Sunday, April 01, 2007

Third generation discovers its Egyptian roots

This lengthy but fascinating feature on the Second Exodus of Jews from Egypt by Batsheva Pomerantz in the Jerusalem Post coincides with the onset of the Passover festival (with thanks: Albert) :

"Egyptian Jews came to pre-state Israel not necessarily as active Zionists, but for a place to escape anti-Semitic sentiments. "The Zionist movement was peripheral until World War II," notes (Professor Nahem) Ilan. "Unlike their European brethren, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not cause the Jews to become Zionists."

"Zionist awareness was next to nothing in those days," recalls (Sarah)Rossano. "When things were going well for the Jews they didn't worry and were not involved in Zionism."

"The Jews felt so comfortable in the past century that until the 1930s some even had dual loyalties - they were Zionists and also members of the Egyptian National Movement. Many abandoned their dual loyalty in the 1930s due to the rise of the Nazis and the Arab revolt in 1936.

"The Center for the Studies of Jewish Heritage from Egypt headed by Prof. (Arie) Schlosberg works together with the Department of Middle Eastern Studies in Tel Aviv University. Its purpose is to perpetuate the heritage and culture of Egyptian Jews from ancient times by teaching in academic frameworks and schools, and by granting scholarships. "We give scholarships to high-school students and university students learning for all academic degrees," says Schlossberg.

"Currently, the center is trying to reconstruct historical documents left behind in Egypt by interviewing former Egyptians. To date the center has documented the life histories of 48 individuals. "As with other communities, the second generation is not so interested, but the third generation is showing an interest in their heritage," says Schlossberg."

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