From Egypt to Israel and Loving it


By; Lucy Calamaro

During 1960-1963 years, I was in my class de Bachot already and all my friends had slowly left Egypt one by one. I was suddenly alone with my two parents set in their old ways and who had forbidden me to go out or to meet friends, scared that I can get in love with a goy (gentile).

They were right it was dangerous for a girl and especially a Jew which was not bad looking; there were a lot of opportunities for that to have happened.

My brother Joe was more reserved than I was and it was not a problem for him.

I prepared myself for leaving Egypt because I saw no other opportunities that were left open for me, and I asked my father to help me in preparing my exit documents.

He said that he would rather kill me instead, for even thinking about leaving alone by myself. I had no options left for me but to go to the Mogamaa (Immigration office) and start the paperwork for my departure; I encountered no problems despite the fact that my father was already under sequestration, but more on that later.

I had my Italian passport and all the necessary papers, and my uncle from France sent me a ticket in secret everything was ready for my departure but I still was bound to tell my father about it. I finally got the courage and one evening I told him that I was leaving within a month; this was all I could tell him. The next day he went to his friends in the police department and asked them to put a stop to my departure; and I am sure he paid them a lot of money in return.

And they sure did that, they had in a sense sequestered me as much as they did my father’s business, his bank account, and his cars and everything else he owned.

I found myself idled, doing nothing worthwhile after my graduation (bachot) and staying at home which was not convenient for me at all.

My father had a Jewish friend of his, working in a German firm, he asked him to introduce me to his boss and to see if he could find me a job. Luckily that his German boss liked me and he agreed to have me work for them for the next 2 years and I was very happy about it; at least I was not staying at home, and I felt independent again.

This firm was constructing bridges for the Egyptian army and I did not see any thing wrong working for them at this time. You know, at the time in Egypt, we knew nothing about the Holocaust or of Jewish suffering anywhere else.

During these two years Joe graduated from the University and could not find a job; I convinced him to help me take our family out of Egypt and this time we succeeded because Joe was on my side. My father despite all what he had been through still struggled with the idea of leaving, but this time we were two of us and we forced him to make the move about finally leaving Egypt.

We left in November 1965 to France on board the Esperia vessel to Marseille, France. My uncle was waiting for us and took us to Paris; where we stayed in a hotel (pension) where other Egyptian Jews were staying, while in transit to other countries.

While in Paris, we met with the people from the Sochnut Yehudith (A Jewish Agency helping with the resettling in Israel); they proposed that we come to Israel, while the HIAS proposed that we immigrate instead to the USA.

My father and my two brothers wanted us to go to the States, but me as always and because I was very Zionist (until today) I wanted us to go to Israel instead. I did not mind if they all went to the States; I was going to Israel alone if I had to. I had enough, after what happened to us in Egypt as Jews and I did not want to go through it again in my lifetime. All the fear, the humiliation, the money stolen from us, I was finished with all that, so never again.

My parents argued that they had suffered not me or my brothers, since we were young; that the money was really my father’s money and that he did not mind and he wanted us to go to the states. I said it would be ok for you, but not for me; and argued that my parents simply did not know or did not want to know how much I suffered for being alone without any friends, for being humiliated in my own class because I was a Jew, the fear I got each time they knocked on our door at home after 9.00 pm. It was a horrible time for me too and I was not willing to forget it. Finally my brother Joe accepted to come to Israel and my parents finally relented.

We disembarked in Haifa port on 1/1/1966 and went next to Tel Aviv and we rented an apartment near the beach of Bat Yam. All my cousins and family came to see us, upon our arrival; it was such a beautiful reunion, all the tears of happiness, all the hugs, it is impossible to forget it, even after so many years.

That same night one of my cousins working in tourism asked me if I wanted to work, I said yes, he told me that he had a job for me at Peltours a tourist agency and that he will come the next day to take me there.

This was my chance to start my career in Israel; I was accepted on the spot and ended up working in this agency for the next 7 years.

