Wednesday, April 30, 2014

From Egyptian diva to cleaning lady

The Al-Kuwaity brothers sacrificed fame and fortune in Iraq for a kitchenware shop in the poorest quarter of Tel Aviv. Zohra el-Fassia, who used to sing for the King of Morocco, was reduced to shuffling about in her dressing gown in a tiny Israeli flat. Now The Times of Israel tells the story of an Egyptian-Jewish diva, Souad Zaki, who became a cleaning lady in Israel to make ends meet. Unusually,  Zaki's Muslim husband came to live with Zaki, a proud Zionist, in Israel. (With thanks: Orna)

TEL AVIV — Most people have heard of Egyptian sultry siren Umm Khultum, the greatest female Arabic singer in history who dominated Middle Eastern stages and airwaves from the 1930s to the 1970s and still enjoys widespread acclaim. However, though she too was a prominent singer of popular classical Egyptian music leading up to the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the same cannot be said of Souad Zaki.

Had political realities been different, Zaki may have become an international singing sensation like Umm Khultum, who picked Zaki to co-star in the hit 1945 film “Salamah.” But as nationalism and anti-Semitism took hold in Egypt, Zaki, a proud Jew and Zionist, left her birthplace and privileged status behind for the life of a struggling immigrant in the young Jewish State. 

Thus, just as Zaki’s star was rising in Egypt, she became a cleaning lady at a bank in Tel Aviv.

In the wake of the recent Egyptian Revolutions, there has been renewed interest in famous female Jewish singers from Egypt. Music fans have been reintroduced to Layla Mourad, the voice of the 1952 Revolution. Mourad, who was of Iraqi-Jewish and Polish-Jewish descent, reportedly converted to Islam for her husband, or career — or both.

From diva singer to working single mother: A photo of Souad Zaki with her 5-year-old son taken right before they left Egypt for Israel. (Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

From diva singer to working single mother: A photo of Souad Zaki 
with her 5-year-old son taken right before they left Egypt for Israel. 
(Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

Faiza Rushdi, an Egyptian-Jewish singer who, like Zaki, moved to Israel, came to broad Israeli public attention over a decade ago when her daughter Yaffa Tusiah-Cohen staged a one-woman show titled, “Ana Faiza,” about their difficult mother-daughter relationship. (The story was followed up in a 2002 documentary film by Sigalit Banai, called, “Mama Faiza.”)

But of the three great female Jewish-Egyptian singers of the 20th century, only Souad Zaki has been all but forgotten by all but the most diehard Arabic music fans. For this reason, Zaki’s son Moshe, a psychologist from Haifa, was pleased to meet with The Times of Israel to recount his mother’s unusual life story.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be that guy, but what kind of "a proud Jew and Zionist" marries a Muslim? The Israeli press is really a joke.

bataween said...

It was quite common for Jewish celebrities to marry Muslims: ie Leila Murad, Salima Murad etc.

Anonymous said...

Only females, obviously. What annoys me the most is the fact that she is described as a "proud Jew and Zionist". No wonder her grandson now works for btselem. They are also "proud jews and zionists"...

bataween said...

I don't see why Souad herself can't be described as a proud Zionist - her son says she never said a word against Israel. And she could have stayed in Egypt, as Salima Murad did in Iraq. Instead she chose to come to Israel.
Her grandson working for Betselem reflects a conflicted identity IMO, a separate issue.

Anonymous said...

You don't see why a Jew who marries a Muslim can't be considered a Zionist? Then there's nothing I can say.

Anonymous said...

And even more ridiculous than the claim that she was a "proud Zionist" was the "proud Jew" part. Sickening.

bataween said...

At the time Egypt was not as anti-Zionist as it became or is now. There were judeophiles and sympathisers with Zionists among the non-Jews. (See Samuel Tadros' article a few days ago.)
You can be a Muslim and a Zionist today - I know a few.

Anonymous said...

And according to the article, the couple decided to leave Egypt and settle in the US. Only after her husband cheated on her she changed her mind and came to Israel.

Anonymous said...

That was never my point. My point is: you can't be a Zionist Jew marrying a non-Jew, especially in Israel. That's just logic and common sense. Coming from someone as religious as Yair Lapid.

