The Story of an Ordinary Egyptian Jewish Family in Extraordinary Times

5 amazing facts
about the egyptian jews

by Gabriel Tamman


Present from Antiquity

Scholars believe that there were Jews in Egypt from as long ago as the second half of the second millennium BCE, and that some of them served in the Egyptian army of the day.

From about 525 to 399 BCE, a Jewish border community was known as the “Jewish Garrison” and defended the southern border of Egypt. By around 240 BCE, when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, members of the Roman aristocracy were eager to arrange marriages between their daughters and prominent Egyptian Jews. Jewish history is inextricably intertwined with that of Egypt as a whole.


A Safe Haven

After the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews was declared and signed in Granada on March 31st, 1492, all Jews had to accept baptism or leave the kingdom. The Sephardim of the Iberian peninsula, who fled at this time, were the ancestors of many of the Jews of Egypt and other Arab lands.

When their descendants celebrated Passover, they also remembered the time when their ancestors had to flee the Iberian peninsula in the fifteenth century. Many Egyptian Jews of Iberian origins were still speaking Ladino, a Jewish Spanish dialect, in the twentieth century. In the sixteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews fled persecution in Ukraine, and also found a safe home in Egypt.


Hard Work and Success

Egypt flourished during this period. Egyptians, including Egyptian Jews, and newcomers, including Jewish immigrants, transformed Egypt in an incredibly short period of time from an underdeveloped region to an economic powerhouse.

For example, the Egyptian stock market was founded by Jews. Many Jewish businessmen and their families had personal and professional links with similar families all over the world, helping the Egyptian economy to grow. Jews were often also polylingual, speaking a variety of languages including French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Ladino, and more, helping them to engage in international commerce with Egyptian and overseas partners.


Proud Jews, Proud Egyptians

For example, in 1915, Joseph Mosseri founded the Josy Films Agency, which would go on to make films in Arabic, which were enjoyed all over Egypt and the Arabic-speaking world; in 1925, the Jewish Hôpital Israélite was founded, offering medical services to all members of Egyptian society, and in 1928, Salvator Cicurel represented Egypt in the Olympics as a world-class fencer.

Dispersed Around the World

Following years of anti-Jewish discrimination, by the 1960s, almost all of the Egyptian Jews had left, settling in Israel, Europe, South America, North America, Australia and elsewhere.

Today, Egyptian Jews and their descendants are scattered all over the world. In the 1980s, a small number of Egyptian Jews attempted to return to their Egyptian homes, but under Egyptian law, as they had taken Israeli citizenship, they were stripped of their Egyptian citizenship, and they were not allowed to return.

By 2001, only thirty-six Jews were living in Egypt, and by 2019, it was thought that there were only five. The Egyptian government, in recent years, has renovated some of the great synagogues, but there are not enough Jews in Egypt to hold services there.

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About The Book

Exodus Too Book

The Story of an Ordinary Egyptian Jewish Family in Extraordinary Times

For thousands of years, the Jews were one of various peoples who made their home in the beautiful country of Egypt. 

Their numbers grew in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to reach about 70,000.  There were Egyptian Jews in every niche of society—from humble artisans to leaders of the Egyptian economy, and key figures in cultural and sporting life.

Right up until the 1930s and ‘40s, the Egyptian Jews were an integral, and integrated, element of Egyptian society. They had invested heavily in the country and in their future there. They saw themselves as part of a modern, dynamic Egyptian culture, as they worked with and alongside their Muslim Egyptian, Armenian, Greek, and other colleagues.

But by the late 1940s, everything had changed. From that period, and throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, the Egyptian Jews were progressively forced out of Egypt. Many of them left as refugees, with little more than the clothes on their backs. Many of them lost the homes and businesses that they had invested everything in. Families were torn apart, happy childhood memories were tarnished, and the future became very uncertain. 

While the generation that left Egypt, wrenched from their homeland, is declining in numbers, the memory of their experiences has been passed down to their children and grandchildren.

Today, Jews of Egyptian origins are scattered all over the world. Many of them have gone on to be very successful in their chosen fields; a testimony to their determination even in the face of tremendous obstacles.

Recording this precious history, these stories of love and loss, is crucial to understanding the past, and to building a better future.

Through the extraordinary experiences of one Egyptian Jewish family, the heart-breaking story of the departure of the Jews from modern Egypt is explored in intimate detail.

About The Author

Gabriel Tamman

Tamman Exodus

Gabriel Tamman grew up in Egypt and Sudan in the 1930s and ‘40s. His family, like so many others, was forced to flee Egypt, leaving behind all that they had worked for. 

Today, like most Egyptian Jewish families, members of the Tamman family live all over the world. 

After a number of years in west Africa, Gabriel himself settled with his immediate family in Geneva, Switzerland,  where he and his wife raised their children. He remains a prominent member of the Swiss business community, with interests all over the world. 

Gabriel is also very active in the Jewish community, in Geneva and elsewhere. He has been involved with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) for decades. He has also been involved in various philanthropic endeavours in Europe, Israel, and elsewhere.  

Recognising the need to publicise the history of the Jews of Egypt and to bring this story, with a personal touch supported by rigorous academic research, to a general readership, Gabriel wrote Exodus Too [link to publisher’s purchase page].  

He hopes that this book will start a conversation that will continue for many years and that will contribute to  the greater recognition of the Egyptian Jews and their story, and to a positive and productive dialogue in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Join the Discussion Here

Today, Egyptian Jews and their descendants are scattered all over the world. Their experiences as a diaspora have varied greatly, but they all share collective memories of their past as a community in Egypt: happy memories, sad memories, and often profound feelings of regret and loss.

As an Egyptian Jew myself, I feel strongly that our stories should be recorded, stored, and made available to the public. Together, we have a rich and wonderful history. It is time to make it known. If you would like to share your own, or your family’s, story please get in touch by using the form below.

Gabriel Tamman

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3 years ago

Hey, great content here! Can I share my story?

3 years ago

Hi, I just bought your book I’m really excited! Thanks for your work. 🙂

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