Grapevine: Jews who did not leave Egypt

At the time of the creation of the State of Israel, there were approximately 75,000 Jews living in Egypt.

Izat370 (photo credit: Morag Biton )
(photo credit: Morag Biton )
In biblical parlance, Jews are known as the Children of Israel. In biblical times, they left Egypt en masse – though it is not known how many opted to remain in Egypt despite the harsh conditions. In later years, Jews again settled in Egypt, the first trickle of migration beginning some 400 years BCE. Many of the Jews expelled from Spain settled in Egypt and, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were large waves of migration from Russia and Eastern Europe and there were several Jews who held important positions in the Egyptian establishment.
At the time of the creation of the State of Israel, there were approximately 75,000 Jews living in Egypt, though most, even if they had been living there for four or more generations, did not have Egyptian citizenship.
Many left voluntarily; others were expelled. Some came to Israel; others went to the United States and elsewhere in the world. But some also stayed in an ever-dwindling community, which continues nonetheless to observe Jewish traditions and to hold community celebrations of Jewish holy days.
Thus, the small Jewish community of Cairo valiantly celebrated Passover with a Seder held in the Chaar Hashamayim Synagogue in Adly Street. The event was hosted by Carmen Weinstein, the long-time president of the Jewish community of Cairo, who, though ailing, happily greeted all the guests, including French Ambassador Nicolas Galey, US Ambassador Ann Patterson and Canadian Ambassador David Drake.
The food for the Seder was supplied by the Joint Distribution Committee and delivered via the Israel Embassy.
Rabbi Marc Alfassi, who officiated at the Rosh Hashana services and dinner, came once again from France to demonstrate solidarity and to lead the Seder despite the remonstrations of his friends who cautioned that going to Cairo during such a turbulent and precarious political period was just too dangerous. A general power cut in downtown Cairo also affected the electricity in the synagogue. The lights suddenly went out, plunging the festive room into darkness.
Fortunately there were plenty of candles available, which were hastily lit, creating a much softer and more intimate atmosphere.
■ MEANWHILE IN Eilat, Egyptian Consul Ahmed Izat was the guest of honor at the Seder at the Caesar Premier Hotel, whose general manager, Shimon Amar, invited him to join the hundreds of other guests who were celebrating the Festival of Freedom.
Izat was given a beautifully bound English translation of the Haggada so that he could follow the proceedings and join in the singing of the traditional Passover songs. At the conclusion of the evening, Amar suggested to Izat that his presence was the beginning of a tradition and invited him to come to Seder every year for as long as he remains in Eilat.
■ AT MANY Seder tables around the world, participants not only recalled the Exodus from ancient Egypt, but also the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place on the eve of Passover 70 years ago. This year not only marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising but also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Zionist Youth Organization Hashomer Hatza’ir, of which Mordechai Anielewicz, one of the leaders of the uprising, was a commander.
For several years now, there have been signs of a Jewish renaissance in Poland. There are now several rabbis leading congregations in different parts of the country. In Warsaw alone there were Seders held by Chabad; the Orthodox community, which is headed by Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich who organized Seders at the Marriott Hotel and the Kuchnia Koszerna (kosher kitchen) adjacent to the Nozyk Synagogue; and the Progressive- Reform Center, which hosted a Seder at the Polonia Hotel following services at the Ec Chaim Synagogue.
■ IN ISRAEL, the largest community Seder was, as always, held at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, which hosted 1,500 people.
Those who believe that haredim are not carrying their share of the burden should be aware that various representative groups from haredi communities hosted community Seders for people with special needs, relatives of hospital patients and, in a Viznitz hall on the corner of Sheinkin and Feierberg in Tel Aviv, Seders for members of the secular community who wanted to be at a Seder but had not been invited to one. Haredim also hosted Seders for Ethiopians and Bnei Menashe. It should be noted that haredim also operate about 90 percent of soup kitchens throughout the country and serve the poor without discrimination.
During the week prior to Passover, Satmar Hassidim closed off a section of Jerusalem’s Shmuel Hanavi Street so as to distribute large boxes of provisions to some 8,000 needy families. Each box was topped by a huge sack of potatoes. Although non-haredi Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, preferred to distribute vouchers that would help preserve the dignity of the poor and allow them to choose their own foodstuffs, Satmar contends that there is no shame in being poor and, judging by the long lines of people who queued up to receive Satmar’s largesse, many of the economically deprived agreed.
■ THERE IS perhaps no greater tribute to a lecturing rabbi than when a chief rabbi comes to hear him speak. That’s what happened to Rabbi Avi Berman when he delivered his annual Englishlanguage sermon at Jerusalem’s Yeshurun synagogue on Shabbat Hagadol (the Shabbat before Passover).
Approximately halfway through, Berman stopped as a latecomer entered and strode down the aisle.
The latecomer was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who listened with great attention and afterwards joined a group of people who gathered around Berman to congratulate him.
Berman spoke about sharing the burden, with the focus on the rasha – the wicked son in the Haggada. One of the members of the audience pointed out that even though the rasha dissociates himself and should be cast out, he obviously isn’t because he reappears year after year. Berman noted the difference between being cast out and someone choosing to cast themselves out.