Syrian Jew said...

This article will be used as evidence by the pro-Arab crowd that Arab Muslim society always treated us with respect and dignity.

Let's talk less about the handful of successful Jewish-Arab singers, and more about 1000 years of massacres, forced conversions, and humiliating discrimination.

bataween said...

This blog does both

Sylvia said...

Decades ago, there was a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem whose mother had been a singer in Egypt and was divorced - we didn't know anything about his father.

I am sure it's him though the piece says nothing about him attending the Hebrew University and I don't remember the name.

I remember someone who spoke fluent French, extremely polite who had never a bad word to say about anybody, a very likable guy.

If I am not mistaken, he was a "Atudai" (an Army program for officers that combined higher education with Army training).

Yes, he was a Zionist at the time who saw himself as a Jew from Arab land. Once he became upset because somebody called him a "Frank". (The term "Mizrahi" in its present reading wasn't invented yet "Frankim" was the ultimate insult.)



bataween said...

Wow, Sylvia - wish we could confirm that it was Moshe.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has a point.
I see many differences between being 'pro-Israel' and a Zionist. For example, you can't be a Zionist while supporting and advancing the cause of assimilation and diluting the Jewish character of the country. This woman was not a Zionist, just like Einat Wilf is not a Zionist.
After googling not only Uri but other members of the Zaki family I reached the conclusion that her grandson's behavior is not a problem of conflicted identity, it is a natural consequence of this kind of... "proud Jewish/Zionist" upbringing.
Given the way Uri and Iris Zaki stand on the political spectrum, it's hard to believe that Moshe could be the man Sylvia met.

bataween said...

This is an interesting discussion but could one of the Anonymi please choose another moniker. It's getting too confusing!

Anonymous said...

I can not understand your argument here. Is it that Muslims should only hear Muslim singers, Christian hear only Christian singers, and Jews should only hear Jewish singers? Salima Murad in Iraq did not convert to Islam although she married a Muslem, and Iraqis loved and heard her voice before marrying a Muslem and after. Also Egyptians loved and esteeemed Jewish singers, musicians and actors before and after converting to Islam if any.
So this blog is trying to convey that the plight of Zaki began when she left Egypt, otherwise she could have risen to stardom. Why did not she do that in Israel? Isn't it the land of dreams come true for Jews!If she had a good voice, that will work everywhere.She could have created her chances everywhere. Turning to a cleaning woman is not Egypt's fault. If she had no dreams to aspire to, she could have been a cleaning woman in Egypt too.

Egyptian reader

Anonymous said...

This has to be one of the most nonsensical comments I've ever read in my life. And I read most of the articles and comments on Daily Kos and Huffington Post...
You cannot understand the point because you're reading something that is not written. I'm not even sure you're reading the same article as the rest of us. No wonder people here didn't even bother to answer.

On a not-totally unrelated note, I wonder if Muslims would still "love" a Jewish singer after he had married a Muslim woman...

And you're right. It's a shame that "the land of dreams come true for Jews" is not as tolerant and appreciative of Arab-speaking Jews as the Arab countries. -_-

Anonymous said...

A conversation happened between Daoud Hosni and his friend Tal'at Harb. It related to the Directorship of the Egyptian Theater.

Tal'at: You know, Daoud, how much I wanted you to be in charge of the theater, but, ya khusartak fi'l yahud.

Hosni: Tal'at, I was born a Jew, I lead a Jewish life and I will die a Jew...

- Mourad El Kodsi (Murad Al-Qudsi), Just for the Record-- In the History of the Karaite Jews of Egypt in Modern Times, Wilprint inc., 2002, p.218.

Egyptian philosemitism and Jew-love at its best.

Anderson said...

Hey Bataween,
Take a look at Souad/Batya Zaki's fb page:
She shared her daughter's call to "end the occupation", likes ישראל חופשית, Jstreet, btselem (her son is a member), The New Israel Fund, breaking the silence, dov khenin, peace now, a page mocking God/Judaism

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1210338489

Are we still pretending she is a proud Jew/Zionist?