By Bonnie Gratch Lindauer
Today, Congregation B’nai Emunah hosted a special event for JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) . JIMENA speakers Joe and Remy Pessah shared their personal stories about growing up in privileged circumstances in Egypt and what life was like for Jews in the time period before Nasser and WW II and aftermath. Before they spoke, a film made by JIMENA depicted the situation with other Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews who had to flee their homelands and become refugees in Israel and other countries.
Joe and Remy described the richness of their lives before things changed during and after WW II. Private schools, abundant cultural opportunities, and rewarding commercial options were the norm for the educated Jewish population in Cairo. All of this gradually disappeared after the war and Nasser’s changing policies towards Jews. A large number fled in the last 1950s, but many remained. Joe and Remy’s families stayed on until the early 1970s, when Joe’s father and other males in the family were imprisoned. Joe was also later detained and imprisoned, but fortunately he was released and he and Remy fled to France and then the U.S.
The 40 attendees were captivated by their experiences and many questions followed the presentation. One of the congregation’s members shared his family story as Iraqi Jews who fled to Israel. A wine and cheese reception allowed for more informal exchanges with the speakers.