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December 23, 1977 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-12-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

52 Friday, December 23, 1977 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

The Changing Fortunes of Egyptian Jewry Recalled

There are hardly any
Jews left in Egypt today,
but in former times the
Egyptian Jewish commu-
nity was one of the largest
and most prosperous in the
East.
The recent political devel-
opments in the Middle East
have focused attention on
the role of Egypt in Jewish
history.
Egyptian Jewry traces its
history back to the time of
Jeremiah, but it was not
until the conquest of Alexan-
der the Great in 332 BCE
that the great wave of Jew-
ish emigration to Egypt be-
gan.

Alexander's successors in
Egypt, the Ptolemid dy-
nasty, attracted many Jews
early in their reign to settle
in Egypt as tradesmen,
farmers, mercenaries and
government officials. But
the prosperity of the Jews
under the Greek rule
plunged to the depths of
persecution under the Ro-
nums.
In 115 the great revolt of

the Jews of Egypt took
place, completely crushed
by the Romans two years
later. Until the Arab con-
quest in the Seventh Cen-
tury, Jewish life in Egypt
came to an end.
With the conquest of
Egypt by the Arabs in 640,
Egyptian Jewish existence
underwent a revival, ben-
efiting under the rule of the
Fatimids, but suffering af-
ter the Turkish Mamlukes
came to power in the middle
of the 13th Century.
When Egypt was con-
quered by the Ottoman
Turks in 1517, there was a
decisive tun 'n the history
of the country and the Jews
living there. At the height of
their power, the Ottomans
were very tolerant and the
Jews held key positions in
the financial adminis-
tration.

ruary 1954 there was a
change for the worse. Ar-
rests, trials, extortion and
confiscation of property
marked the period.

After the wars of 1948,
1956 and 1967 thousands of
Jews left the country until
there were only four Jewish
families remaining in the
country in 1970.

On a later note, a look at
the few remaining Jews of
Egypt was recently de-
scribed by Wolf Blitzer of
the Jerusalem Post, who
has been in Cairo covering
the peace talks.
Blitzer noted that Dr.
Rizo Levi, 68, had the honor
of lighting the first Hanuka
candle at the Shaarei Hash-
amayim synagogue in Cairo
as a dozen elderly worship-
pers chanted with him the
traditional blessing that pre-
cedes the candle-lighting
ceremony.
Those who attended the
special Hanuka service
were overjoyed by Sadat's
visit to Jerusalem. "Shalom
al Yisrael (peace on Is-
rael)," they said.

Several said they would
like to visit Israel them-
selves.

Shaarei Hashamayim is
one of only two functioning
synagogues that serve
Egypt's approximately 180
remaining Jews. The other
is at Heliopolis, also in the
Cairo area.

The- ornately-decorated
synagogue does not have a
rabbi or a cantor. There has
been no Jewish wedding
there since 1970. The men
who make up the congrega-
tion, which usually has serv-
ices on Friday nights and
Saturday mornings, take
turns leading the prayers.
Across town from Shaarei
Hashamayim is the Neve
Shalom synagogue. But here
the situation is different.

Neve Shalom, once an im-
pressive structure, is today
abandoned. Arabs living in
the overcrowded neighbor-
hood have built a mosque
within the synagogue's
courtyard.

However, after two gener-
ations of power, the Otto-
man empire underwent a
political and economic de-
cline, and the Egyptian
Jews suffered under the cor-
ruptton, violence _and_ _ _ inside, the place is a
mess. Religious artifacts,
cruelty of the often-replaced
including prayer shawls,
governors.

From the ascension to
power of Muhammad An in
the early 18005, Jewish life
in Egypt generally prosper-
ed until 1945, when the first
anti-Jewish riots in the mod-
em history of Egypt took
place in Cairo.
However, the year 1947
was the beginning of the end
of the Egyptian Jewish
community. After the state
of Israel was established,
persecution of Jews began.
Hundreds of Jews were ar-
rested and many had their
property confiscated, bombs
were planted in Jewish
neighborhoods and Jewish
businesses looted.
There was a short respite
from persecution after the
government was over-
thrown in 1950, but when
Nasser seized power in Feb-

Hebrew prayer books, the
Holy Ark, are scattered.
Egyptian children were
seen playing inside, as if the
structure were a kindergar-
ten.
Upstairs, in the women's
gallery, benches were piled
up, making it impossible to
enter.
Dr. Levi, who still prac-
tices medicine in Cairo, said
that neighbors had gradu-
ally tried to take over the
Neve Shalom synagogue by
force. The Jewish commu-
nity protested: in fact, they
wrote a letter directly to
President Sadat.

