Saturday, October 11, 2008
A tribute to Teddy Nahmias, Egyptian Jew
Point of No Return deeply regrets having to report that Ted Nahmias, acting chairman of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Britain, passed away on 9 October after a short illness.
Ted seemed to embody the sunny and cosmopolitan spirit of Egyptian Jewry, with his love of la dolce vita, French films, Italian opera and Tino Rossi. His last 'public' appearance before he was diagnosed with cancer was at an AJE/Harif screening of Sallah Shabati in April starring Topol and Gila Almagor. The next day he confided, in his trademark gravelly baritone, that he had once spent an evening with the Israeli film star. The photograph shows Teddy on the left with Gila at the Cannes film festival in 1969.
As a tribute to Teddy here are extracts from his colourful account of his hurried departure from Alexandria in 1957, Khalass, followed by the story of Seder night on board the ship taking him to Italy. It was typical of Ted that he could see the funny side in a tragic situation.
We wish his wife Gaby and family long life.
"A whole population was preparing to leave. Europe was very cold in the winter , they said.. be prepared. Soon warm woollens, coats, and scarves were not to be found in stores. All sold out. Suitcases and large travel bags disappeared from the shelves in days. Farewell gatherings were a daily occurrence. Goodbye… Will we ever see each other again??? Classmates promising to meet again one day somewhere abroad, friends in tears at the thought of parting and worst of all members of the same family having to emigrate to different countries and being separated from their loved ones, maybe forever. Sons and daughters following their spouses, grand parents,left behind, too old to embark on a new life in faraway places such as Australia or Brazil.
A curfew was in place and we all had to get indoors by sundown. Windows and balconies were covered in heavy blue paper so as to create a “ BLACK OUT” to protect the city from air attacks at night. Tension was growing and anyone with European features had to be quite careful when circulating in town . You will never guess, but I had distinctive streaks of blond hair at the time, and some Arabs in the street shouted INGLISI at me more than once, frightening the living daylights out of me. Of course Egypt was at war with Britain and France, as well as Israel, and British and French nationals were being expelled daily at 72 hours' notice.
Other Jews bearing Greek, Italian, Belgian , Spanish passports etc, realized they had no future in Egypt. Businesses and property owned by Jews were seized, thousands lost their jobs. Jewish institutions were closed down. Restrictions were imposed and people could only leave with limited luggage and most possessions were left behind. KHALASS…….
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"As the ship started to move away from the dock and head for the high seas, we all waved goodbye, and slowly turned our heads from the land that we were not to see again for perhaps half a century.
I noticed a few young people around my age and naturally was drawn to them. My parents by now were in conversation with other Jews who were on their way to Canada. Others were due to catch a ship from Trieste to Australia.
Suddenly someone said," but tomorrow night is Pesach, it's the first Seder night. Shouldn't we mark the occasion somehow?" A charming and understanding officer decided we could use a section of the dining room, and I recall about 25 of us sitting around a number of tables assembled to form a long table. To top it all, as a gift from the Captain, a beautiful cake was placed in the centre of the table with the compliments of the Chef, the crew and the officers. How embarrassing: no matzah, no haroset, no maror, but instead a massive hametz torta to celebrate the festival of the unleavened bread."
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Further tributes to Ted Nahmias z"l (1939 - 2008) have been received:
I met Ted in London in the early 70s in our single days and then with Gaby when a group of us had our children at the same time.
We rekindled our friendship about 5 years ago. Ted was always the organiser and leader of events and always had interesting stories to tell. He loved taking pictures and his camera was always at hand. When we got home after a dinner date we often found that photos of the evening, and of course the dishes that we ate, had already been emailed to our computers. We really loved meeting up with Ted and Gaby and met many of their friends. We so much enjoyed their company and conversations in French, English, Italian and Arabic. He was in his element with his friends around him and was blessed with a tremendous general knowledge and of our past in Egypt.
We are devastated at the loss of such a good friend. We will really miss him. Sincerest condolences to Gaby, Caroline and Danny.
Yves Shama and Marlène
I first met Ted in London, some 50 years ago and was immediately struck by his affability, his warmth and his joviality. Due to my ceaseless travels overseas, I did not have the opportunity of meeting him often but I tried to attend some AJE meetings where it was always a great pleasure to gossip and converse with him heart to heart.
