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Remy Pessah is from Cairo, Egypt, where her father owned an eight-story building and a jewelry store. When Egypt was at war with Israel (1956 and 1967), her fiancé was arrested and remained in jail for three years. Remy could not leave Egypt until the 1970’s . In this interview, she shares a testimony about the hardships of Jewish women in Egypt during those turbulent times.

Remy Pessah was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1947. Her father was a jeweler who also co-owned a “big eight story building” that contained thirty two apartment units. Her mother was a home-maker, “a true nutritionist” as Remy recalls. Although the family did not live in the Jewish Quarter in Cairo, they lived in a beautiful neighbourhood located nearby a local synagogue. The family was bilingual in Arabic and French, and Remy attended a French school prior to the American college in Cairo. Shabbat was such a “special” occasion that young Remy looked forward to for its meals and synagogue services. Every summer, Remy traveled to Alexandria to enjoy the city’s beach. She recalls that her most memorable parts of childhood were the summers she spent in Alexandria.

Jewish life in Cairo drastically changed, however, when Nasser came into power. First, Jews with European nationalities were deported, one of whom was Remy’s grandmother with French citizenship. Despite anti-Jewish riots and the horror stories Remy’s family was exposed to, her father did not want to leave Egypt due to his fear of starting from the beginning in a foreign country. Furthermore, she firmly believed that once Nasser’s term was over after four years, the situation of Jews would improve to what it was like prior to 1956. Remy sadly remembers her father being “in denial.” She recalls the terrifying nights when her family had to cover all the windows in their home during the war in 1956. Even after the war was over, Remy remembers waking up in the middle of the night in tremble, from the trauma she experienced. Her friendship with non-Jewish friends were dismayed, as she was rejected as a Jew. She recalls losing all her friends one by one, eventually feeling that she had “no one anymore.”

The Six-Day War in 1967 intensified anti-Jewish sentiment in Egypt. Graffiti on streets depicted the Star of David being crushed by Egyptian soldiers, and rioters violently chanted “there will be no Israel.” Remy describes the day when Egyptian newspaper declared Egypt won the war; her father, however, listened to BBC radio and knew the result was the opposite, whispering to Remy, “we won… yes!” One of the Remy’s unforgettable memories of Egypt became the day Nasser resigned over losing the Six-Day War in 1967.

Upon the Six-Day War, the Egyptian authority started to jail Jewish men aged between 18 to 55. Remy’s fiancé, Joe also got jailed that Remy was devastated. The arrest of Jewish men resulted in much hardship on Jewish women that survival became harder and harder in time; the men were not released and visitation hours were strictly limited. Joe ended up being in jail for three years. When the United Nations worked for their release, Remy believed that Joe should be ‘a married man’ to fasten his release; they got married in jail with a Rabbi’s blessings. Joe was finally released after three years in jail, but they could not leave Egypt until 1970s as the Egyptian government froze emigration. Finally when they could leave, they were allowed to bring only 25 Egyptian pounds. Remy and Joe joined Joe’s relatives in the United States of America. Remy’s father died of cancer in Egypt, and her mother, shortly after she arrived in the USA.

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

Remy Pessah

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