“In the Jewish sect, in 1945 no one could imagine that in 1948 there would be a war and Jews would emigrate. It was impossible to think, even after what the Muslim Brotherhood did, no one thought they would leave the country,” says Albert Arie, the oldest living Egyptian Jewish citizen.
Arie, one of the only remaining Jewish men still living in Egypt, was speaking to Al Arabiya as part of a special documentary on the lives of Jewish Egyptian citizens.
“They would ride the train and stand by the iron doors at 10 a.m. so they could be there in Jerusalem by noon. They knew and saw that nothing would ever force them to leave Egypt,” he added.
Arie is one of the surviving Jewish Egyptians who still remembers the days of the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1960s, given that he was born on June 25, 1930. The 90-year-old told Al Arabiya that the dwindling number of Jewish Egyptians began in 1948 and would go on through four stages.
“There were stages, in 1948, second in 1956, and then in 1961, and 1967 the tripartite aggression. These stages represented the elimination of the Jewish sect in Egypt,” he said.
The Jewish community of Egypt has struggled to keep the faith alive and maintain its culture after its numbers dwindled to a few dozen members in recent years from some 80,000 in the 1950s.
Most Jews fled Egypt due to attacks on the community during and after the 1956 war, when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula along with Britain and France in an attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal.
The exodus began after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the first war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Jews were also prominent in the Egyptian Communist Party which was outlawed under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1958.
Arie was one of three prominent Jews from Egypt who joined the national movement against British colonialism and refused to immigrate to Israel, and they merged with their new families in Egyptian society. The other two veteran figures being the two lawyers Youssef Darwish (who died in 2006) and the other being Shehata Haroun who passed away in 2001. He is the grandfather of Magda Haroun, the current president of the Egyptian Jewish Community.
“To commence prayer inside the synagogue under the Jewish faith requires a quorum of ten men. Because men are guardians of women even in the Jewish religion. So, women can’t be the majority, there has to be 10 men minimum,” Haroun said during her appearance in the documentary, explaining the history of synagogues in Egypt, especially those found in the historic Jewish Quarters in Cairo.
“We unfortunately don’t have the men so… if these women enter one day and prayed, as I said earlier, I don’t know the Jewish prayers. Our numbers are few and one day our presence will no longer exist in Egypt. But we have to keep and maintain these things,” she said.
(Some Reuters content contributed to the background of this report)