THE JEWS FROM EGYPT and PEACE by liwenting


									Professor Ada Aharoni
Technion: Israel Institute of Technology
 P.O.B: 9934 Haifa, Israel 34341
 Tel: 972-4-8243230

07 January 2012

                       THE JEWS FROM EGYPT and PEACE
                               Prof. Ada Aharoni

                                    ABSTRACT 1
This paper attempts to explore the cultural heritage of the Jews from Egypt and their
historical “Second Exodus” (1948 - 1967), as potential factors that may contribute to
the promotion of peace between Jews and Arabs. The 100.000 Jews of Egypt in the
20th century, were mostly brought up both in the traditions of the harmonic cultural
relations between Jews and Arabs in the Golden Age in Medieval Spain, as well
as on western and Middle Eastern cultures and values. They possessed a rich cross-
cultural heritage and ability, and were versed in the culture of their Arab neighbours.
Though they were forced to emigrate from Egypt, and only 50 Jews are left in the
whole of Egypt today, their history and heritage can constitute a model of co-
existence promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

                             ABSTRACT 2

Cette article est une tentative d’explorer l’heritage culturel des Juifs d’Egypte ainsi
que leur historique “Second Exode” (1948- 1967), en tant que facteurs potentiels
pouvant contribuer a la promotion de la paix entre Juifs et Arabes . La population
Juive vivant en Egypte vers le milieu du vingtieme siecle et comprenant environ
100000 personnes avait adopte la tradition de relations culturelles harmonieuses
entre Juifs et Arabes characteristiques de “L’Age D’Or” de l’Espagne Medievale ansi
que les valeurs culturelles Occidentales et Orientales modernes. Cette population
possedait un riche heritage interculturel et une bonne connaissance de la culture de
leur voisins Arabes . Bien qu’ils aient ete contraints d’emigrer et qu”il ne reste plus en
Egypte qu”une cinquantatine de Juifs , leur histoire et leur heritage culturel peut etre
considere come un modele de coexistence promottant la paix entre Israeliens et

  A Tradition of Bridges Between Cultures

 Jews have lived in Egypt almost continuously for two millennia. After the destruction
 of the First Temple, the Prophet Jeremiah came to Egypt with a following, and since
 then, until 1967, there had always been a Jewish community in Egypt. On
 examination of major historical periods and events in the history of the Jews in
 Egypt, from ancient times to the modern era, it is interesting to note that the Jews of

Egypt have traditionally and for long periods, contributed to the creation of bridges
between cultures.

In the first century, when the philosopher, Philo from Alexandria translated the Bible
into Greek (the Septuaginta), he introduced Jewish cultural elements into Hellenic
culture and contributed to the bridging of the two cultures.In the tenth century, when
Saadia Hagaon translated the Bible into Arabic, it introduced Jewish values into
Islamic culture, and promoted intercultural Jewish -Islamic symbiotic relations and

In the eleventh century, when the great Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides,
came to Egypt from Spain as a young man, he wrote all his important philosophical
and creative works in Egypt. His writings were influential not only among the Jews
but also among the Muslims. He wrote both in Hebrew and Arabic, and even
sometimes in Hebrew using Arabic letters, or in Arabic using Hebrew letters. He was
revered by both Jews and Muslims, under his Hebrew name: Moshe Ben Maimon,
and his Arabic name: Abu Amran Obeid Illah Moussa Ibn Maimoon El Cortobi. He is
today considered as a major leading figure in Judaism, and he is also highly
esteemed by Muslims as an outstanding contributor to Islamic philosophy. (11)

In modern Egypt, the intercultural traditions developed in various new
directions.Generally, the Jews in Egypt were taught and had a good knowledge of at
least four languages: French, which became the mother tongue of most of the Jews,
Hebrew, Arabic, and English. (12)

Moreover, more than one third of the Jews of Egypt spoke Ladino, the Judeo –
Spanish language. The Spanish Jews exiled by the Inquisition at the end of the
fifteenth century found a safe haven in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul or in Izmir, and
many of them later emigrated to Egypt and to other Middle Eastern countries. They
retained the Judeo-Spanish language, as well as its rich cultural traditions.

