You will find no Jews in Tahir 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 and 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 Tahir 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 with their 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 is 800,000. Kicked out, and all their possessions confiscated. The world did not scream and there was no CNN, and I don’t know if the refugees made it in the Movie Reel News.
No, there are no Jews demonstrating in Mansoura or Tahir 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.