On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt

On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt

On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt

On the Mediterranean and the Nile: The Jews of Egypt

Synopsis

Aimée Israel-Pelletier examines the lives of Middle Eastern Jews living in Islamic societies in this political and cultural history of the Jews of Egypt. By looking at the work of five Egyptian Jewish writers, Israel-Pelletier confronts issues of identity, exile, language, immigration, Arab nationalism, European colonialism, and discourse on the Holocaust. She illustrates that the Jews of Egypt were a fluid community connected by deep roots to the Mediterranean and the Nile. They had an unshakable sense of being Egyptian until the country turned toward the Arab East. With Israel-Pelletier's deft handling, Jewish Egyptian writing offers an insider's view in the unique character of Egyptian Jewry and the Jewish presence across the Mediterranean region and North Africa.

Excerpt

In exile with other writers in exile like me, I explore with them, see through
their eyes, a cosmopolitan Mediterranean of the South that existed at
one time, a Jewish and Muslim Mediterranean, now orphaned of Jews
who inhabited it before Islam. the story each one of us tells is sometimes
happy, sometimes cruel. the stories we tell recall a different time.

Leïla Sebbar

Thanks to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile River, Egypt has produced eminent cultures: Judaic, Pharaonic, Copt, Greco-Roman, Ottoman, European, and Arab. Together they have shaped Egyptian experience and identity. I appeal to the Mediterranean and the Nile to describe how Egyptian Jews thought and felt about Egypt and suggest that the great sea and the great river offer different nonbinary models for framing Jewish Egyptian identity. Along with the Egyptian people whose languages, gestures, voices, and gaits reflect the histories of migrations, invasions, travels, and exchanges traceable back millennia, the Mediterranean and the Nile are natural phenomena even before they take on mythic status. For Egyptian Jews, when all is said and done, the Mediterranean and the Nile provided a frame for imagining what they meant by home; these sites of memory confirmed their sense of belonging and heightened their attachment to Egypt. What they longed for in exile was the land, the sights, sounds, air, smells, tastes, and the feel of their Egyptian experience; they missed the voices, expressions, and manners of its people. I believe it matters that we keep sight of the material experience and engage with it when we examine how Egypt manifested itself in the imaginary of Egyptian Jews in the first half of the twentieth century and believe that it is in literature that we find one of the fullest expressions of this layered experience. This book makes the point that Jewish Egyptian identity and attachment to Egypt rely on an image that was best formulated in the 1920s by Egyptian territorial nationalists. Egyptian Jews identified themselves with an . . .

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