Here's a wonderful story for Passover - the modern-day exodus of a Jewish family who fled Salafists in Alexandria to settle in Israel, as reported on the IDF's blog. Regrettably, the article does not answer the main question: how come a Jewish family continued to live in Alexandria as recently as seven years ago, when all the other Jews had long ago fled - and the only Jews remaining in that Egyptian city have intermarried with Christians or Muslims? (With thanks: Daniel; Michelle)
Dina is telling her winding, unbelievable story for the umpteenth time, but her eyes still well up with tears. Ovadia, now 22, left her family home in Alexandria for the last time as a young and curious 15-year-old girl. All she wanted was to fit in. “Everyone always looked at me as though I was something different, the ugly duckling in the class. They asked me why I dressed the way I did, and why I spoke with my parents during the breaks, and why this and why that. I myself didn’t understand where it all came from. But I always had friends,” she says in impeccable Hebrew with a slight Arabic lilt. “I didn’t have a religious background in Christianity or in Islam. I never knew what I truly was. My parents didn’t keep the [Jewish] traditions and I always assumed that we were secular Christians.”
Dina’s childhood detachment from her heritage gives unique meaning to every Shabbat candle she lights now, to every Jewish holiday that she did not know. And Cpl. Ovadia’s story is the Passover story, thousands of years old, expressing itself again in the 21st century.
“I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt,
and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know
Rolin in Arabic means gentleness, but Dina was first and foremost a
curious and rebellious child. She felt she had a right to belong, but
she didn’t know where. “I studied in a Muslim school. I started to grow
up and learn the Koran, and then I already started to ask myself: ‘why
am I learning this?’ I reached a stage where I got really into it,
studying for tests, memorizing passages. At school they asked me to
start wearing a veil to my Koran lessons. I didn’t like the idea – as a
girl it seemed ugly to me,” she smiles. The disagreement led to her
parents enrolling Dina in a private Christian school, where she was more
at ease. “It was really fun and I felt freer,” she says.
- Exodus 3:7
Dina recalls how she tried to find herself among the troubling mix of religions. “We had a mosque next to the school, and the girls would go there to pray. I told this to my mother, slightly anxiously, and she was very angry. They forbade me from doing it again. I remember that I was hurt, and I started to tell them that because of that they won’t like us, and that I wouldn’t have any friends. It was the anger of a child. During Ramadan I would escape to my friends houses, and I even fasted on one of the days, because I always wanted to belong to something and I didn’t have a clear answer for what I was,” Dina explains. When she told her parents that she had tried praying in a church, that didn’t make them any happier. They distanced her from every religion, without giving an explanation as to why.
Home Invasion: The turning point occurred on a day like any other. Dina was studying for a history test, her brother and cousin were playing on the computer upstairs, and her mother, aunt and sister were also at home. Suddenly the sounds of shouting and shattering glass cut through the calm routine. “I really panicked, and immediately I thought that because we were different they had come to our house. I went outside and saw five masked faces – they were Salafists.” Five bearded men in robes, with clubs in their hands and rifles slung over their shoulders, broke through the electric iron gate at the entrance to the grand family home and demanded to know where the men of the house were. Their explanation was as simple as it was incomprehensible: “A’lit el’Yahud” – a Jewish family.
“I thought, ‘what the hell!?’ I didn’t understand why they were saying that we were a Jewish family. Anyone who was different, the stranger, was always called ‘the Jew’. I was certain that they were mistaken. They entered the house. My mother said that the men weren’t there, and they threw her into the corridor, she slammed into the pillars, and she fainted. I started to scream – I was sure that they had killed her. And then I saw two of them going up the stairs. I heard shots. I was sure that they had murdered both my brother and my cousin.”
The Salafists went down the stairs and told the Abdallah family that they had a few days to get out of the country, and that in the meantime they could not leave their home. They threatened that if the children went to school, they would be kidnapped. Only then did they leave.
Luckily, the whole family escaped. The armed men shot at the boys’ heads, missing deliberately in order to scare them. “I think that today they would have just killed us all,” she says. From the moment of that home invasion, Dina’s life became entangled in a complex loop, while the two irreconcilable edges of her life began to unravel. “The Salafists would encircle the house in their vehicles, shooting into the air. That month even the school didn’t call. I slept with my mother – I was terribly afraid. My father told me that they are just thieves despite the fact that they didn’t take anything. ‘Jew’ was really a kind of swear word, he said; but I couldn’t believe him.”
A few days later, her grandfather gathered all of his family together and he revealed the truth. “He explained why he kept us from other religions and told us that we were Jewish, and we that we had little time to leave Egypt. He told us we were going to Israel. I remember the little ones at home were excited about it, but I wasn’t. I started crying and was so disappointed. I told him I did not want to move to that bad country. I rebelled against it.”
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Egyptian press claim Dina is a fake (Elder of Ziyon)