Frolicking with her fiance in the cool waters of the Suez Canal, Lilian Abada would never have imagined she was about to experience the first of a string of events that would ultimately lead her to flee her native Egypt for Israel with only one suitcase.
When Abada and her future husband, Nisso, emerged from the water that day in 1956, a security agent was waiting for them. The two teenagers were arrested for spying for Israel and interrogated for days. They were released and then re-arrested, along with hundreds of Jews. Finally, they fled to Israel.
“We realized the Egyptians wanted us out,” Abada said.
Abada’s account of her family’s flight is set to appear in “The Golden Age of the Jews From Egypt,” a forthcoming book that aims to preserve the memory of this North African Jewish community against what many Egyptian Jews see as an attempt by the country’s Islamist leaders to blot out their history.
The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood last year has generated much angst in the Egyptian Jewish Diaspora, descendants of a 2,000-year-old community all but destroyed in a mass emigration in the two decades following Israel’s establishment in 1948 — a period that community members refer to as the “second Exodus.”
In the wake of the election of Mohamed Morsi to the presidency last year, there were reports that Egypt had denied entry visas to Rabbi Avraham Dayan and several others who were due to travel to Alexandria to lead High Holiday services at the city’s Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue. Services apparently will not be held there on the upcoming Passover holiday.
Jewish sources also say a nascent restoration project of some of Cairo’s crumbling synagogues has been suspended, despite the 2010 announcement by Egypt’s then-culture minister that the government would shoulder the cost of the project.
In January, a Muslim Brotherhood politician resigned as a presidential adviser after he drew international attention by calling on Egyptian Jews to return. More recently, authorities censored a film on Egyptian Jews that was to be screened in Egyptian cinemas, though the director, Amir Ramses, tweeted this week that the film will be screened later this month after producers “won the war against security forces.”
“It appears that under President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities are trying to tear out the pages about the Jewish minority from the book of Egyptian history,” said Ada Aharoni, the editor of “The Golden Age of the Jews From Egypt,” which serves as a kind of Egyptian Jewish haggadah.