Sunday, April 27, 2008

Egyptian Jewess relives her exodus at Passover

For Nicole Thosath, the story of the Passover is almost too familiar. Like Moses and the Israelites in ancient times, she and her family were forced to flee oppression in their native Egypt, trusting in God to deliver them to promise and safety in a foreign land. The Sun Herald reports:

The Punta Gorda (Florida) resident, born Nicole Tousson, is a descendant of many generations of Egyptian Jews. Now 56, she was just 7 when -- in the aftermath of Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup that deposed King Farouk and instituted sweeping changes in Egypt -- her family, along with many other Jews, were expelled from the country.

She recalls living in Cairo as a child, with a summer home in Alexandria. One of her earliest and fondest memories was sailing the Nile with her family. Thosath remembers learning French and Arabic, which was common in those days. And she remembers a very different life -- and a very different Egypt.

"There were many Jews in Egypt, living side by side with Muslims," she said recently. She and her family attended a beautiful, gilded temple, not far from a mosque.

"Everyone got along well," she remembered -- Jews, Muslims and Coptic Christians.

Sometime after Nasser came to power, her father, Simon, an accountant who worked for the king, was arrested by the army and held in custody for three days.

Remembering that chaotic time, she can still hear her mother's admonitions to stay away from their home's blacked-out windows -- and the explosion she saw outside when, as children often do when told not to do something, she peeked anyway. It was frightening enough to keep her from peeking again.

When her father was released, he was given 48 hours to get his family out of the country. They were not permitted to take any of their possessions with them -- those were forfeit to the state.

As was common at the time, many families had "help," or servants. Thosath remembers her family's servants, who were Muslim, helping her mother, Suzanne (nee Mizrahi), to sew what jewelry she had into clothes, so they might be able to take them on the journey.

It was a time of abrupt change and uncertainty for the family. And each Passover -- as Jews remember and celebrate the time when the Lord visited 10 plagues upon the Jews' Egyptian captors and their Pharaoh, and their final deliverance from that captivity -- Thosath cannot help but feel a deep connection to her own family's flight from danger.

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