Ted never missed the opportunity of saying a kind word or an honest compliment and, when thinking of Ted, the words of William Penn come immediately to mind:
I expect to pass through this life but once
Therefore if there be any kindness I can show
Or any good thing I can do for another human being
Let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.
May the world in which his spirit now lives for ever be one free of pain and may he rest in peace.
Ted was a true gentleman of Egypt. He gave a sense of continuity and nostalgia to the Egyptian Jewish community. His warmth and dedication to AJE will be sorely missed.
We send our condolences to Gaby, Caroline and Danny and we are thinking of you.
Lys (Maleh) Goldstein and David
I first met Ted in my mid-twenties not long after he came to work in London for the fashion chain Michel Axel in 1970. He arrived with his mum from Nice and lived in a rented flat in Bayswater before moving to West Hampstead. He later met Gaby at a wedding in Strasbourg. In between flats, he rented a room at my mother’s house in Golders Green. She recalls how nice and amusing he was, leaving her little notes under her door so as not to disturb her.
We immediately hit it off and became lifelong mates. We worked very closely at the Association of Jews from Egypt for over seven years. He was entertaining to be with, he loved to socialise, go out, listen to music as well as watch good films: he was a bit of an expert (I remember watching Piaf with him. Ted’s knowledge of her life and times was amazing). He had a good baritone voice too and was able to sing all the romantic favourites he knew from his beloved Alexandria of the old days! His collection of records and CDs is impressive, not to mention photographs old and new. He was always happy to take pictures at simchas and put them on a CD for the lucky beneficiary. Unfortunately, he never held the exhibition of his old photographs which AJE had wanted, but they are saved on CD for posterity. Most AJE Newsletter photographs were taken by Ted and saved on CD.
A couple of years ago, at a dinner Ted organised in Paris, he joined in a singalong with Martin Yorgantz, once a famous entertainer and the owner of a famous Armenian restaurant in Paris. Quite frankly, I thought Ted had a better voice and told him so. I remember thinking how Ted might have been a successful entertainer. As the photograph shows, he even had the good looks to carry it off!! He was also always well-groomed and had a certain elegance about him. He was quite simply a very warm and special friend and colleague on the AJE. He loved family, and organized a big gathering of the Nahmias clan in Paris last year - no mean achievement - and told the story in the AJE Newsletter.
As you will see from the links above, he wrote very well. He also spoke in public as a witness to bad times, but also recalled the good times.
In 2001, he threw his energies into the establishment of the Association of Jews from Egypt and became its life and soul, contacting people, organising events, and increasing its profile worldwide. He brought a new lease of life to the Egyptian community. I will personally miss him hugely as we always had a lively discussion. He had a steadying influence on the Committee when things got a little challenging. His considerable group of friends became even larger as his reputation and that of the AJE increased in tandem. Just before his illness he was elected Chairman of the AJE and tried to recruit new faces for the Committee. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete this task but has shown us the way to move forward. Without him it will be much more difficult.
He had an amazing memory for names and was a source of information and inspiration second to none. He was a genealogy site all by himself. His languages included Arabic, Italian, and Hebrew, all useful assets. He always had an interesting point of view and was always ready to debate face-to-face or via email. He was a staunch supporter of Israel and never shirked from defending its interests.
His untimely loss at only 68 years old is deeply mourned by his AJE friends. He leaves behind un grand vide. It is literally the end of an era for the AJE. The many worldwide tributes testify to his immense popularity and his name will live on in the history of our community which he helped to preserve for our children through his work. During this short and terrible illness he kept a dignified and brave face for the many friends who came to visit from the UK and abroad and it pleased him immensely to see them. When I visited him at lunchtimes in hospital I saw dear Gaby, Caroline and Danny, constantly at his bedside giving him all the warmth, love and support he needed. On behalf of my AJE colleagues and myself we wish them long life and extend our everlasting love and admiration at this difficult time.
May he rest in Peace, Amen.
As one of Teddy's oldest friends I am penning some thoughts about our life together. As I am doing so, the tears are starting to flow.
Our life together began at the tender age of three when our mothers used to push our prams to take us to Rouchdi beach in Alexandria. We had begun a friendship that would last 65 years.
