Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jewish girl was abandoned by her family in Egypt

From the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department:

It was in 1979, soon after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

W., a Jewish businessman with connections in high places in the Arab world, was busy arranging for a group of elderly Egyptian Jews ( several stripped of their nationality since 1956 - but that's another story) to visit Israel when he was approached by a tall, gangly Egyptian asking to join the tour.

"Are you Jewish?", W. asked. "No," came the reply.

Imagining that this Egyptian might be a member of the Mukhabarat (secret police) sent to spy on the visitors, W. suggested that the Egyptian wait and join a later tour of Israel he was organising for Egyptian intellectuals.

"No, my wife and I need to visit Israel as soon as possible. My wife is Jewish, although she doesn't know it."

The Egyptian then proceeded to tell the puzzled W.the whole story. The wife was a small child when she was separated from her Jewish family. In their chaotic haste to leave Alexandria for Israel some years before, the family had left their daughter behind. The abandoned girl was taken in by the family's Egyptian neighbours, and brought up as their own. She went on to marry an Egyptian Muslim.

W. duly arranged for the couple to visit Israel. At the airport, they were greeted by the famous Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea. The couple were interviewed on TV, and the wife was told her story.

Before long, a fleet of cars arrived. It was the wife's family, brandishing a photo of her as a child. They had recognised her from the TV screen.

The wife was reunited with her long-lost family. But after a week, she demanded to go back to Egypt. Her links with her Jewish family had been severed for all time and the clock could not be turned back. Egypt would always be home.

The Egyptian authorities must have breathed a sigh of relief. Had the wife decided to stay in Israel, it would have been an embarrassment and a public relations disaster.

Such stories of separation are extremely rare, but they do happen. Last year, an Iraqi Jewess abducted by a Muslim neighbour joined her family in Israel after 55 years' separation.

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