"Today, the synagogue is
protected by the Presi-
dent," Levi said. "No one
can go inside and take it
over."

But the Jewish commu-

nity is still trying to remove
the mosque from the court-
yard. "We are asking them
to go' away," he said in
fluent English. "Up to now,
we couldn't do anything."
There were once more
than 80,000 Jews in Egypt.
The Jews of Egypt say that
they have no special prob-
lems, that they are treated
well by everyone. From out-
side appearances, this
would appear to be so.
In recent years, the com-
munity has sold four syna-
gogues. Dr. Levi said that
the transactions were car-
ried out according to Jewish
religious law. They corre-
sponded first with the chief
rabbi of Paris, who advised
them on how to make the
sales.

Money received was used
to help maintain the other
unused synagogues of Cairo,
and to assist needy Egyp-
tian Jews.

"We did what we could up
to now," Levi said "We do
not need any official, out-
side help." He recalled that
he had visited the U.S. a
few years ago. When people
found out he was a Jew
from Cairo, they immedi-
ately offered him money for
the synagogues. -
"I refused," he said, "We
can support ourselves."
Ibrahim (Abraham) Sas-
son, 68, is a retired_ high
school mathematics teach-
er. He and his wife live on a
pension. He said that he
would like to visit Israel one
day, especially because he
has two sisters in Tel Aviv.

David Salem Shema,
Cairo's only remaining sho-
het (ritual slaughterer),
also wants to visit his rela-
tives in Jerusalem. Shema
came to Egypt 50 years ago
from Yemen. Most of his
relatives emigrated to Is-
rael.

Shema is one of the few
Jews in Cairo who can
speak Hebrew, which he
learned while a child in Ye-
men. As he stood for the
evening service, his wailing
"Shema Yisrael" could be
heard above the crowd.
Most Egyptian Jews can
read– Hebrew prayers, but
they don't understand the
words.
Mrs. Rose Belahofsky, a
small elderly woman, spoke
in Yiddish, explaining that
she was one of eight Ashke-
nazi Jews remaining in
Cairo.

Mrs. Belohofsky, who was
born in Cairo, said that
there were once many Ash-
kenazi Jews in Egypt, even
an Ashkenazi synagogue
and a Yiddish theatre. The
late King Farouk, she re-
called, once let the Yiddish
theatre perform in the na-
tional opera house.

Like most of the other
Egyptian Jews, she is today
too old to leave.
However, even though the
Jews in Egypt are dying
out, the language of the
Jews is alive and well there,
and Israeli journalists arriv-

ing in Cairo to cover the
negotiations may be sur-
prised to find modem He-
brew cultivated in the Egyp-
tian capital.
A constructive role in the
encouragement of Hebrew
studies at Cairo has been
played by the University of
London, according to Ben
Segal, professor of Semitic
Languages at the School of
Oriental and African Stud-
ies, London University,
writing in the London Jew-
ish Chronicle.

Egypt has a fine tradition
of academic independence.
Hebrew studies appeared in
its university syllabuses:
since between the world
wars and have never been
discontinued.

"When I visited Cairo at
the end of December, 1973—
for the first time since
1946—the Yom Kippur War
was far from over," says
Prof. Segal.
"On the aircraft from
Geneva were members of
the Egyptian delegation to
the cease-fire talks; and
when I left Cairo three
weeks later, General Gam-
assi was travelling to the
negotiations at Kilo 101.
"But in spite of the ten-
sion of this critical period,
Hebrew studies never fal-
tered. The Egyptian col-
leagues who entertained
me, spoke the language with
ease.
"On one occasion, I re-
call, we sat in the famous
El-Fashawi cafe in the
Mousky bazaar discussing
academic affairs and the
general situation in the
Middle East.

"As our fluency in Arabic
and in English failed, we
were delighted to find that
we could continue our con-
versation in Hebrew."

Hebrew is taught at all
three universities of the
Egyptian capital—al-Azhar,
Cairo and Ain Shams—and
at Alexandria.
At Alexandria the head of
the Hebrew section is Prof.
Zazaa, who was 'briefly a
post-graduate student at the
Hebrew University of Je-
rusalem. He left when fight-
ing broke out after the dec-
laration of the state of
Israel and completed his
studies at Paris.
At Cairo University the
head of the department in
which Hebrew is taught was
the late Prof. Yaqub Bakr,
a brilliant Semitist who re-
ceived his doctorate at the
School of Oriental and Afri-
can Studies at London, and
later translated into Arabic
some of the poetry of Bialik.

