An you will tell your children…

The Second Exodus of Jews from Egypt

Report - Published in the HSJE Website

President: Levana Zamir

Translated by:  Maryse Zeitouni,   en Francais


Day of Testimonies of the "20th Century Exodus" of Jews from Egypt,

held on 7 February 2007, in Tel Aviv

Dear Friends,

The extremely well-attended captioned event (320 participants), which took place on 7 February 2007 in the Hall of Beth Ha'Hayal in Tel Aviv, marks once again the need felt by our Community in recent years to delve into our Past.

The goal this time was to gather the painful testimonies of our "Departure from Egypt" as experienced by each participant and, additionally, to bring into focus the fact that there is not only one group of refugees--the Palestinians--but also a second group: almost one million Jews from Arab lands, among them the Jews from Egypt. These testimonies will be edited as a book of our Second Exodus.

It is true that we have found in Israel a second homeland, and that the second generation has finally succeeded in establishing itself in a country where Oriental Jews have never been the favorites--but it is still a fact that our parents' world had collapsed overnight, that we all became refugees and many among us were thrown into jails just because we were Jews.

Despite the seriousness of the subject, Egyptian good humor prevailed and the reunion was cheerful. The Hall of Beth Ha'hayal was filled to capacity and we even had to turn away about 70 people who had not registered in time. To them we wholeheartedly promised a "next time."

Stanley Urman of the U.S., Director of Justice for Jews from Arab countries, which was founded three years ago in the U.S., gave a summary of the goals of this important organization. Among many of its aims, it demands that the U.S. Senate and the U.N., whenever there is mention of the Palestinian Refugees, take into consideration the "Million Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries." Mr. Urman added that, regarding this matter, the JJAC is already in contact with the authorities in a number of Arab countries.

The lawyer, Jean-Claude Nidam, head of the Department encompassing the Rights of Jews from Arab lands at the Ministry of Justice, expressed succinctly the importance of our testimonies, not only in memory of our parents who were subjected to this trauma, but also in memory of the glorious and flourishing Community of Jews from Egypt, which practically no longer exists.

The highlight of this gathering was a professional documentary, 30 minutes in length, produced by Levana Zamir. The showing was a première at this event, bringing the History and the trials and tribulations of our Exodus, starting with glorious pictures of the Community before 1948 when most of us enjoyed financial security and joie de vivre--to end up as "hounded Jews" with the pogroms in the Jewish Quarter in Cairo, mass arrests, insults, riots, discrimination, prison, forced exile in a matter of days, sometimes hours, leaving our assets behind--emptying Egypt of its Jews.

The tragic demise of this glorious Community that once was the Jews of Egypt, is not only our History, but that of the Jewish people in its entity.

Also that of a million of Oriental Jews who paid a heavy price for the beneficent, if not Messianic, establishment of the State of Israel, which most of the Arab countries still do not want to accept. As Bat Ye'or so eloquently stated in her book, "Yehoudei Misrayim," the Arab countries would have liked to keep their Jews as "Dimhi" (citizens paying for the privilege of being protected by the State), so that they could continue to develop their respective countries.

After having viewed this film, in all its simplicity, with no exaggeration, and shining with truth, the participants identified themselves and testified in their own way on their experiences leaving Egypt.

In order to demonstrate that a testimony, however painful it may be, can be presented orally in two minutes, the following participants stepped up to the mike: Samuel Cohen, Lucie Calamaro (née Belbel), Ernest Abada, Esther Bar-David (née Galanti) and Levana Zamir (née Vidal). The participants continued, either in written form or orally, to testify to the atrocities they had been subjected to, the discriminations and the Human Rights violations, marking their departure from Egypt. Even those who thought they had left Egypt voluntarily, finally understood that their parents had left because of the hostile and discriminatory climate vis-à-vis Jews, as well as the lack of a future for their children in that country. Additionally, those who thought they had left nothing behind in Egypt, understood that they had been uprooted and that their parents had been forced to leave a relatively comfortable life to become refugees and live in exile somewhere in the world.

We are fully aware that we would not have liked to live in the Egypt of today, but we are equally aware that our roots are over there, in that Egypt that no longer exists, except in our hearts and memory.

The 300 testimonies gathered will be the subject of a book which will be published and distributed in schools and university libraries. Additionally, those testimonies where each participant states his father's profession in Egypt are part of a research study--disproving a quote, incorrectly based and automatically recopied in certain university studies, whereby the Jews from Egypt who had settled in Israel were, for the most part, a financially-strapped element.

As for the documentary on the 20th Century Departure from Egypt, it will be shown in primary and secondary schools in Israel by a group of volunteers from our Organization.

After an excellent luncheon on that full Day, Cecilia Cohen-Hemsi-Niza presented the book NOTRE COMBAT, edited by her father, Joseph Cohen-Hemsi, in Alexandria in 1948. This book, which had been requisitioned by the Egyptian Government upon publication, was also the cause of the immediate imprisonment of the author and later on of his expulsion. The book contains articles written by Joseph Cohen-Hemsi and published in various Egyptian newspapers during the years 1942 to 1947, at which time the Egyptian authorities had no problem with it. Those same articles published again in 1948, dwelling on the anti-Semitism prevailing in Europe--as opposed to the fraternal links between Jews and Muslims in Egypt--a fact emphasized by Azzam Pasha, Secretary of the Arab League in 1947, were banned in 1948.

Sharon Nizza of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem based in part her Thesis on the Zionist Debate in Egypt in the '40s on the book NOTRE COMBAT.

At the end of the Day, and after a well-deserved coffee-cake break, we slipped back into nostalgia of the Jews from Egypt, as incomparable as it is incomprehensible, with the songs of Leila Mourad in her movie "Yehia el-Hob," collected by Joseph Hakim of Jerusalem. Also was featured a 20-minute film on the Jewish Community of Alexandria, today.

 The goal of this special Day has thus been fully achieved with regard to both the Historical aspect, as well as on an emotional level for Jews from Egypt living in Israel.

Channel 1 of Israeli TV broadcast in Arabic, who had come to film the event and interview some of the participants, produced an excellent report on Saturday evening, 17 February 2007, between 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM. This channel is quite important as it is viewed by several leaders of Arab countries.