The story of Jews in the Middle East does not fold smoothly into a Jewish narrative of oppression, and many Egyptian Jews can trace their families’ arrival in Egypt to an escape from persecution, whether from pogroms or the Spanish Inquisition. The history of the Jews in Europe has been told such that it becomes the history of all Jews, and it is a deeply politicized narrative, its folds influenced by Zionism, such that the history of the Jews without a homeland is simply one of persecution, and that Israel offers a solution to that perennial condition.
The Jews of Egypt tell a different story. So different was this story that, even for those who did not oppose Israel for political reasons, it simply did not resonate or speak to them. As a French journalist, the daughter of an Egyptian Jew, says: “It did not occur to the family to go to Israel. That was a place for oppressed Jews, so it wasn’t for us.”
Or, as Browning says of her grandmother: “It’s not that she was against segregation, it just wasn’t who she was. Identity badges gave her an allergy. It would give her claustrophobia to be with the same kind of people. And she couldn’t understand why people would go to a country to put yellow stars on themselves.””
Egypt Independent: A forgotten chapter in the history of Egypt and Jews
Some more from the article:
Albert Aryeh is one of the hundred or so Jews left in Egypt, and he knows he is Egyptian. The rest of the Jews gone. Their memories, as they recount them in Amir Ramses’ “The Jews of Egypt,” recall a time when their identity and allegiance were unquestioned.
They were Egyptian, and that’s all there was to it. And they were Egyptian in different ways, according to who they were. Archivist Essam Fawzi describes how the Jewish capitalists behaved like any Egyptian capitalists, and did not invest their profits abroad. Robert Grinsman recounts how he “became a communist as an Egyptian seeking change.” We learn about Yousef Darwish and Ahmed Sadek Sad, who converted to Islam in order to work more effectively, and that work was as lawyers defending workers, helping found workers syndicates and schools for the poor.
The film is a history lesson. We learn that Ciccurel, owner of large department stores, was a close associate of Talaat Harb and involved in the establishment of Egypt’s first national bank, Bank Misr. There are mentions of important Jewish figures in the country’s history, their major achievements — Laila Mourad in music, Yacoub Sanoua in theater and Togo Mezrahi in cinema. We learn that communist Henri Curiel somehow got the plan of the 1956 Tripartite Aggression and showed it to Gamal Abdel Nasser, who then declared it a fake.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the article. The Egyptian Jewish community is so wasted away by now that at the big synagogue downtown they can’t even get a minyan (required quorum) together for regular Shabbat services, though I believe on the High Holidays enough extras come in that they manage. It’s not even open to tourists much anymore out of fear of vandalism or terrorists. At any rate, it’s good to see that this film was made, and apparently isn’t a travesty.