Though they lived in the East, the Jews of Egypt in the twentieth century, were
exposed to various aspects of the cultures of both the East and West.

The Jewish education system was diverse and four languages were taught: French,
English, Hebrew and Arabic, in the Jewish Schools.There were Jewish Communal
schools for the poor, La Goutte de Lait for the orphans, and Secondary Schools for
the middle class. All the children, even the orphans and the poor, received a good
education provided by the Jewish Community, and they got free books and the
opportunity to later enter the various high schools and Lycees, and receive a
Diploma. The teachers were dedicated, and generously worked overtime mostly with
little pay, so that the pupils could acquire high marks. After World War I, the middle
and upper classes preferred foreign private schools, mostly French or English, and
in 1945 - 46, 59 percent of Jews sent their children to foreign schools. (2)

The Jewish children were not sent to the Arabic State Schools, as they were
considered having a low standard. The Alliance School, helped to spread the French
culture at the beginning of the century. It served the Jewish middle class until 1919,

when the Alexandria and Cairo Jews were considered too prosperous to require
outside help. The Jewish community then had to rely on itself, and it set up good
Jewish secondary schools of its own, such as Le Collège Français in Cairo, and
"Maimonides" in Alexandria. In the 1940's there were six yeshivot (religious
schools), in the whole of Egypt. Yet most Jews kept the basic rules of Jewish law,
the feasts and the traditions.

Almost all the Zionist movements that were in Eretz Israel, were also in Egypt, such
as the Maccabi: Hehalutz, the Hashomer Hatsair and the B'nai Brit. A considerable
portion of Zionist work was devoted to educational purposes with a strong emphasis
on the cultural rather than on the political aspects of Zionism. Its principal objective
was "to develop within the community the sense of Jewish national consciousness."

The Jewish community had the opportunity to be exposed both to Oriental and
European music, songs, dance and theatre. At the Opera in Cairo for instance,
which was regularly frequented by Jews, the cultural programs included not only the
well-known Egyptian singers Om Kulthum and Abd El Wahab, and the Jewish singer
Leila Mourad, but also the peaks of European culture, such as: the Philharmonic
from Palestine, conducted by the famous Toscanini, the Shakespeare Company
from Stratford on Avon, the Comédie Française from Paris, the Royal Ballet from
London, and the Commedia dell’ Arte from Milano.

In addition to this rich multicultural array of East and West, Jewish culture and
traditions and Jewish feasts, as well as Zionist events and activities, were part and
parcel of the daily life of the Jewish community. At the beautiful synagogues in
Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, Jews duly conducted their services, organized their
various feasts, celebrations and weddings in great gusto and great numbers. At the
various Zionist movements, some which were founded surprisingly in Egypt from the
beginning of the twentieth century, like the "Moriah" and "Bar Kokhba" movements,
Jewish youngsters learnt Hebrew songs and dances and Jewish and Israeli culture,
and dreamt about the day they would become members of a kibbutz in Israel. (2)

The "Second Exodus" of the Jews from Egypt

Though many of the Jews had been in Egypt for generations, they were in general
not given Egyptian citizenship. Despite their increasing demands to become
citizens, it is estimated that merely less than five percent succeeded to obtain the
Egyptian citizenship. The rest were either “apatride,” meaning with no citizenship at
all, though they were born in Egypt, or they succeeded to retain a foreign citizenship
from one of their ancestors. The great majority, that were "apatride," had no identity
cards, and if they wanted to travel they could obtain a “laissez passer,” but no
passport. The fact that they were not allowed to become Egyptian citizens, was an
additional element which promoted their multicultural and Zionist tendencies and

In modern times, from the late 1800’s until 1948, when the State of Israel was
established, the Jewish community in Egypt was vibrant, prosperous, and a dynamic

element of the Egyptian society and economy. They were considered "welcomed
guests." One of the people I interviewed for this research commented: "It was alright
to be welcomed guests - but not for 2000 years - I wanted to be home by now!"