"Our lives continually criss-crossed even though I moved to Australia and he finally settled in London. I attended his wedding and only 30 years later discovered the original films I had shot on that fabulous night when Evelyn (my wife) and I met Gaby.
Our friendship continued with the two of them. However, between Teddy and I, a relationship of soulmates kept up with our joint memories of our life in Egypt. His enthusiasm, love of dancing, singing and enjoying good food and wine was a constant relief to the daily pressures we both encountered in our new life. We both left part of our youth in Alexandria and Teddy was the one who best kept the memories alive with his expert knowledge of past shared events. I do and will miss my best friend. May he rest in peace and not suffer anymore.
I truly and deeply loved you, Teddy. You can rest assured that I will support Gaby, Caroline and Daniel in the years ahead.
To my Dear Husband,
You were born the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, a gift of love. You were my Valentine and will always be, even if I did not tell you very often.
You taught me so much. I would not be the person I am today, if I did not have the privilege of sharing the last 30 odd years with you. You taught me to get rid of the bourgeois prejudices and narrow mindedness and to become a citizen of the world opening my mind to different cultures, accepting differences, different traditions.
You were a wonderful son and grandson having looked after your parents and grandparents at a very early age when you left Egypt, but you were also a wonderful husband and father. You gave me two wonderful children, who both took time off to dedicate themselves to you in your last few weeks and to be with me in difficult times.
You gave me a wonderful extended family scattered all over the world, who accepted me as one of their own and you gave me your wonderful friends who became mine over the years. In fact you are the only person I know, who does not have a single “best” friend. You had an army of extremely close friends keeping in touch with all of them all the time, all over the world, sometimes on a daily basis, sending them pictures, emailing them, talking to them on Skype.
You were born in a Jewish Sephardic family during the golden years of Alexandria, into a cosmopolitan world of open mindedness, culture, basket ball, parties, good food and rock and roll.
When I arrived in London, you took me under your wing and showed me the beauty of life. We partied, danced went to the theatres and musicals. What a nice life did we enjoy together!
You introduced me to opera, getting me to queue at 8 o clock in the morning, in the cold, to get tickets for same evening Covent Garden performances that were otherwise sold out. You used to take pictures of us huddled up in overcoats, waiting in the cold, trying to warm up with a take away coffee and then fully dressed up in the evening, enjoying a memorable performance.
You enjoyed singing and dancing. I could not possibly compete with your singing, but I enjoyed listening to you in clubs or at parties and we certainly enjoyed dancing together.
You used to love the best food and when I arrived in London before the gastronomic revolution that took place in later years, we must have been the only family criss - crossing London for our food shopping. We used to go to Queensway to buy French bread at the Boulangerie Française which was the only shop in those days where you could get a baguette, then on to Moscow Road to the Greek Greengrocer to buy kachkaval, feta, haloumi, olive oil and all sorts of olives, then on to Soho for coffee beans for our Turkish coffee and on to Edgware Road for our shawarmas, falafels, mango juice.
You used to invite all our friends, cooking for all yourself, and became famous worldwide for your roast chicken or leg of lamb, rice and salads. You were larger than life, so when you cooked we would quite often find four chickens or two or three legs of lambs in the oven. When you asked me to make borekas, you wanted me to make at least a hundred. These were all eventually eaten.
You truly gave me thirty wonderful years, full of loving fun. You made me feel at home where ever we went together, thanks to your numerous close friends and family, whether in Paris, London, Milan, Nice, Antibes, Cannes, Juan les Pins, Tel Aviv, Haifa or Sydney. You also showed me, what your life used to be in Alexandria. We went to you house, strolled on the Corniche, stayed at the Cecil, visited your schools, your Synagogue Nebi Daniel and all the places that witnessed your joie de vivre, the beaches, the restaurants, the pastry shops, the clubs, the cinemas and theatres. Our next trip was to take us to America to see Danny and where you equally have a crowd of family, friends and fans.
I used to tell you about my business to get your opinion. Sure enough, like any wife, I used to tell you that you were wrong. But you had planted a little seed in my mind. And sure enough two month later, I acted exactly as you would, but convinced that I was acting according to my own ideas.
In fact over the years, I became you. I must be the only Frenchwoman from Alsace, at ease with yallah, khalass, borekas, using some Egyptian mannerism or intonations, that had crept into my life.
