Friday, July 02, 2021

Diplomat updates list of Egyptian-Jewish surnames

Using sources such as periodicals, memoirs, geneaological records and telephone directories, veteran Israeli diplomat and researcher Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch has updated his list of surnames of Jews living in 20th century Egypt for Avoteynu: (with thanks: Shula)

Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch

The Jewish community in Cairo (as well as in Alexandria and Port Said) during the first half of the 20th century is an example in place. There is no central depository or database which is accessible. Some of the documents of the Jewish Community which found their way out such as those at Yeshiva University in New York deal mainly with Jewish education and community affairs. 

 The same may be said about the “Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People”( in Jerusalem which is in possession of the same kind of materials. The main problem with those materials is that they deal mainly with the community’s dignitaries and Jewish schools and education. 

The Central Zionist Archive (CZA)in Jerusalem possesses lists of Egyptian Jews who emigrated to Israel but without mentioning their cities of origin. The Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) has some lists of Egyptian Jews but with no city of origin. Those lists represent only a fraction of the Egyptian Jews because many of them were holders of European passports (Italian, British, French, Greek, and Spanish) and left Egypt independently and were not in contact with those organizations. 

This is the place to mention that only half of the Egyptian Jews made their way to Israel while the rest settled mainly in the USA, Brazil. Argentina, France, Italy, and Australia. This paper intends to fill those lacunae and lists the surnames of the Jewish families, Sephardic and Ashkenazi and the Karaites, which resided in Cairo from the turn of the 20th century with a brief survey of the available sources which were consulted and used to construct such an index. 

 The main source for harvesting Jewish surnames are the two weeklies in French that were published in the city between 1918-1945: “Israel” and “L’Aurore”. They are scanned and can be viewed on the website of the National Library of Israel. They can be searched online by OCR technique which, because of the print quality, misses a considerable number of surnames. The fact that many surnames are spelled in a variety of ways necessitates a creative search methodology.

 However, the major drawback of these two weeklies is that they focus on Jewish communal life, institutions and Jewish schools and organizations. Unfortunately, many Jewish kids did not attend Jewish schools, and their parents were not donors to Jewish organizations and institutions, thus they fell beyond the coverage of the Jewish press. The second source is the personal memoir books by authors who grew up in Cairo, some of whom drew literary praise and positive coverage by the media.

 However, they are very poor in providing surnames. The Farhi’s Family website “Les Fleurs de L’Orient” has a large index of families that are related to the Farhi family by marriage. The index notes the place of birth, residence or death of each indexed individual thus constituting an additional source for Cairo Jewish surnames.

 Another important source is the different Egyptian business and telephone directories but they require careful scrutiny to dig out the Jewish surnames keeping again in mind that only a fraction of the city’s Jews are listed in them.

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