Jews of Egypt
- 1h 36m
A documentary that captures fragments of the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century until their second grand exodus after the tripartite attack of ... Read allA documentary that captures fragments of the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century until their second grand exodus after the tripartite attack of 1956. An attempt to understand the change in the identity of the Egyptian society that tur... Read allA documentary that captures fragments of the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century until their second grand exodus after the tripartite attack of 1956. An attempt to understand the change in the identity of the Egyptian society that turned from a society full of tolerance and acceptance of one another to a rejection of the m... Read all
Already, the security agencies of Egypt's military government stopped the screening of the film a day before its opening, as the turmoil on the streets of Egypt is anything but able to resist the beliefs, traditions and practices of other points of view.
Generally speaking when it comes to the Arab khubz (bread), the staff of life in all the Arab world lacks a bit of salt since the role of Arab Jews has been conveniently airbrushed from history. And this is certainly true in the case of Egypt.
Perhaps as the 15 day of Nisan approaches for Pasah, it is a good time to look at the role Jews played in the 20 century's first 60 years in Egypt.
Today, few Jews live there still, and they are very old. And yet, the preeminent medieval Judeo-Arab philosopher and doctor Maimonides was court physician to Saladin. Three branches made up the approximately 80,000 Jews who lived in Egypt: the oldest, the Kariates go back a millennium at least; the expulsados or Sephardic from Spain; and lastly the Ashkanazi who fled the programs of Eastern Europe.
With the use of archival footage and the engaging interviews—in Arabic and French— Ramses manages to summon back a golden age of Egyptian Jewry in the first half of the last century.
Tolerance reigned almost supreme that hardly any Muslim or Coptic Christian questioned the loyalty of Egypt's Jews. Even latecomers from Eastern Europe sued for citizenship, easily learnt Arabic, assimilated quietly and used talents in commerce and banking, as though their allegiance to Egypt were millennia old.
And then in 1935, the rot began to set in with Hassan El Banna's Muslim Brotherhood, mimicking the rise of European fascism, thereby challenging the Jews' Egyptianism. Nonetheless, the monarchy continued to protect its Jews as citoyens-á-part-entiéres, and as such, they thrived and felt unquestionably Egyptian, as they contributed to the cultural, political and economic life of the country.
The films, for example, of actress Leila Mourad played in countless picture houses throughout the Arab world; her songs were on everyone's lips, so popular she was. And when she was falsely accused of being an Israeli spy, Nasser came to her defense.
Egyptian Jews benefited from excellent schools, spoke Arabic and preferred French as a European language, even though they attained fluency in English and other languages. It is little wonder that interviews in Jews of Egypt reflect this language pattern.
Nor is it aberrant for us to learn from the interviews that Jews were active in leftwing and liberal political movements in nation building for a world of promise and renewal anti- colonialism would birth.
A leading light was Henri Curriel who dedicated his life to fighting imperialism and tried to war Nasser of the impending invasion of Suez by Israel, France and the United Kingdom, to no avail.
As the petite, fragile Jane Blau reminds, "We were sons of Egypt," as the long shadow of the creation of Israel and the lost war against the Haganah and irregulars suffered by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, cast across the Jews of Egypt.
And the expulsions and the exodus of Jews began. And accelerated with the rise of Naguib and Nasser, as nationalizations and the discovery of the Lavon affair—a covert operation to carry out bombings of especially US properties to shake Washington's support and confidence in the Egyptian colonels.
The 1956 Suez campaign further sabotaged any vestige of Egypt's golden age of tolerance towards Jews. And another exodus began, not to Israel but to France, Italy, England and the US, for the Egypt was poor soil for Zionism, it seems.
Among those interviewed are the Francophile Alain de Boutin, a best selling author and the Le Monde journalist and editor Alain Gresh, speaking in Arabic, who provide depth and substance to the role of Jews in modern Egyptian history and life.
Americans have had a taste of this story in Wall Street Journal's Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharksink Suit that tells the decline of family fortune into poverty and hardship and mental stress once her father left Egypt. Surely, deprived of the air of Cairo, it broke the man's heart in more ways than one.
Still, for an equally compelling and sophisticated story telling, best selling author André Acimen's Out of Egypt is highly recommended, for his family remained in Alexandria until 1967.
Space is at a premium to give the justice Ramses Jews of Egypt deserves. It is hoped that this review will shake stereotypes too long held about Arab Jews and their contributions to countries they once inhabited for centuries. Certainly, for the budding political scientist or historian or the curious fellow, Jews of Egypt is highly recommended to see.
- Nov 20, 2014