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Riches to Rags: Egypt's Last Exodus

Barbara Bensoussan

The hundreds of Jews who still remained in Egypt in June 1967 were rounded up, forced into prison camps, and subjected to years of torture and abuse. The Jews of Egypt, who just a generation earlier lived in wealth and opulence, suddenly found themselves penniless refugees. Their cataclysmic fall from grace left an entire generation scarred from the impact.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rabbi Albert Gabbai, the rav of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, cuts a distinguished figure with his neatly trimmed gray beard and dark suit. Visitors to this historic synagogue treat him with great deference and respect, and he answers their questions with patience and elegance. Behind his office desk, the accidental tourist may notice framed photographs that depict him with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, ztz”l, and, l'havdil, then-First Lady Hilary Clinton.

But this same man was once, just over forty years ago, abruptly arrested and thrown into prison — no warrant, no charges, and no trial. His crime? Simply being a Jewish male in Egypt in 1967. After three years of enduring the most horrific treatment, Rabbi Albert Gabbai was just as abruptly released, bundled onto a plane, and told to get out of the country — and stay out.

An aberration? A unique experience? Unfortunately not. Close to 500 Jewish men and boys were rounded up in Egypt in June of 1967, forced into the prison camps of Abu Zaabal and Tura, and there subjected to years of torture and abuse.

All of us know about the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, but not all are aware of the expulsions of Egyptian Jews in 1956 and 1967, when Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser confiscated Jewish businesses, stripped Jews of their citizenship, and forced them to flee the country penniless. In contradistinction to our Biblical ancestors, who were enslaved but left with great riches, the modern Jews of Egypt greatly enjoyed riches in Egypt, then left stripped of everything they had. Instead of wandering in the desert, these suddenly destitute families wandered across France, Spain, and Italy, often moving on to Israel or the US.

 

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