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Mark Levy shares his childhood memories of Jewish life in Egypt and explains his family’s escape from eruptive violence in Alexandria upon the establishment of the state of Israel. He also recalls his experience in transit camps in Israel in the 1950s and reconnecting with his Kurdish family members. Ultimately having settled in the U.S., Mark emphasizes the importance of the state of Israel and the international character of his heritage.

Mark Levy’s fraternal heritage is Iraqi, though his father grew up in the pre-state Palestine. As an adult, his father moved to Egypt for a reason Mark is uncertain of. He met Mark’s mother in Egypt, whose family hailed from Spain and Turkey. Mark was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1939 to an extremely close-knit, caring family. He fondly recalls his childhood in Alexandria, the city that was “very cosmopolitan and accepting.” The family was adequately well off to have several Arab maids and send their children to private schools run by Europeans. Mark attended St. Andrew’s all-boys school where all children from diverse backgrounds got along harmoniously. The situation drastically changed, however, upon the establishment of the state of Israel. Riots and violence against Jews erupted starting in 1947, but still, Mark’s family – especially mother – was not fully convinced to leave Egypt yet. Mark had a “vivid memory” of his grandmother’s “fright” which transmitted to her grandchildren.

One night, when Mark was playing with kites with his uncle (who was just six and half years senior), local Arab kids beat up the uncle badly over tangled kites. On another occasion, the Arab doorman at the house saved the family as he lied to a mob that “no Jews live here.” His grandmother started to fear Arab servants and maids at home, and the deteriorating violence against Jews in 1949 finally convinced the family to leave for the state of Israel. Leaving his grandmother and his (brotherly) uncles behind in Egypt, Mark’s immediate family made aliyah after tearful farewell to their home.  

While the journey from Alexandria to Marseille to Haifa was an exhausting one, life in Israel was tremendously different from their previously comfortable life in Egypt. The conditions of transit camps were harsh that they did not have running water or electricity. However, the administrations made sure that there were schools for children where Mark learned Hebrew and other subjects. He also recalls that, without any possession, Jews in transit camps could still be happy being “pioneers.” When he was serving the IDF, he developed a close relationship with his fraternal grandmother who still spoke fluent Aramaic. His relationship with his grandmother during this time had great influence on him.

Mark points out that there is a strong tendency that his parents do not want to discuss their past. Strongly identifying himself as a traditional, “dark-skinned” Jew, he reflects on the sense of “displaced” status in Egypt, Israel, as well as in America - which is, in a flip side, highlighting his “international” heritages.

This interview was filmed and donated to "Seeing the Voices" by JIMENA U.S.A. (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa)

מרק לוי (באנגלית)

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Video length:
01:27:21
Date Taken:
01/01/1
Place:
Alexandria
,
Egypt
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