Towards the end of World War II, due to political turmoil and the growing Arab -
Israeli conflict, the status of the Jews in Egypt as "welcomed guests," changed
considerably. The Jewish community, under economic pressure and a surge of anti-
Zionist propaganda, had to emigrate and leave all their property behind. Out of the
estimated 100.000 Jews that were in Egypt in 1948, today there are only about sixty
very old Jews living in Egypt. That means there has literally, and not only
figuratively, been a "Second Exodus" which took place in our own century, and
unfortunately, not many people are aware of this. (1)

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and in the wake of Egypt’s active
participation in the Arab - Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, Egyptian
Jewry emerged as victims of these conflicts. Many were interned in concentration
camps in Huckstep in Heliopolis, and in El Tor, in the Sinai Desert. They were
expelled from the country in large numbers. Those who were not expelled, due to
restricting work laws and other prohibiting measures by the Egyptian government,
understood they had no future in Egypt, and they were compelled to emigrate. About
half of them emigrated to Israel, while the others went to the United States, Canada,
France, Australia, South America and other places. The still more unfortunate, who
had succeeded to obtain the Egyptian citizenship, were prevented from leaving and
became political pawns of the Egyptian regime.

After every war with Israel, there was a new wave of emigration, until this ancient
and prosperous two thousand year community was completely destroyed. The Jews
of Egypt lost all their personal property and assets, as well as all the flourishing
public property of the Jewish community, such as schools, youth movements,
synagogues, old age homes, hospitals etc, which have been estimated at millions of

Everything they owned was confiscated and sequestered by the Egyptian
Government, and they were forced to leave with nothing but their shirts on their
backs, and only twenty Egyptian pounds in their pockets. Their tragedy and
sufferings were tremendous. From a prosperous community, they found themselves
paupers almost overnight. Several people suffered heart attacks caused by these
tragic events and developments, and did not even make it to France or Italy, which
were the ports of arrival of most of the Jewish emigrants from Egypt. The Jews from
Egypt feel they have paid a very high price for the State of Israel - the destruction of
their community, and they are sad and frustrated that their narrative history is so
little researched or known, and that their cultural heritage is disappearing. (10)

Effects of Multicultural Traditions

a)      The multi-cultural heritage and ability of the Jews from Egypt helped them in
     their uprooting and emigration from Egypt during the “Second Exodus” (1948 -
     1967). Whether they came to Israel, or whether they emigrated to Europe,

     America or Australia, their knowledge of languages and of the European culture,
     helped them to integrate in their new homelands. (2)

b)      Another aspect of the multicultural character of the Jews from Egypt nowadays,
     as in the past, is their openness and respect toward other cultures and not only
     toward their own. The fact that they had lived in Egypt in the past, and that they
     know the language and mentality of the Middle East, bestows on them the
     possibility of becoming appreciative of the culture of their Arab neighbors. Their
     cultural heritage can indeed be an educational model and source of openness,
     tolerance and understanding, which can promote reconciliation, peace and
     harmony. <Note1>

c)       Reconciliation in the Middle East, as in other areas of deep-rooted conflict,can
     benefit from the bridging between nations through their cultural heritage. The
     deep levels of mistrust on both sides of a conflict which have accumulated over
     the years, can best be reached by vehicles of emotions and feelings such as
     literature and poetry, that can penetrate those deep levels of frustration.

Culture, literature and poetry can convey what no political speech can convey. They
are particularly suited for analyzing and reflecting fears and mistrust, and for
changing them into more positive attitudes. The intercultural approach, includes
identification with the “other”, and comprehension and respect for the other’s
situation, reality, problems and culture. It can build up ideological, emotional and
psychological motivation, and increase awareness and knowledge, that can help
toward the “Sulha” - the full reconciliation, not only between the leaders that have
signed the peace agreement, but also between the two conflicting nations. (3)

War causes suffering to both sides in a conflict, and not just to the one side, and the
modern history of the Jews from Egypt indeed proves that it is so.

