Slavery and the Second Exodus


By; Israel Bonan

I am first to freely admit, that I still consider myself one, a slave that is; in my 'Personal Exodus Story', I wrote, while commenting on the perniciousness of global anti-Semitism, that: " ... may be I am still thinking as one of Pharaoh's Jewish slaves of yore that wandered in the desert for 40 years, and never entered the promised land, as free people. "

We all know the story of the First Exodus, the first generation of slaves was not considered worthy to enter the Promised Land. Thank G_d the judgment for us, the slaves of the Second Exodus, was less harsh.

Those of us, Jews who fled twentieth century Egypt, found ourselves in open and benevolent countries that accorded us full freedom to pursue our life choices and livelihoods as free countrymen and women vested with all the rights and opportunities an open society confers on her citizens. So does that mean, we think free, we act free, we react as free people do ...? I will be lying if I answered yes to these probing questions. It takes more than citizenship papers, and an oath of allegiance to our new country to make us truly free. A lot more.

There is a big difference between being born to freedom, to proactively having freed oneself, or to have just found a safe haven in the land of the free. Each freedom and its basis will shade and confer a different texture to the human experience. It is with this hard to grasp nuance that I address myself to my Jewish community hailing originally from Egypt.

Like any people thrust into the turmoil of an Exodus; our community has lived through the agonies of being unwillingly wrenched out from their familiar surroundings, penniless, only to start over anew in different worlds and different cultures. The analogy resembles only too well what happened in Egypt some thousands of years ago, we went through the same cycle of Joseph to Moses as depicted historically in the Torah.

As a community in Egypt, many of us for centuries, we were always at best guests, never on equal footing with others in the eyes of the rulers; yet we served our country in good faith, and against all odds, we rose to unexpected heights only to find ourselves deprived of our livelihood, at times incarcerated, and even killed.

Our modern day version of slavery , in our pre-Second Exodus era, is over, and finally emancipated anew we are in the land of the free; be it in Israel, Europe, the Americas or Australia.

And yet I want to draw our attention only to this notion of being assimilated to freedom after being enslaved. The departure in context from the born free or from the ones who fought for their freedoms is a very simple but a telling one; it is based on our ultimate set of priorities, as refugees. While we did not have to wander for too long in the desert, we still had to establish ourselves in the new worlds we encountered; our basic priorities were survival, of self, of family and community. We managed to reconstitute our lives in our new surrounding but we have fallen short in nurturing our appetite for what freedom really meant beyond our own survival. Because it is not only about a comfortable life, for our families and community, we needed to go further in our growth as a community; we needed a more politically active participation in the larger community, and we have not risen to that occasion.

It is not surprising that until only recently, in Israel for instance, there was not a single Jew hailing from Egypt that participated in the Israeli political arena; and neither do we advocate for our causes in the US or elsewhere either.

I am not suggesting that we should drop our participation in, and neglect our own careers or our pursuit of business affairs, or to stop supporting our own families and communal needs. What I am asking for, is simply not to do all of the above, to the exclusion of other pursuits that will have a more dramatic effect on the freedoms we now enjoy. As a community that has its own just historical rights and grievances, and that has the means to strive for justice, we did and continue to do none of the above. We chose to be a non-visible, rich and prosperous, but nonetheless community of slaves.  

We need to be more vocal about our history, our culture and our rights, past and present. In short we need to assert our uniqueness and advocate for our causes openly and visibly. While we have the power and leverage to do it, we still lack the will to do it. Finally we need to overcome the residual fears instilled in us by earlier mistreatments by Egypt's governments, and break the emotional shackles that still keep us wandering in the desert, as lost slaves. After all we are already home, and at the end of the day, to be free is to think and to act free. And it is about time that we do.