The current unrest in Egypt has prompted reflection and recollection in older Egyptian Jews. Several of them—including the head of the Historical Society of the Jews from Egypt, which, tellingly, is based in Brooklyn—talk to Paula Sadok today in Tablet Magazine. It is amazing, and sad, to learn of a time—largely (and this, too, is sad) before Israel’s founding—when 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt; today, after mass migration to Israel and America, the 2000-year-old community has merely a few dozen members.
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.