The Life of a Modern Jewish Refugee from Egypt

As Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, that commemorates the historical exodus from Egypt, it may be worth noting that this is not just a matter of ancient history.

The Jews of Egypt, and much of the rest of the Muslim world, became refugees once again in modern times. And this is not just something that happened 50 years ago. It’s still happening today.

This story of life for Egyptian Jews in a country of Islamic oppression comes to us from 2005.

Cpl. Dina Ovadia is telling her winding, unbelievable story for the umpteenth time, but her eyes still well up with tears. Ovadia, now 22, left her family home in Alexandria for the last time as a young and curious 15-year-old girl. All she wanted was to fit in. “Everyone always looked at me as though I was something different, the ugly duckling in the class. They asked me why I dressed the way I did, and why I spoke with my parents during the breaks, and why this and why that.”

Dina knew very little about Jews as a child. “In school they always taught us to hate Jews and Israelis,” she says. “Let’s take Koran class for example. I would be sitting, taking a test, and would read a verse that said you need to kill Jews. I also remember during the Second Intifada all the TV programs I watched that always said that Israelis are bad. I cried over the story of Mohammed al-Dura. My grandfather did his best to explain to us that they’re not bad, that we have to understand that in war, that’s what happens. At home we were always taught that all human beings are equal and you have to respect them for who they are, no matter what their background. In school they taught us that Israel is the enemy. They would say when I grew up that I would understand. During the Intifada I was even at demonstration, waving the Palestinian flag. It never even occurred to me that I was Jewish.”

The Jewish stereotype present in Egypt was similar to what was taught in the darker racial theories of the early 20th Century. “I knew that Jews were scary, were murderers, had big noses, ears and had beards. On television you would always see babies burning in Gaza, things I’ve never seen in Israel, but that’s what we thought.”

The turning point occurred on a day like any other. Dina was studying for a history test, her brother and cousin were playing on the computer upstairs, and her mother, aunt and sister were also at home. Suddenly the sounds of shouting and shattering glass cut through the calm routine. “I really panicked, and immediately I thought that because we were different they had come to our house. I went outside and saw five masked faces – they were Salafists.” Five bearded men in robes, with clubs in their hands and rifles slung over their shoulders, broke through the electric iron gate at the entrance to the grand family home and demanded to know where the men of the house were. Their explanation was as simple as it was incomprehensible: “A’lit el’Yahud” – a Jewish family.

“I thought, ‘what the hell!?’ I didn’t understand why they were saying that we were a Jewish family. Anyone who was different, the stranger, was always called ‘the Jew’. I was certain that they were mistaken. They entered the house. My mother said that the men weren’t there, and they threw her into the corridor, she slammed into the pillars, and she fainted. I started to scream – I was sure that they had killed her. And then I saw two of them going up the stairs. I heard shots. I was sure that they had murdered both my brother and my cousin.”

The Salafists went down the stairs and told the Abdallah family that they had a few days to get out of the country, and that in the meantime they could not leave their home. They threatened that if the children went to school, they would be kidnapped. Only then did they leave.

Luckily, the whole family escaped. The armed men shot at the boys’ heads, missing deliberately in order to scare them. “I think that today they would have just killed us all,” she says. From the moment of that home invasion, Dina’s life became entangled in a complex loop, while the two irreconcilable edges of her life began to unravel. “The Salafists would encircle the house in their vehicles, shooting into the air. That month even the school didn’t call. I slept with my mother – I was terribly afraid. My father told me that they are just thieves despite the fact that they didn’t take anything. ‘Jew’ was really a kind of swear word, he said; but I couldn’t believe him.”

A few days later, her grandfather gathered all of his family together and he revealed the truth. “He explained why he kept us from other religions and told us that we were Jewish, and we that we had little time to leave Egypt. He told us we were going to Israel. I remember the little ones at home were excited about it, but I wasn’t. I started crying and was so disappointed. I told him I did not want to move to that bad country. I rebelled against it.”

