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Where Are the Egyptian Jews?

16 Feb Posted by in • Rachel Wahba | 5 comments
Where Are the Egyptian Jews?

You will find no Jews in Tahrir Square. Or in Mansoura, where Grandfather Wahba had a drug store. I scan the architecture on CNN looking past the screaming demonstrators. I want to see Egypt, Dad’s Egypt, and imagine what he would be saying about the situation today, almost four years since he died.

Egypt is in the news and how I miss my father.

I see “Rioting in Mansoura, Cairo, Alexandria,” flash on the news. Cities that were home to my dad at different points in his life.

Born to an old Egyptian family in Mansoura, “The Wahbas were real (not transplants from another country), Egyptians” he bragged. They were indigenous to the land, originally farmers, peasants—in Midghram.

When President Obama spoke in Cairo, he didn’t ask, “Where are your Jews”? Once not so long ago Egyptian Jews were an integral part of Egypt’s infrastructure. Obama did mention the Copts (Egypt’s Christians), another indigenous group who suffer discrimination.  He asked for “tolerance”.

ASK WHERE ARE THE JEWS WHO LIVED HERE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I wanted to break through his eloquence. But yelling at the TV is not my style.

And now I shall deliver some mostly ignored facts and have my own Tahrir Square experience:

In 1948 there were 75,000 Jews in Egypt. After the expulsion in l956 during Nasser’s reign, most of Egypt’s Jews were forced to flee. My grandfather had to sign a document saying he would never return. A variety of creative humiliations accompanied the confiscation of any property.  Nothing of monetary value was allowed out except one suitcase of clothing. Penniless, the majority of Egyptian Jews ended up in transit camps in Israel.

A wave of expulsions of Arab Jews from all over the Middle East and North Africa numbered in the tens of thousands:

Financially ripped off and exiled from their native lands, some since Biblical times: Aden (8,000), Algeria (140,000), Iraq (135,000), Lebanon (5,000), Libya (38,000), Morocco (265,000), Tunisia (105,000) and Yemen, (55,000).

The total count? 800,000. Kicked out with all their possessions confiscated. The world did not scream and there was no CNN, and I don’t know if the refugees made it into the Movie Reel News.

No, there are no Jews demonstrating in Mansoura or Tahrir Square today. No Egyptian Jews strolling the Corniche in Alexandria.

In 2005 there were approximately 100 old Jews left in Egypt.

And I imagine most are dead or too old to walk today.

So what next?

Israel is home to most Jews from Arab lands today. They are long out of the maabarot, the transit camps. They are grandparents and great grandparents to children who serve in the Israeli army.

Egyptian Jews are watching the news, perhaps also scanning the once familiar landscape. They utter “Inshallah,” God willing, may this uprising end well.

I, too, from my safe home in America, pray, Inshallah, may it end well, and Israel be safe.

Published with permission of lezgetreal.com

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5 comments

  • Kim Reed says:

    Last night I asked a class of sociology students to form pairs in Race and Ethnic Relations to read this post and your previous post about your mother to one another. It was very powerful. No one had ever heard about the expulsion of Jews from Egypt or middle eastern countries. This raised consciousness and questions and several students wanted to know more about this history.

  • Doug Moorhead says:

    Rachel, your writing is so amazing. Post-like in length, yet novel like in depth, biblical in it’s depth and poetry, apophatic in it’s rage, and, as I knew your father, ever so slightly, in his sweet, insistant poetry and gentleness which must have also come out of that birthing ground and the Jewish families of Mansoura and Midghram. Thanks for putting this into words. Doug.

  • rachel wahba says:

    kim, martin gilbert’s new book
    “in ishmael’s house” is a great resource. very readable and he has been at this for a long time, writing about jewish history —not just european jewish history.

  • Mark says:

    Hey guys,

    Check out this new passover video on youtube.
    Its filmed in Israel and very inspirational music!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0UN_06tess

  • rachel wahba says:

    love it love you thanks