Earlier in the month, Metzger had spoken out on behalf of Carmei Ha’Ir, the restaurant-style, hareidi-run soup kitchen in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, where, in addition to free meals, the poor, especially Holocaust survivors, are also provided with clothing.
In appealing for funds to help Carmei Ha’Ir distribute food packages to 3,000 needy families, Metzger told potential donors that each donor would have the satisfaction of knowing that the family or families that he or she had helped were like guests at their own Seder table.
■ IT SEEMS that Caesarea, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has his holiday home, is considered by his body guards to be safer than Jerusalem, where both his official and private residences are located. Unlike one of his predecessors in office, Yitzhak Shamir, who went for an evening constitutional nearly every night accompanied by a bodyguard and a trailing limousine, Netanyahu is never seen in the streets of Jerusalem, except on Yom Kippur. Even when he leaves his residence, he enters the car from inside the grounds and not from outside the front gate. However, on Wednesday, Yediot Aharonot featured a photograph of him clad in black shorts and matching polo shirt walking across the sand on the Caesarea beachfront with people playing badminton and other beach games in the immediate vicinity.
■ ON THE same day that several Israeli media outlets reported on the Forbes Israel ranking of the country’s 50 most powerful women, in which Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, received top billing, Haaretz reported on the performance rates of public figures based on a survey it commissioned from the Dialog polling agency. Although the PM did not see fit to give popular Likud stalwart and former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin any role either in his government or as the head of a Knesset committee, the public ranked Rivlin ahead of President Shimon Peres, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, former defense minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Police Isp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Yoram Cohen, former finance minister Yuval Steinitz, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein in terms of satisfaction with their job performances.
Rivlin scored a 75% average in satisfaction, up from 66% the previous year; Peres 74% (down from 81%); and Netanyahu 48%, (down from 53%).
■ PERHAPS NETANYAHU, who is holding the Foreign Ministry portfolio for Liberman, should he emerge unscathed from his court case, has an ambassadorial role in mind for Rivlin, given that he has the right to nominate a limited number of political appointees to ambassadorial positions – but if that’s the case, he’s certainly playing his cards close to his chest.
Meanwhile he has to deal with sanctions by Foreign Ministry employees who are very disgruntled with the manner in which they are being treated.
Ya’acov Livni, a member of the Foreign Ministry’s workers’ committee, said in an interview on Israel Radio that there are people who cannot make ends meet on their salaries – including diplomats serving abroad who no longer receive the same housing expenses and education fees for their children that were allocated in the past. The workers thought to boycott US President Barack Obama’s visit, but, realizing its importance, opted to defer sanctions until afterwards.
Meanwhile, all diplomats serving abroad have been instructed by the workers’ committee not to file reports by cable or email, other than in dire emergencies, but to use the diplomatic pouch. Israeli diplomats abroad are asking about the International Relations Ministry, currently headed by Yuval Steinitz, how it will affect the work of the Foreign Ministry and whether the Foreign Ministry budget will be reduced in favor of the International Relations Ministry. Within the framework of their sanctions, Foreign Ministry staffers are refusing to issue diplomatic passports to new ministers and MKs and their spouses. That particular status symbol will have to wait.
■ THE PRISONS Service refused the request of former president Moshe Katsav, who wanted to spend Seder night in Kiryat Malachi with his family.
The reason: Katsav has not yet served sufficient jail time to be entitled to leave. Meanwhile, Odelia Carmon, who had been Katsav’s media adviser when he was transportation minister and was one of those who testified against Katsav at his trial, has decided to reveal her identity in a tell-all book as well as via electronic and print media interviews.
Many people, including journalists and members of Knesset, knew as far back as 20 years ago about Katsav’s sexual proclivities, but that did not prevent his career advancement. Some of the victims even spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity, but the journalists could not publish for fear of being charged with libel. One could well ask whether those MKs who voted Katsav into the presidency could be regarded as accessories to his crimes.
■ FORMER KIRYAT Malachi mayor Motti Malcha will not have to face the same ordeals as Katsav. In a plea bargain, Malcha, who was convicted of sexual harassment and betrayal of public trust, was given a suspended sentence plus community service and had to pay out NIS 60,000 to the women who had filed complaints against him. He also had to immediately step down from his role as mayor and to undertake not to run in the upcoming mayoral elections.
■ HOW QUICKLY people in power become has-beens. Haaretz reported this week that Ehud Barak, who was defense minister up until the day before Obama’s arrival, had not been invited to any of the Obama events.
The so-called oversight was realized only at the last minute, when the Prime Minister’s Office invited him to the farewell ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport. Barak declined the invitation.
The PM subsequently called him to apologize; as a former prime minister, Barak should not have been overlooked.
It remains to be seen whether he will also be overlooked when invitations are sent out for official Independence Day receptions. In addition to being a former prime minister and defense minister, Barak is also a former foreign minister, and is therefore entitled to invitations to all of the official Independence Day events. For that matter, it will also be interesting to see if invitations are sent to Ehud Olmert.