Thursday, April 13, 2006

Passover story recalls their Second Exodus

Joe Pessah and his wife, Remy Pessah, attend a gathering at Jewish Community High School in San Francisco.
Jim Gensheimer / Mercury News

For Jews from Arab countries such as the Pessahs of San Francisco, the story of the First Exodus is a poignant reminder of the Second Exodus they experienced in their own lifetimes. (With thanks: Albert)

Lisa Fernandez reports in the Mercury News:

"Joe and Remy Pessah grew up a few hours' drive from the pyramids in Egypt and swam where the Nile kissed the Mediterranean Sea. Then their country turned against them.

"Because he's Jewish, Joe Pessah was imprisoned when Israel went to war with Egypt in 1967. He tells of being beaten and tortured. Remy Gazzar waited for three years for her fiance to be set free. Then, like the rest of the Egyptian Jewish community, the Pessahs were whisked to Cairo's airport with a one-way ticket away from their home.

"So when the Mountain View couple sit down to tell the story of Passover tonight -- on the first night of the Jewish holiday -- they won't recite their prayers with an impatient eye on the barbecued lamb and homemade matzo to come. The biblical Exodus mirrors the bittersweet story of their lives.

"``I feel it more than anybody,'' said Joe Pessah, whose surname passed on through the generations coincidentally means Passover in Hebrew. ``I feel happiness, anger, sadness -- all that makes up a salad. Though I am free, the emotions have left a scar.''

"Today, the Pessahs (pronounced Peh-SAH) lead comfortable Silicon Valley lives, among about 2,000 other Middle Eastern and North African Jews who call the Bay Area home. But with freedom come nagging fears that it could be taken away.

"Joe Pessah, 61, an electrical engineer in Milpitas, co-founded a synagogue for Egyptian Jews called Bnei Yisrael in Daly City. Remy Pessah, 58, a textile artist, volunteers with a Jewish women's group. And three years ago, both Pessahs began sharing their story, hoping this little-known slice of Jewish history won't be lost.

"It's not easy. Joe Pessah said he has nightmares, at times so intense that he wakes up believing he's behind bars. His wife lowers her voice at a neighborhood coffeehouse while describing anti-Semitic times in Egypt."

Read article in full

Update: this article has prompted the Egyptian consulate, for the first time ever, to acknowledge that Jews had been detained

Another story of modern-day exile

Gina Waldman's Libyan Seder

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a story about a Libyan Jew who fled persecution in Libya: