The Jews of Egypt bear the brunt of double denial: Denial by Egyptians who are convinced that Jews never lived in Egypt; and the other by archeologists like Israel Finkelstein, who maintains that the First Exodus under Pharaoh might not ever have happened.
The first form of denial is the more pernicious because there are still Jews alive who were born and bred in Egypt, such as the psychoanalyst and writer Tobie Nathan (pictured).
In the October 2012 issue of Information juive, Nathan recalls meeting an Egyptian diplomat in Tel Aviv, a friendly and educated man, by all accounts.
” I don’t want to accuse him, but he sincerely believed that there had never been Jews in Egypt,” Nathan says. “When I told him that not only was I one, but my family had been settled there for centuries, perhaps longer, he replied: “if you were there, it wasn’t as Egyptians”. He could not conceive that Egyptians of the Jewish faith had actually existed.” Nathan blames ignorance – 60 years, in fact of relentless propaganda.
The Jews of Egypt, erased from the country almost to a man – only a few elderly ladies in old age homes remain – relived the myth of the Exodus. Some archaeologists deny that the First Exodus had ever taken place. The Second Exodus was really the one and only, and people like Nathan the only ones to have experienced it.
Maimonides once wrote: A Jew is permitted to live anywhere in the world, except for Egypt. Bizarrely, he did not practise what he preached, ending up in Fostat, old Cairo. Every year at the Passover seder, Nathan experienced the paradox, as a child, of celebrating leaving Egypt, while still being there. What were we doing in Egypt?And now that we have left, why do Jews have only one wish – to go back there?
Once Nathan himself had left and suffered the tribulations of exile, he too felt that ‘nostalgia’. “A king who hadn’t known Joseph – he called himself Nasser – had chased us out having robbed us first (Exodus 1-8). ”