But the main center of
modern Hebrew studies in
Cairo is at the University of
Ain Shams. Here the He-
brew section is in the De-
partment of Oriental Lan-
guages (alongside Persian
and Turkish), led by Dr.
Abdel Meguid, a graduate of
Manchester and Oxford.

There is no shortage of
students, both women and
men. Of an annual intake of

around 400, some 70 choose
to take a BA in Hebrew.
"The keenness of their in-
terest in their work was
evident to me from my
meetings with both staff and
students," says Prof. Segal.
"A lecture I gave at the
university on the devel-
opment of Hebrew in April
1974, was attended by about
80 people; and a seminar
which I conducted in He-
brew among a group of 25
teachers and post-graduate
students this April provoked
an animated and sustained
discussion, also in Hebrew."

The same impressive lev-
el of Hebrew is reflected in
research activity. Dr. Abdel
Fattah, who received her
PhD at the School of Orien-
tal and African Studies for a
thesis on Saadia Gaon, has
also translated Bialik and is
currently working on He-
brew poetry.

Other lecturers have stud-
ied contemporary Israeli
Hebrew.
Theses at Cairo during re-
cent years include work on

Ezekiel and Nehemiah, on
the Samaritans, on Rashi,
and on Gordon, Tcherni-
chowski and Ha7az among
modern writers.
A serious obstacle to the
study of Hebrew in Egypt
has been the shortage of
books. The import of He-
brew works was forbidden
until a few years ago, and
copies of the few available
texts had to be copied_

The London School of Ori-
ental and African Studies
has had close relations with
Ain Shams for several
years.

Two lecturers from Cairo
spent a year in research in
Hebrew in London recently
and there is a steady, if
small, stream of Egyptian
students working there for
higher degrees in Hebrew
and related subjects.
But it is not only from
Egypt that students have
been attracted to Hebrew
courses at the School: they
have come from Jordan, the
Lebanon, Bahrain and other
Arab countries.

Israel Economists Study Effect
of Peace on State's Economy

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Gov-
ernment economists and
private industry in Israel
have begun to give serious
consideration to the effects
that peace in the Middle
East would have on Israel's
economy. The private sec-
tor envisages an important
market for Israeli goods in
the Arab countries, espe-
cially Egypt.
Efraim Dovrat, economic
adviser to the Finance 11,lin-
istry, said that a special
ministry team is already
studying the economic re-
percussions of peace on the
budget.
According to Dovrat, it is
agreed that there would be
no reduction in defense ex-
penditures for the first few
years after a peace settle-
ment. He noted that Israeli
withdrawal from occupied
territories would require ad-
ditional investments to
transfer bases and installa-
tions and for the acquisition
of new equipment.

Another team is preparing
plans for possible mutual
development projects to be
undertaken jointly by Israel
and its Arab neighbors.

In the private sector, the
Israeli Irrigation Corp.,
Tahal, says it is prepared to
assist Egypt and other coun-
tries to develop their water
resources. Aryeh Gissin, di-
rector general of Tahal, ob-
served that "they know
very well who we are and
what our achievements
are."
The • electronics industry
is convinced that it can
market many of its products
in Egypt and other coun-
tries once peace is estab-
lished. Medical equipment
manufacturers and Israel's
food industry, meanwhile,

are studing possible mar-
kets in Egypt and other
Arab countries.

Education Aid
Asked for Blacks
by Jewish Leaders

NEW YORK—The presi-
dents of the American Jew-
ish Committee and Ameri-
can Jewish Congress have
called for increased efforts
at the junior and senior high
school levels to help blacks
prepare for medical and
other professional schools.
Such measures, said Rich-
ard Maass of the AJCom-
mittee and Rabbi Arthur
Hertzberg of the AJCorF
gress, would be far more
effective than any restric-
tive quota system in admis-
sions in moving toward "the
goal of more black physi-
cians, lawyers, and other
professionals in our so-
ciety."
In issuing their call, the
two Jewish leaders referred
to a recently published
study by two University of
California scientists that
concluded that the pool
qualified black applican
for medical schools was
drying up and that "af-
firmative action programs
at the college level are not
enough to remedy the
educational gap for minor-
ity candidates."

Adolf von Baeyer (1835-
1917), German chemist who
was born of a Jewish
mother, was awarded the
Nobel Prize in 1905 for "the
advancement of organic
chemistry and the chemical
industry, through his work
on organic dyes and hydro-
aromatic compounds."

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