We always looked in the same direction, same morals, same code of conduct, same friends, same food, enjoying life the same way. In fact the only bone of contention was my love for my two cats. I loved them; you hated them and wanted to give them away. We were both “non negotiable”. Eventually, I won because you loved me so much.
You were my soul mate,
With all my love
Like all those within his large circle, I was devastated at the untimely death of my friend Teddy.
Teddy and I go back a long way. We first met as children at the Lycee de l’Union Juive. He was very sporty, bright, academic and full of fun. I was sorry to see him leave us to go to the Lycee Francais to finish his studies in the commercial sector.
However it is the Lycee de l’Union Juive which remained close to his heart, probably because he so much identified its ethos of “Jewishness” with “secularism”. As adolescents I used to see him at parties where he loved dancing the “rock 'n' roll” and where he was the life and soul of the party.
And then came the departure from our dear Alexandria and the separation from our friends. Somehow, however, I never lost track of Teddy – in Nice I enjoyed the hospitality of his parents and grandparents. I remember a Sunday lunch when I felt I was really back in Alexandria with a table full of goodies, and well attended by his family and friends.
I saw him again in Milan where he came to work when I lived there. Then, after a few years, when I came to settle in London as I was getting married, I was so delighted to learn that he was also here, so he came to my wedding and a few years later I went to his – he was so proud to introduce to his friends and family his lovely young bride Gaby.
Over the years we became and stayed very close. He was always full of surprises, phoning me out of the blue to say “guess who is here? Benny Amar ( one of our long-lost school friends), come and have a coffee with us “, or to tell me that he had tracked down some old friends who nobody had seen or heard of in years. He was a mine of information and wonderful to be with, to express our nostalgia. He used to say “Alexandria was our shell but we are its soul”.
In the same way, Teddy, you have shed your shell which had become too fragile, but your soul lives among us. Rest in Peace.
Our thoughts are with your loving family, Gaby, Caroline and Danny to whom we wish a long life in good health and peace.
With lots of love,
Arlette (Cohen) Gotkine and Stuart
Yes….Ted has left us….Ted has left us with a huge void that is going to be very difficult to fill…….but he has also left us with an impressive legacy of memories.
These memories contain items such his unbounded generosity, not only in the form of his hospitality but also generosity of spirit.
We will miss his sense of fun and…..his sense of humour. We will miss his enjoyment of the good things in life…..the one that we may remember fondly is, I am sure, his enjoyment of good food. We will miss his gastronomic photographs; we will miss every other kind of photos that could be taken and shared with all and sundry.
We will miss his readiness to listen to every one of his friends’ confidences, whether problems to which he was always ready to give good advice and support, or good news which he was happy to share.
We will all remember what a perfectionist he was with the meaning of words and how he was always ready with a voluminous dictionary or a page from the internet to enlighten us.
His baritone voice – or was it tenor? – always gave us pleasure at parties or relaxed gatherings. He was a fountain of knowledge in all things musical and would sing anything from popular songs of our youth to exalted arias from Verdi or Puccini, and those who could always joined in.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say that what we will miss most is his unconditional friendship.
Let us all think of his life with gratitude, he certainly has mine. That is the least that we owe him.
It's enormously empty and sad now that you are no longer with us.
It would have been far sadder had your earthly presence, acquaintance, and friendship not been as deeply missed by all those whom you touched, who knew you, and with whom you shared your life so generously.
You were an addictive and formidable hook to family and entourage alike.
I knew you for very many years and as a close friend I can say truly and aptly that you embodied, indeed personified, unlimited love, commitment, family and community concerns, cemented by your (so individual) sense of responsibility in all and to all.
Your enriching contagious knowledge, culture, the diverse discussions and sometimes arguments are memorably inscribed, not least those with reference to your love of life, family
Likewise your pride in Judaism, especially modern, combined with your intense belief and protection of Israel, was truly extraordinary.
Gaby, Caroline and Jean Daniel are now your ambassadors. This is major and so very fitting.
Thank you for introducing and sharing with me so many times your delight in food, laughter, life and research. Thank you for so very much and for so very long.
Au revoir Grand Homme. May you rest with The Just among our people.
Miche (Michel Arwas)