Before this dramatic turn of events, Dina tried to understand where all her friends had disappeared to. They hadn’t even called to say hi throughout the whole month. “I had a really good group of friends,” Dina says. “We lived really close to one another, and we used to sleep over at each other’s houses. I begged my mother to go and see one of them, and in the end she let me go. I knocked on her door. She opened it, made a face and slammed the door on me. What my grandfather told me passed through my head at exactly that moment: we grew up together and just because she heard that I was Jewish she doesn’t accept me anymore? That really hit me. I said: I know that the Jews are bad, but look; I’m not bad. By this time I had totally broken down. Right then I realised that this wasn’t the right place for me. They couldn’t accept me for who I was.”

To some extent, Dina’s job in the Spokesperson’s Unit is about getting the Arab world to truly accept her. “When I got to the Spokesperson’s Unit and realised what the work involved, I was really happy,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun to be able to show the positive side of the IDF, and to tell the world what’s really happening. The best example is Operation Pillar of Defense, where we really had a big impact. When wrote on the various platforms that the IDF doesn’t want to harm civilians, there were people in the Arab world who listened and were convinced. Sometimes they even tell us so in private messages, which is fantastic. We get comments and messages from across the Arab world; from Saudi Arabia, from Egypt, and from further afield.

While the whole Arab world has yet to accept Dina, the most important person has already accepted her – herself. “In truth, I don’t say that I’m from Egypt,” she says. “It’s behind me already. I was angry when the Rabbi changed my name for me, but now I realise how great the name ‘Dina’ is. I have no desire to live in Egypt, and I don’t think I could forgive those people for what they did. But there’s something I’ve never told anyone before,” she smiles. “I want to go back and visit, and to see my house. I want to go and look that friend of mine in the eye and tell her: I am a Jew – and I’m proud and happy. I want to go back to Egypt in uniform, to show them that we’re not murderers, that we’re not actually bad people. I’d like to go back to my school, and to the morning assembly we had at the beginning of every day. I want to explain to them that all we’re doing is defending our country.”


  • judahlevi

    Until the world stops grouping people and assigning values to them, negative or positive, we will continue suffer the tragedies of human conflict. The only solution is the human relational philosophy of Individualism which states that all human beings are deserving of respect. It also states that all individuals are unique and no one should be assigned to any grouping for judgmental purposes. Collective thinking has been one of the worst human traits in history.

  • Jaymes

    There is no Koran verse that says to kill Jews. The Koran says most Jews turned from the laws of god. Which the bible says too. In fact the bible goes a step further and says Jews are the children of the devil. There is nothing in the Koran that says to kill Jews. This woman is yet another Israeli liar

    • Indus Valley

      Taqqiya alert !!!!!!

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "There is no Koran verse that says to kill Jews. The Koran says most Jews turned from the laws of god. Which the bible says too. In fact the bible goes a step further and says Jews are the children of the devil. There is nothing in the Koran that says to kill Jews. This woman is yet another Israeli liar"

      Said the liar.

    • Mary Sue

      The Bible Does NOT say that. The Bible has it where Jesus said that a particular group of Pharisees were "Of your father, the Devil", but this does NOT mean ALL Jews!

      There's Hadith that say to kill Jews. Mohammed spoke against the Jews plenty in the Queeran though.

    • Parenthetical Phrase

      Jaymes – you are a disgusting racist.

    • UCSPanther

      May you suffer a thousand Dresdens….

    • Ar'nun

      "Koran [9.30] And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!"

      Well so much for that idiotic Liberal theory.

    • Ar'nun

      9.79] They who taunt those of the faithful who give their alms freely, and those who give to the extent of their earnings and scoff at them; Allah will pay them back their scoffing, and they shall have a painful chastisement.
      [9.80] Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them; this is because they disbelieve in Allah and His Apostle, and Allah does not guide the transgressing people.