In these hard times we are going through nowadays, it is imperative to remember
this, and to use the history of the Jews from Egypt as an example of that. Not only
Palestinians have been uprooted and have suffered, but Jews from Egypt and the
other Arab countries have been uprooted and have greatly suffered too from the Arab
Israeli Conflict. All this should be part and parcel of the Ministry of Education
curriculum and programs. (4)

 Literature and Poetry

 In my books The Second Exodus, and Not In Vain: An Extraordinary Life, which are
 based on a research on the Jews from Egypt who emigrated to Israel, I delineate
 some of the tragedies and sufferings endured by the painful uprooting of this
 population. The “Second Exodus” of the Jews from Egypt which led to their total
 uprooting as well as that of their community and their cultural heritage, is a tragic
 part of Jewish history that has not been sufficiently taught or exposed. Additional
 writers, such as Andre Acimov, in Out of Egypt , Paula Jacques, in Lumière de l’Oeil
 , Jacques Hassoun in Les Juifs du Nil, have recalled their own impressions and
 memoirs of the painfulness of the uprooting and exile. (7), (8)

Recently, Professor Mohamed Fawzi Deif, of the Departments of Arabic Studies at
the University of Cairo, and the University of Minya, wrote a series of books on War
and Peace in Israeli Literature , which analyzes in depth the Jewish-Egyptian
condition and uprooting, as expressed in works of literature written by writers in
Israel, who are former Jews from Egypt. In his thorough analysis he shows
sensibility and openness to their precarious situation as expressed in their poetry
and prose. The first book in this series is titled: The Significance of Peace in the
Poetry of Ada Aharoni - Mafhoum El Salaam fi Sheer Ada Aharoni (The University of
Cairo, Nile Publications, Egypt, 200 pages). The book includes a serious and
thorough discussion of the theme of war and peace in Ada Aharoni's work, and a
comparison of Yehuda Amichai's poetry, as well as 30 poems of Ada Aharoni on the
Jews of Egypt, which Professor Daif translated from Hebrew into Arabic, with
explanations, historical background and a deep analysis of the reasons for the
Second Exodus. (5), (6)

Required Research

Despite the valuable books that have been published on the Jews of Egypt, in
general, the modern history of the Second Exodus, has not been researched
enough, either historically, sociologically, or culturally. And what is available has not
been used or exposed enough, either by educational and literary institutions or the
electronic media.

The painful and tragic “Second Exodus,” caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict, has
been overlooked not only by historians and educationalists, but also by policy
makers. The complex myriad of historical facts associated with the forced emigration
of the Jews from Egypt, and the tragic sufferings associated with their uprooting and
dispersal, has not yet been thoroughly explored or recorded.

The exodus of the Jews from Egypt has not been taken into account as a potential
factor in the present endeavors toward the ending of the conflict in the Middle East.
These facets should be given urgent attention, and should be widely studied and
promoted by extensive research. What is already available should be widely used in
educational institutions, universities and schools. The “Second Exodus” of the Jews
from Egypt, on coming to the attention of Prof. Fawzi Deif, as well as to the attention
of certain other Egyptian academics and professionals, have emitted feelings of
responsibility and comprehension toward the tragedy of the Jews from Egypt, as
well as toward their necessity of having emigrated to Israel. Their acceptance of
Israel as a necessary and legitimate State, was thus strengthened.

Literary research of the “Second Exodus,” and the writing of creative works on this
subject, in addition to the historical research, can highlight feelings and
predicaments which are inherent to all uprooting, and therefore shared by both sides
of the conflict. The question can be asked why this important subject has not been
included into the educational curriculum of schools? The history of the Jews from
other Arab Lands such as Iraq, Morrocco and Syria, is more covered. I will briefly
touch on two possible answers to that question.

The first explanation might be that the Jews from Egypt are usually not politically
minded. As they were not citizens in Egypt they did not appreciate the importance of
the political game. They have succeeded to integrate very well in the financial,
technical and social life in Israel, but they looked down on politics (the attitude in
Egypt was mainly: Politics is only for the natives), and they have carried these
attitudes in Israel, and they therefore have no representatives in the Knesset to
press for funds for research or for educational representation.
Another factor that may explain the difference between the attitude of the Jews from
Egypt toward their cultural heritage, is when we compare it to the staunch pursuit of
their heritage by other Jewish communities.

