The American Research Center in Eygpt

An Initiative to Tell the Stories of Egypt's Aging Jewish Community

An Initiative to Tell the Stories of Egypt's Aging Jewish Community

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An Initiative to Tell the Stories of Egypt's Aging Jewish Community

There are number of international projects dedicated to preserving and capturing the memories of Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Iran who left their homes and resettled in Europe, the United States and Israel. While several have captured the oral histories of members of Egypt’s Jewish community now living abroad, none to date have attempted to record the oral histories of the dwindling community in Egypt. As a result of connections made with the American University in Cairo after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Middle East Studies Center in November 2016, an initiative has gained momentum to document and record the stories of as many of the remaining six members of the Jewish community in Cairo as possible.

“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” Old Testament psalm. Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue, Cairo. Photo: J. Smythe

The doors of the ark, the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept, display the recurring theme of the palm tree, associated with Egyptian Jewry.  Photo: J. Smythe

The project, which is in its early stages, is a joint effort of The Drop of Milk Foundation, The American Research Center in Egypt, The American University in Cairo’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library, and independent Egyptian historians and scholars. Recorded interview audio and transcriptions will be housed with the Drops of Milk Foundation and made available online, through AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library.  This will permit users in Egypt and around the world to listen, remember, and learn about the lives and contributions of Egypt’s Jews. ARCE has been instrumental in bringing together members of the Egyptian Jewish community here and abroad, various institutions, cultural heritage specialists and oral historians to undertake this project and differentiate it from existing initiatives that highlight the experiences of Egyptian Jewish community members who emigrated abroad to Europe, Israel or the United States. What distinguishes this project from its sister projects is the unique focus on documenting the oral histories of those community members who have stayed behind in Egypt and those who have been associated with the community through the years.

For additional resources on this topic there are several initiatives that address the issue: Sephardi Voices UK records the histories of the people who lived in Egypt and across the Arabic speaking world; the film Starting Over Again by Elliot Malki includes interviews with Egyptian Jews who now live abroad; and the better known film Jews of Egypt by Amir Ramses chronicles the story of the Jewish community in Egypt.    

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