    • defcon 4

      Brilliant employment of kitman. But let's look at the following three "authentic" hadith:

      "Allah's Apostle said, ‘You Muslims will fight the Jews till some of them hide behind stones. The stones will betray them saying, "O Abdullah (slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him."'"

      "Allah's Apostle said, ‘The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him."'"

      In Sahih Muslim: Book 041, Number 6985:
      Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

  • AdinaK

    Looks like Jaymes, the poster above, has to go back to school and learn his lessons well! In fact, the Koran is replete with "killing the Jews", as well as all "infidels". And if he doesn't believe me, fine. But he would do well to believe this –

    Then again, like many others, either he is a useful idiot, or an Islamist himself. No matter. Most Zionists know how to "take care of business".

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

  • Shmuel Bar

    [2.88] And they say: Our hearts are covered. Nay, Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief; so little it is that they believe.
    [2.111] And they say: None sh all enter the garden (or paradise) except he who is a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful.
    [4.46] Of those who are Jews (there are those who) alter words from their places and say: We have heard and we disobey and: Hear, may you not be made to hear! and: Raina, distorting (the word) with their tongues and taunting about religion; and if they had said (instead): We have heard and we obey, and hearken, and unzurna it would have been better for them and more upright; but Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief, so they do not believe but a little.
    [5.13] But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good (to others).
    [5.41] O Apostle! let not those grieve you who strive together in hastening to unbelief from among those who say with their mouths: We believe, and their hearts do not believe, and from among those who are Jews; they are listeners for the sake of a lie, listeners for another people who have not come to you; they alter the words from their places, saying: If you are given this, take it, and if you are not given this, be cautious; and as for him whose temptation Allah desires, you cannot control anything for him with Allah. Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts; they shall have disgrace in this world, and they shall have a grievous chastisement in the hereafter.
    [5.60] Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.
    [5.64] And the Jews say: The hand of Allah is tied up! Their hands shall be shackled and they shall be cursed for what they say. Nay, both His hands are spread out, He expends as He pleases; and what has been revealed to you from your Lord will certainly make many of them increase in inordinacy and unbelief; and We have put enmity and hatred among them till the day of resurrection; whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out, and they strive to make mischief in the land; and Allah does not love the mischief-makers.
    [62.6] Say: O you who are Jews, if you think that you are the favorites of Allah to the exclusion of other people, then invoke death
    The Hadith have many more such as:
    'The Jews will fight you, but you will be set to rule over them.' What could be more beautiful than this tradition? 'The Jews will fight you' – that is, the Jews have begun to fight us. 'You will be set to rule over them' – Who will set the Muslim to rule over the Jew? Allah… Until the Jew hides behind the rock and the tree. But the rock and tree will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, a Jew hides behind me, come and kill him.' Except for the Gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews.

  • eddy.canuck

    Our Parrish Church (Catholic) held a Seder meal last Wednesday. It was very exciting to have that experience and explore the historical link between faiths of Judaism and Christianity. And then on Sat night I saw a jewish gentleman (at least I think he was as he was wearing a kippah) attending our Easter Vigil (which is not for the faint of heart as it began at Midnight and is a full Latin service). Hallelujah!

    • Mary Sue

      Seder is awesome. Doing the "Christianized" version goes into some details, such as the marks on the matzo can symbolize something that goes over a lot of people's heads – it can represent the "stripes" on Jesus after Pilate had him flogged (hoping that would be good enough), referencing I believe Isaiah "By his stripes we are healed". There's actually quite a bit of things that match up really well.

  • Rraymond Kuuredjian

    I am an Armenian who left Egypt 40 years ago and wondered why I did not leave sooner.
    I re- visited once in 1978 and could not wait to leave any sooner! The country is dirty, smells of urine, polluted, beggars everywhere, sexually perverted mentality, religion everywhere, corruption at all levels of society, etc.
    It was foreigners who brought Egypt to the civilized world with the arrival of Napoleon and the British but everything went downhill with the arrival of Nasser and the rest.