The second reason for the lack of extensive research concerning the Jews in
modern Egypt, is probably because of their conciliating, tolerant and moderate
upbringing. In our research on “The Jews of Egypt in the Twentieth Century”,
conducted at the Technion’s “Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science,”
the majority of a sample of 501 Jews from Egypt who were interviewed, when asked
why they did not try to salvage their history and cultural heritage, many of them
emitted a typical response: “ele fat mat,” meaning “what is past is dead.” This kind of
response was not considered running away from the issue or an irresponsible
attitude toward their heritage, but rather as a proof that they were not vengeful or
bitter, and they knew how to stoically accept the vagaries of destiny. (2)

Suggestions and Conclusions

The “Second Exodus” of the Jews from Egypt, as well as from other Arab countries,
in the twentieth, with its potential for the promotion of peace in the region, should be
made part and parcel of curriculum mateials in the educational systems of Israel, as
well as in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab countries. Support and investments
should be mobilized toward this important educational aim. There should also be a
provision of grants to encourage extensive research and creative writing on various
aspects of the historical facts and cultural heritage of both the “Second Exodus” of
the Jews from Egypt, and – why not? – also from other Arab countries, and of
course also of the emigration of the Palestinians. This needs some general

The fact that a part of the Jews from Arab countries dreamt of Zion, prayed to Zion
and wanted to come there, does not give the host countries where they were born
and lived all their lives, the right to kick them out with nothing but their shirts on their
backs. Most Jews from the Arab countries did not leave on their own volition, they
were banished at short notice, and they were forced to leave all their possessions
behind, which made them paupers overnight. To this day, many of them suffer from
this cruel and unjust uprooting and loss of all their assets. In Israel for instance,
most of them were sent to the poor and backward border towns and villages, such
as Yeroham, near Beer Sheba, where the standard of living is lower than in the rest
of Israel. The ignoring of their history as part and consequence of the Israeli Arab
Conflict makes them opt for rightist positions, and reinforce intransigent and
extremist views. If their history and claims of restitution were taken into account (as
those of the Palestinians), they would become more moderate and capable of
identifying with the other side. After all, the Jews from the Arab countries, who

constitute almost half of Israel, have the experience of living in relative harmony and
well-being with the Arabs, before 1948, and if their own history were taken into
account, they could again become an element of peace. Despite all their sufferings
in their new land, none of them wants to return to their former homes in Arab

The story of the Palestinian refugees is indeed different. The Arab countries did not
integrate them, as Israel integrated the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, but
kept them in refugee camps, most of them in Lebanon, to this day. All of them want
to leave the refugee camps and return to their original homes, unfortunately in
Israel. It is impossible for Israel to absorb 3 million Palestinian refugees, as Israel
cannot be expected to commit suicide. There is indeed a serious problem to be
solved, and this problem has to be solved in the framework of the Two States
Solution, which would enable the Palestinian refugees to settle in Palestine. The
promotion of the establishment of a Palestinian State can be enhanced by putting
the claims of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries in the balance. This could
placate and encourage both sides to favor the Two States Solution, and to the
electing of Peace leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

The fact that there were more Jews who fled from Arab countries, than Palestinians
who fled from Israel in 1948, is not known enough and not taught in history lessons.
It is estimated that there there were 850.000 Jews who fled from Arab lands, while
there were 650.000 who fled from Israel, according to UNRA.

The second suggestion is that inter-cultural bridges should be formed, as a powerful
tool for overcoming hatred and building trust. This could be accomplished through
education and mass media, using modern technical facilities such as satellite,
television and the internet, to propagate them.

The thorough researching, revealing and teaching of the cultural and historical
heritage of the Jews of Egypt and from the other Arab countries, can constitute a
comprehensive and important contribution to historical, sociological and
anthropological research, as well as a valid element in the solving of the Arab -
Israeli conflict.


The openness of Egypt toward the Jews and their culture can be perceived from the
beginning of the twentieth century. In 1917, when King Fuad of Egypt was the Guest
of Honor at the opening of the Zionist Movement in Cairo and Alexandria, he
declared: "You Jews of Egypt, will always be protected by us, until you go back to
your land, the Land of Israel" (L'Aurore, 1917).

