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Daily Briefing: EGYPT’S JEWS COME HOME: RECAPTURING BITTERSWEET MEMORIES (April 2, 2021)

A Bittersweet Homecoming for Egypt’s Jews:  Declan Walsh and Ronen Bergman, NYTimes, Feb. 23, 2020

“Mr. el-Sisi’s embrace of Egyptian Jews is also awkward and laced with contradictions. The visit of 180 Jews took place under a news media blackout, with no coverage in Egyptian outlets, and amid iron-tight security by Egyptian officials who at times outnumbered their visitors.”

Clutching a decades-old black-and-white photo, Doris Wolanski directed a vehicle through Cairo’s chaotic traffic, her gaze trained on the street corners, in search of rue du Metro.

The photo showed an 8-year-old girl and her mother on a balcony overlooking a wide, deserted boulevard. The girl was Mrs. Wolanski, now 71; the apartment was her Jewish family’s home until they were expelled from Egypt in 1956, during the Suez crisis. Now she was trying to find it again.

The address wasn’t much help — rue du Metro had been renamed — but she hoped that details on the photo might lead her home. Spotting a familiar landmark, she filled with anxious anticipation.

Preserving the Traces of Egypt’s Lost Jews:  Lucette Lagnado, WSJ, Feb. 7, 2019

“Today, there are fewer than a dozen Jews living in Egypt. But in recent years, some elderly Egyptians—mostly widows in their 80s or 90s—have “come out” to reclaim their Jewish identities. A couple of times a year, they journey shyly to the Gates of Heaven, the main synagogue on Adly Street, to attend a Passover Seder or a Hanukkah menorah lighting.” 

Magda Haroun likes to say she will be the last Jew left in Egypt. She sees it as her mission to prepare for that day, which is why she is obsessed with preserving the remnants of Egyptian Jewish culture. Today, many younger Egyptians don’t know that, in the early 20th century, the country was home to some 80,000 Jews, who lived alongside Christians and Muslims in a flourishing multicultural society.

Ms. Haroun was born in 1952, the year when King Farouk was overthrown and life in Egypt changed dramatically. The Jews of Egypt had been departing in waves since 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, when they suddenly found themselves the object of the rage that so many Egyptians felt over the new Jewish state. Still, Farouk was viewed by the Jewish community as a protector. When Colonel Gamal Abdel-Nasser took over, he made it clear that Egypt was only for Arabs; Jews, even whose families had lived there for generations, didn’t qualify.

How should we remember the forced migration of Jews from Egypt?:  Pablo Jairo Tutillo Maldonado, Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, University of Washington, Sept. 2017

While the Jewish community of Egypt left in various waves and for various reasons in the last century, I chose to study the year 1956 specifically because of the documented actions perpetrated by the Nasser Administration that led to the forced migration of members of the Jewish population.”

In September 2017, Eyal Sagui Bizawe, a Jerusalem-based Israeli film director of Egyptian Jewish origins, published an opinion article in Haaretz critiquing the Israeli Ministry of Education’s recent initiative to implement a new curriculum in the Israeli education system.

The new curriculum addresses the historical injustices experienced by Jewish communities of the Arab world, particularly the plight of Sephardi Jews — Jews who came from pre-Inquisition Spain — and Mizrahi Jews — Jews of Middle Eastern origin, who primarily resided in Muslim-majority countries.

The Sources of Egyptian Anti-Semitism:  Samuel Tadros, The American Interest, Apr. 21, 2014

Perhaps more startling to outside observers is the prevalence of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories among Egypt’s non-Islamists, including its self-described liberals and even its Christian minority. Anti-Semitism is not only a dominant discourse in the country, but is rather the only common worldview shared throughout its political spectrum and among all levels of Egypt’s political class.”

“Sisi is Jewish and Egypt is now under Zionist occupation.” Thus screamed a September 21, 2013 headline on Rassd, the news outlet created and backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The story beneath the headline uses as its source the anti-Semitic conspiracy website Veterans Today, which is based in the U.S., lending it credibility in the eyes of Egyptian readers. The article explains that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s Minister of Defense and de facto ruler is “Jewish by nationality” as his mother is a Moroccan Jew by the name of Malika Titani. Sisi’s maternal uncle is named Youri Sabbagh and is described as an important Zionist who served in Ben Gurion’s party. The story’s information has been quoted thousands of times to the extent that if you Google Sisi’s name in Arabic the first search option comes up as “Sisi Jewish.”

Two months earlier, as Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour was being sworn in, Ikhwanonline.com, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood, published an article that proclaimed him Jewish. As proof for its claim, the article, which has since been taken down, states that Mansour is a Seventh Day Adventist, which of course as all Egyptian conspiracy experts know is a Jewish sect.

Further Reference:

Egyptian Jews: Down memory lane with famous artists, actors:  Ashraf Abdulhamid, Al Arabiya.Net, Cairo, Oct. 9, 2016 In 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Jews in Egypt numbered around 90,000.

WATCH: IDF Soldier Recalls Family’s Modern-day Exodus from Egypt:  United With Israel, Mar. 31, 2021 – Passover is an eight-day holiday (seven days in Israel) that commemorates the Jewish People’s redemption from slavery in Egypt. 

The Egyptian government is sending Jews mixed signals:  The Economist, Feb. 22, 2020 — When it comes to Egypt’s Jewish community, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi says all the right things.

Egypt’s last Jews aim to keep alive heritage:  YouTube, Mar 26, 2017 — Once a flourishing community, only a handful of Egyptian Jews, mostly elderly women, is all that remains in the Arab world’s most populous country, aiming at least to preserve their heritage.

Celebrating Passover and the Exodus from Egypt in Egypt:  Dr Maurice M. Mizrahi, Historical Society of Jews of Egypt, Apr. 15, 2005 — Well, spring is here, Passover is about to begin, and this week’s Torah portion is a special one for Pessah. It’s always a special time for me, because I was born and raised in Egypt during just about the worst period to be a Jew in Egypt. I saw my community shrink 99%, from 100,000 when I was born in 1949 to less than 1,000 when I left in late 1967.

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