose brother, Dr. Moshe Marzouk was hanged because he was accused of spying for Israel. We then linked to the Lavon affair.

The decision to do this was made because the focus of the article was the reactions of Egyptian-born Jews to the current revolution, not the history of Jews in Egypt. Believe me, I am enthralled with that history, but that would have been an altogether different–and much longer-article.

Warmly,
Paula Sadok

Sharon M. says:

Great piece. As always I enjoy the author’s writing.
Can’t wait for her next one.

Nice try to change the subject Travis, but you did NOT write originally that Ashkanzim/Sabra elites manifested prejudice and stereotyping toward Mizrachim immigrants. No one would disagree with that. Instead you wrote the following:
“The lack of Zionist fervor among the population of these Arab nations is a common refrain in the writings of the early leaders of Israel (of particular interest are Chaim Weizmann’s condescending writings about the “backwards” Jews from Arab lands).” [Travis, 2/14, 2:02AM].
You did not provide one quote to make this point that insinuates that Mizrachi Jews lacked “Zionist fervor,” let alone the source of the Weizmann “backwards” statement. In fact, I assume that the quotes you provided are selective and out of context like your use of wikipedia.
Clearly you have an agenda to argue that Mizrachi Jews were contentedly living in Arab nations until Zionist provocateurs alienated the Mizrachi Jews from the Arabs nations they lived in. Your obvious goal is to discredit Zionism and to blame Jews for anti-Jewish attacks in Arab countries. But arguing as you do that Arab anti-semitism in the 50s and 60s was benign compared to European anti-semitism in the 30s and 40s is less than persuasive.

Travis says:

“But arguing as you do that Arab anti-semitism in the 50s and 60s was benign compared to European anti-semitism in the 30s and 40s is less than persuasive.”

Let me try to make the point more clearly using math:
European anti-semitism left 6 million Jews dead.
Arab anti-semitism left how many dead? Maybe two thousand?

Here is a link to wikipedia page that might be a help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater-than_sign

How does one take out of context a phrase like:
“one of the great apprehensions which afflict us is the danger of the predominance of immigrants of Oriental origin forcing Israel to equalize its cultural level with that of the neighboring world.”

Another quote, which I am sure you will accuse me of taking out of context:
Karl Frankenstein the man who developed Israel’s pedagogical infrastructure: “We have to recognize the primitive mentality of many of the immigrants from backward countries.” ( Sami Shalom Chetrit, Hamaavak Hamizrahi Beyisrael, Bein Dikui Leshihrur, Bein Hizdahut Lealternativa, 1948-2003 (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2004), pp. 76-8.)

As for the tepid Mizrachi response to Zionism here is a reading list:
Pnina Motzafi-Haller, “A Mizrahi Call for a More Democratic Israel—Israel at 50,” Tikkun, Mar.-Apr. 1988.
“Waters of Babylon,” review of Yehouda Shenhav, The Arab-Jews: Nationalism, Religion, and Ethnicity (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2003), in Azure, Winter 5765/2005.
Shiko Behar, “Is the Mizrahi Question Relevant to the Future of the Entire Middle East?” Kedma.
The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979)
Ella Shohat, “Rupture and Return: A Mizrahi Perspective on the Zionist Discourse,” The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, May 2001, pp. 58-71.

To Travis and Sean, to follow your logic Israel would be justified in ethnically cleansing all Arab Israelis because of all the Arab Israelis who have been convicted for aiding terrorists. Right?

No, ethnic cleansing is never justified. But to tell the story of the exodus of Egyptian Jews out of Egypt and not mention the Lavon Affair smells to me of white washing history.
Learn from the awful mistakes of the past and build a future that overcomes the bigotry of the past. But don’t ignore the warts of history.

Carl, poor and disingenuous analogy. Israel already ethnically cleansed the Arabs in 1948, but as Benny Morris laments, didn’t do a good enough job. of course, even those who remained had their property stolen in years after Israel’s founding and now they are doing the same to the non Israeli Palestinians in the west bank and killing anyone who resists. God was in the real estate business, who knew?

Amos Picker says:

In 1997 we visited Egypt. 4 of us, 2 Christians and 2 Jews, and on Passover eve decided to visit the temple in Cairo, and participate the Passover service.
As indicated in the article, the community was very small with a beautiful temple but only a handful of worshipers. Surprisingly, and not like so common in the Jewish traditional customs, not ONE OF THE COMMUNITY MEMBERS came to great us, invite us to participate in a Seder, inquire as to who we were and what is our purpose of being there. I only guessed that even though, at the time Egypt already had signed the “peace” agreement with Israel, the atmosphere of Jew hate was so deeply set into the Jewish life, that who ever was within their circle who did not fit their mold was suspected as being a spy, a plant or even an executioner. So, we were the suspects whom they just ignored. Sad, isn’t it?
Amos Picker

Not so long ago, maybe 2 or 3 years, a group of Jewish Egyptians joined the Israeli-Egyptian friendship group to visit our synagogue, eventually go to Bassetine to put a stone on our family tombs.
Hotel reservations and plane ticket were made, then somehow for a reason unknown to me, the media tore us apart saying we wre coming to claim compensations.That was not true i give you my word!
But the Egyptian government said we were persona non grata and even the hotel refused to take our reservations, not being able to protect us. In the meanwhile the media had blown our trip (all of us senior citizens) out of proportion: we had become those Jews coming back to claim compensations
i am very happy not to have gone back and I never will.
suzy vidal aka sultana latifa

This is a very interesting article and very well written. Than you.

schon yaccob says:

I am from an egyptian jewish family that converted to Islam during that time. After reading your last comment I realized that asking the jews to leave egypt was the right decision!! No matter how hard living in egypt was and still is, I will never say leaving egypt was a blessing but I will say and I do say it is God’s way for making me help the egyptians back home. Egypt is my home and egyptians are my people…Americans are my adoptive family that raised me in their home and I love them equally…but my home is my home.

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I’m still learning, as I’m improving myself. I certainly love reading everything that is posted on your website.Keep the posts coming. I liked it!

We must trust Ha’Shem to do what He has said He will do … It is His Right Arm that will sustain us … The Goyim smile at us and make nice, while another is sneaking up behind to cut our heads off … When will we ever learn ??? The time for talking and negotiation is long over, and it is patently stupid for us to continue to believe that Islam will ever tell the Truth, or actually live properly with us or around us … We have a Duty to Conserve, Preserve, and Defend Israel …
Hotel reservations and plane ticket were made, then somehow for a reason unknown to me, the media tore us apart saying we wre coming to claim compensations.That was not true i give you my word!
But the Egyptian government said we were persona non grata and even the hotel refused to take our reservations, not being able to protect us.

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