Friday, February 04, 2011

'It's good there aren't many Jews in Egypt anymore'

Egyptian Jews in Baltimore are sympathetic to the Egyptian protesters, but relieved that rioters will not be able to take out their frustrations on the Jewish minority. Report in The Baltimore Jewish Times by Alan Feiler:

Blanche Cohen Sachs marked her 78th birthday this week. But instead of being a time of celebration, it’s a time of great sorrow for Ms. Sachs, a Randallstown resident and retired translator and tour guide, as she reads and listens to disconcerting news reports about upheaval in her native Egypt.

“It’s hard for me to say a lot about what’s happening right now because I left Egypt 60 years ago,” she said, tearfully. “But my humble advice to the Egyptian people is do all of this peacefully and democratically. I love the Egyptian people and culture, and I miss them. What happened to us, the Jews of Egypt, was a nakhba, a calamity, but we went on with our lives. … It’s very hard to hear the news now. I’ve always been scared of aggressive crowds.”

Ms. Sachs, who in 2007 wrote a self-published memoir, “From Cairo To Carbondale And Beyond” (Watermark Press), said she is greatly concerned about Israel’s welfare in light of Egypt’s current political and economic turmoil. “Of course, I wish the best for Israel and I pray for peace. Peace is good for everyone,” she said. “I just want all of this to calm down.

“A friend of mine said to me, ‘[Egyptians] are just tired of someone ruling them for 30 years,’ ” Ms. Sachs said, alluding to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “But there must be ways of doing this democratically. Poverty is a perpetual problem in Egypt. People there are hungry and poor, and I feel for the Egyptian people. I love Egypt and Israel, too. We are all cousins. Jews were in Egypt for millennia, and we do wonders when we all cooperate. I just desperately want to see peace in that region of the world.”

Nadia MassudaMs. Sachs’ fellow Cairo native, Nadia Massuda, said she is stunned by news reports coming out of Egypt. A certified public accountant who lives in Mount Washington and attends Chizuk Amuno Congregation, she said the protests and riots of the past week remind her of the anti-Israel activities directed toward Egyptian Jews in June 1967 in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.

Ms. Massuda (left), who came to the United States in 1968 at age 12, said the news this week has been like watching an old nightmare.

“It’s very scary and horrifying. We’re all reliving things all over again — the chaos and fear and looting and being evacuated. It’s like what we went through in ’67,” she said, referring to Baltimore’s Egyptian-Jewish community, which Ms. Massuda said numbers around 100 families. “We had to leave, and they threw all the Jewish men in jail. My dad and uncles were out of the country in five days, and my mom and I and the kids had to take a ship to Italy in a couple of weeks. All we had were the clothes on our backs. They robbed us.”

Ms. Massuda said she understands the rioters’ dissatisfaction with Mr. Mubarak and the lack of democracy in the country, as well as the dire economic situation. “For someone to be in power for 30 years is ridiculous,” she said. “I gave them credit when they were protesting peacefully. But I don’t agree with violence. The other day, I talked to an [Egyptian] Coptic I know who lives here and he’s very worried about his family there. He said he’s scared [the protesters] will turn on them because they’re a minority. It’s good there aren’t many Jews in Egypt anymore.”

Ms. Massuda predicted that Mr. Mubarak will not step down in the near future, “but I think later he’ll be toppled as soon as another leader appears.”

More than Egypt, Ms. Massuda said she remains concerned about Israel, although she does not believe that the Muslim Brotherhood will eventually take power when the dust settles in her homeland.

“At least Mubarak had a good relationship with Israel,” she said. “I don’t know about the next person, and that’s very unsettling. There’s no middle class there, just the very poor and very rich. That’s where this is coming from. When you can’t put food on the table, that’s what you worry about. It’s been boiling for a while, and Tunisia was the spark. … I think in the long run, Israel will be OK. I hope they’ll come through it all, like they always have. I just hope the neighboring countries remain stable.”

Ms. Massuda’s brother, Gabe, recently returned from a family vacation trip to Egypt and Israel. A CPA who lives in Stevenson, Mr. Massuda, 58, said he wasn’t surprised at all when first learning of the riots in Egypt.

“The people are really angry,” he said. “You can see the frustration and despair on the faces of the people in the streets. The conditions there are very hostile. You can feel it in the air — a depression. The police presence and the hostility against the establishment was tremendously high. You could tell people were on edge.”

Mr. Massuda said he spoke with cab drivers and others about their feelings about the economy and the government. “They are absolutely sick of the economic and political and social situation,” he said. “It felt like they were under martial law. And between the lines, you could tell they really hate Mubarak. …

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