Writing in The Librarians, Ayala Dekel was shocked to discover that her aunt Rachel had chosen to remain in Egypt with her Muslim love rather than emigrate with her family to Israel. (By all accounts, intermarriage was quite common in Egypt.) The story of Jewish women who stayed behind in Arab countries because they had fallen in love with Muslims is not altogether new to readers of Point of No Return. Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi ‘s grandmother fell in love with a Muslim sheikh. But there are other stories of Jewish women who were abducted and converted to Islam. Indeed so widespread is the phenomenon of Arabs with Jewish roots, that an Israeli outreach campaign was mounted to reach them. (With thanks: Alec, Michelle)
She boarded the ship along with the rest of her family. Everyone was excited about the voyage that would eventually bring them to Israel, the journey that would begin the great change in their lives. Yet, her heart was heavy. She didn’t really want to leave Egypt. A few minutes later, she muttered casually, “I forgot my bag by the ship, I’ll be right back.” That was the last they saw of her. She left the ship behind and returned to her lover in Egypt, choosing to stay there with him.
We never heard these stories during our childhood nor later on. The stories, like the women concealed in them, were left behind. Jewish women who lived in 20th century Egypt and who chose to remain there, though their entire families had immigrated to Israel. Women who chose to marry outside of the Jewish faith, who in most cases were expelled from home and family, left alone in a Muslim country. It’s time to tell their stories.
One of them was my aunt, Rachel. I only became aware of her existence a year ago
.My grandfather had a large, warm and noisy family. They were five brothers and one sister. Their pictures always stood on the bookcase in my grandparents’ home.
It turned out that someone was missing from the photos. Rachel wasn’t in any of them.
Rachel had fallen in love with a young Muslim man and married him when the family was still living in Egypt. Her father, my great-grandfather, did not approve of the marriage and banished her from the family home. He also demanded that everyone sever ties with her. But one sister refused to comply and kept in touch with Rachel despite her controversial marriage. Her name was Susan, I called her Tante Zuza. She would visit Rachel’s home frequently and even developed a close relationship with her son. Until it came time to immigrate to Israel.