Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt Reviewed By Lily Azerad-Goldman for Bookpleasures.com
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Author: Jean Naggar
Many of us are unaware that from 1948 until the early 1970s it is estimated that approximately 800,000 to 1,000,000 Jews left, fled, or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries including Egypt, and as Jean Naggar has poignantly pointed out in her Sipping from the Nile, My Exodus from Egypt: A Memoir, it was in fact the 2nd Jewish Exodus from Egypt.
Naggar's memoir begins as she recounts how one day she spotted a black snake in her garden- an omen of the future crisis that will ultimately drum out the vast majority of Jews from Egypt. Fortunately for Naggar and her family, they were not killed during the ensuing riots that fired up hordes of Egyptians marching through nearby streets after the ousting of King Farouk and the subsequent military take over.
As Naggar informs us, it was no easy feat to leave Egypt. Exist visas were required, even after the Egyptian authorities had sequestered all Naggar family's belongings and made off with their family wealth. Only after several attempts did her family succeed in securing these elusive exit visas and were finally permitted to leave Egypt along with some ninety thousand other Jews with only the shirts on their backs. These Jews would ultimately find refuge in Israel as well as various countries around the world that welcomed them.
Taking us back to her childhood, Naggar eloquently describes her early idyllic life in Egypt, later to be shattered by the Egyptian "liberation" army of Nasser and his cohorts. She describes her experiences growing up in an affluent Jewish Family where we learn about the luxury that surrounded her as well as the family's adherence to Jewish rituals. They even had a synagogue on the premises in her family's villa in Gizah (Cairo) and she had the opportunity to attend private schools in Egypt and England. We also learn of her trips to Alexandria to visit her maternal grandmother Smouha and to Luxor to visit an aunt in a winter villa. There were also the frequent trips to Paris to the Haute Couturiers and her opportunity to learn and fluently speak several languages. One point in passing, not all Egyptian Jews were as fortunate as the Naggar family as their lifestyle was the exception rather than the rule.
This is a superb memoir and her writing is evidence of her Rodean education in England as it meanders like the leisurely flow of the river Nile. Under her fluid relaxed style lurks the winds of war and the demise of the Jewish enclave in Egypt and along the way we get to know her childhood and her family. It is also a song of love and respect for Naggar's grandparents, the Smouha family (maternal grandparents) and the Mosseri family (paternal grandparents). And to help you figure out the many characters in the memoir, readers are provided at the end of the book with a helpful family tree and historical time-line.
Naggar also uses a dash of wit as she describes the rituals of the Passover celebrations which entail deep cleansing of her family's villa, often against the will of the Khamsin or sandy winds that clogged everything, the raising and ritual sacrifice of the lamb, the cooking, baking and finally the Seders that were celebrated with pomp and circumstance by her large family. And to this day, Naggar emphasizes how food still ties the present generation of Egyptian Jews to their past. Everyone adores "kaahk" or salty hard biscuits with sesame seeds and salt, as well as "menenas," dates filled pastries that melt in your mouth, and "sambousecs", delicious cheese filled dough. Recipes that were lovingly shared from one generation to the next.
We also notice how Naggar muses on the fidelity of her family's Egyptian Muslim chauffeur, Osta Hussein, who along with some other Egyptians, believed in the "maalesh" theory, wherein they forgive all kinds of political differences and remain friends with everyone, even the Jews! However, they do not absolve the majority of Egyptians who are brainwashed against Israel and the Jews.
What attracted me to this memoir is that Naggar's privileged childhood experiences echo my own life and exodus from Egypt. Like her, we lived a sheltered loving life surrounded by friends and family, going to summer in Alexandria , attending private schools, and we had to abandon everything to leave with the shirts on our backs.
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