This blog’s raison d’etre is, naturally, to focus on the destruction of Jewish communities and the forced exodus of Jews from Arab countries – a painful uprooting and an unacknowledged injustice. But the other side of the coin is that Jewish refugees arriving in Israel and the West were released from the cultural and political shackles of the Arab and Muslim world.
‘Thank you Nasser!” says Levana Zamir from the Egypt-Israel Friendship Association. The expulsion of 25,000 Jews at a moment’s notice following the 1956 Suez war, with nothing but the shirts on their backs, she claims, was a blessing in disguise.
Women in particular, she said, found emancipation in their countries of refuge. Back in Egypt, Levana’s mother was known as Mrs Victor Vidal. She had no personality except as the spouse of her husband. In Israel, however, she became Esther Vidal, a person in her own right who wrote poetry and could go out to work.
On the other hand, the liberation of women in Israel took its toll on the men. In Egypt, Victor Vidal was el mudir, the boss. He was the absolute master of his entourage at work and his domestic staff and family at home.
Arriving in Israel, Jewish men lost their authority and their sense of purpose, disoriented by the new order. Some just languished at home. Some died within a few years of their arrival.
On balance, however, it was a good thing that Israel forced oriental Jewish families to abandon their patriarchal structures and adjust to modernity. Today, on Israel Independence Day, Jewish refugees living as free and full citizens have much to be thankful for.
‘Thank you Nasser!’ ‘Thank you Ben Gurion!’