The open, multicultual attitutde of the Egyptians, continued until the forties, and was
perceived by the Jews of Egypt with much appreciation. For instance, at the Cairo
Opera (in the 1940's), the programs that were presented were a rich mixture of
Eastern and Western cultures. Not only were Um Kulthum, the famous Egyptian
singer, and Leila Morad, the Jewish Egyptian singer, presented every season, but

also the peak of western culture: The Philarmonic Orchestra from Tel Aviv
with maestro Toscanini, the Shakespeare company from Statford-on-Avon, the
Comedie Francaise from Paris, the London Festival Ballet, and the Comedia-del-
Arte from Italy.

Under te rule of President Nasser, the tendency to multi-culturalism was reduced, as
the motto became: "Egypt to the Egyptians," and an effort was made (and is still
felt today), to mainly develop Arabic culture. However, when President Sadat of
Egypt came to Israel, and in 1979 signed a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel,
he became a model of openness, tolerance and peace in the eyes of both his
people and the Israeli people. The Jews from Egypt in Israel considered it a double
victory for peace, as both former Egyptians in the past, and Israelis in the present.


1. Acimov A. (1994). Out of Egypt, Farrar Strauss Giroux (New York).

2. Aharoni, A. (1979). From the Pyramids to Mount Carmel, Eked (Tel Aviv), The
Second Exodus (1985), Eked (Tel Aviv), From the Nile To the Jordan (!996), M.
Lachmann (Haifa),

3. Aharoni. A. (1985). Memoirs from Alexandria, Rubin Mass (Jerusalem).

4. Aharoni. A. (1998). Not In Vain: An Extraordinary Life, Ladybug Press, San
Carlos (California).

5. Deif. M. (1996). War and Peace in Israeli Literature: The Significance of Peace in
the Poetry of Ada Aharoni,, Nile Publications, Cairo University (Egypt).

6. Deif. M. (1997). Peace Poems by Ada Aharoni: A Hebrew - Arabic Bilingual
Edition , Preface and translations from Hebrew and English to Arabic, by Professor
Mohamed Fawzi Deif, Lahman (Haifa).

7. Hassoun. J. (1981), Juifs du Nil, Le Seuil (Paris).

8. Jacques. P. (1980) Nour Einaya: Lumiere de l’Oeil, Le Seuil (Paris).

9. Kramer. G. (1989) The Jews in Modern Egypt (1914 - 1952), Washington Press
U, Seattle.

 10. Laskier, M. (1992). The Jews of Egypt, 1920 - 1970: In the Midst of Zionism,
Anti-Semitism, and the Middle East Conflict, New York University Press, pages 125
- 164 (New York).

 11. Shashua, S. (1990). The Golden Age: Cooperation Between Jews and Arabs in
 Andalusia. 2nd ed. (in Arabic), El Mashraq, Shfaram (Israel).

  12. Shamir. S. (1987). The Jews of Egypt, Ada Aharoni, “The Image of Jewish Life
 in Egypt in the Writings of Egyptian Jewish Authors,” Westview Press,192 -
 198. (Boulder and London).


 “personalia” about me + where and how readers can contact me:

    Ada Aharoni is a Professor of Sociology and Literature, as well as a writer and
editor. Her field of research is PR: Peace Research and Conflict Resolution. She is
the founder and president of IFLAC: the International Forum for the Culture of
Peace. She has published 25 books, and more than 110 articles, and is the editor
of the magazine: GALIM: NEW WAVES and of IPRA online anthology (International
Peace Research Association): HORIZON PAVE PEACE.

Readers are invited to visit her Homepage and the IFLAC site indicated below.
 Conflict Resolution, Technion
  P.O.B: 9934 Haifa, Israel 34341
  Tel: 972-4-8243230


  Join the Global IFLAC Forum for the Culture of Peace

  I am flying to Turkey tomorrow for a week. Please confirm you have received the
 article and that everything is OK.

 Thank you very much.
Prof. Ada Aharoni


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