TORONTO — Ethy Lebow was born Esther Anavy in Egypt in 1948. When she was nine, her family was forced to leave Egypt and flee to Israel.
“The consequences of my life are due to a decision taken by my great-grandfather. At the end of the 19th century my great-grandparents, who were Sephardic Jews, lived in Bulgaria, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ( Ottoman empire - ed),” Lebow said.
“My great-grandfather got an attractive job offer in an Egyptian sugar plant. The whole family moved to Hawamdiyya, a small community near Giza, and lived there for over half of a century.”
Lebow describes her childhood in Egypt as pleasant and abundant. The men in the community worked for most of the day in the sugar plant, and the women were housewives who employed servants for housework. It was like living in a British colony, she said.
“We spent the afternoons in the community’s country club and also enjoyed other luxurious comforts.”
In the village where she was born and raised, there were only five Jewish families, so there was no real Jewish community life, though she remembers celebrating Chanukah and Passover at her grandfather’s house.
“Pesach was a paradox to me,” Lebow said. “We were celebrating the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt in ancient times, while in modern times my family returned to Egypt of its free will.”
By the time Lebow was eight, the impending exodus of her family finally came.
In 1956, the United Kingdom, France and Israel attacked Egypt. As a result, the relatively peaceful life of Egyptian Jewry was changed forever.
“I remember that my father was called to the police station. He was told that we had one week to leave Egypt,” Lebow recalled.
“Eventually, our family left the village and moved to Cairo and stayed there for a few months. During one of the bombings over the city, I remember hearing one Egyptian threatening to kill every Jew he [saw]. It was scary.”
In February 1957, leaving property and memories behind them, the family left Egypt and moved to Israel. They settled in Ashdod, and for the first two months, the family lived in a tin barrack with outhouses. Then they were moved to structures that reminded Lebow of townhouses (ma'abara - ed).
“Don’t get me wrong, the so-called townhouses were nothing but a simple structure made of pressed wood. There was running water, washrooms, but no electricity.”
“It was quite shocking to leave the comfortable life in Egypt and live in Israel like a refugee. Exactly like the Israelites left Egypt in ancient times and then were refugees in the desert for 40 years. We lived like that for three years until we finally moved to a normal building in 1960,” Lebow said.