My bother Joe also found a very good job at Hevrat Hashmal (electricity agent) and both of us were settled; but not my father. Unfortunately he could not find his way and it was impossible for him to work with the Jewish friends and colleagues he was used to close deals with in Egypt, with a mere hand shake, but not in Israel. He lost some money and had not succeeded to introduce himself in our newly adopted Israeli society.

It was difficult for him and he endured very bad times because he ended up mostly staying home. I do not know if the same would not happened if we had moved to the States, and I would never know.

Never mind that, after two years from our arrival in Israel G_d was good to my father and he won a big lottery; I remember one day he came to me (I was already married) on a Friday morning and told me that he wanted me to get dressed and to come with him, when I asked him where to, he said the Egyptian gave me back my money!! I wanted to know how that was possible. He asked me to come and see.

I went with him and he took me to the place were he bought the lottery card, took card out of his pocket and gave it to me to check the numbers against the lottery numbers on the winner’s list. I realized then what he meant and yes, his card number was on the winning list; then I understood what he meant by getting his money back from Egypt; but I always thought that he should have realized that G_d gave me a compensation to what he had lost.

He felt much better, after winning the lottery (he felt like the provider again) but after a year or two he got ill and very slowly he started losing his energy and looked suddenly so old; my father died 15 years ago zichrono lebracha.

Normal family life continued until I retired last year.

But let us revert back again to Egypt and what happened to my father in the couple of years preceding our departure. One night in the early 1960’s, they knocked on our door (it is gentle description to say knocked when you know how they do it, by frighteningly banging is more like it) and ask my father to give them on spot the keys to our three cars in the garage parked below the building.

My father asked them why he had to give them his property, they shouted him down; you shut your mouth and you do only what we are telling you was their reply. I saw my father trembling near them and my mother started crying, my two brothers stayed on the side and I, the girl firmly said to them; sorry but do you have any papers showing us that you have an order to do so? All the time my mother was trying to push me aside and she asked me to shut my mouth but I refused and insisted to see the papers.

One of the gendarmes said “bass alachan enti bent helwa we laziza hawariki el waraka” (just because you are a nice and cute girl we will show you the papers). He did show us the order that was written to take the keys of the cars and also of the apartment key in order to be able to come and go as they wished.

I asked again what you mean, to come and go as you wish. That you can just open and come in even if we are asleep, and his answer was says yes “ya helwa” (you cutie) even if you are asleep.

At that moment I understood about fear, something I have never felt before in my life or ever since. I have experienced 4 wars in Israel, 3 of my children went to the army but that fear was different and not at all the same as I felt at that time.

My father as a good boy gave them the 3 keys for the cars and the one for the apartment; and after they took the keys they told him "ya khawaga elbess we taala maana" (get dressed and come with us) at that moment it was like the earth opened beneath my feet and swallowed me. My mother, a very clever women said no to them, and that he will not go with them without waiting half an hour until our lawyer went with him. She took the phone and called our Muslim Egyptian lawyer, and he luckily went with them and the lawyer.

Forty eight hours later, there were still no news about him and we were sure they must have killed him. Suddenly someone rang the door bell at 10 pm at night and it was my father, very pale, tired and he could not answer any of our questions. And since that night we never brought up the subject again.

A week later they came to his place of business and put it under sequestration and also all the money in his Barclay’s bank account, and despite all that my father was still very much in love with this damned country called Egypt.

For me no money, not even the paradise all the Egyptians Jews are talking about meant nothing to me except only a damned country with horrible people. I promised myself one thing "I shall never go there again" and this is exactly what I have done since then, 41 years since I left Egypt and I have never and will never think of going back and see it again.

My heart is full of pain against this country and against its people. Sometimes I feel melancholia for Egypt maybe because of a song or a dream or some souvenirs but nothing else.

Let me continue what happened afterwards, they took my father’s business, froze his bank account, took the key to our cars and apartment and they left us with nothing; they gave my father a poor man’s monthly salary and despite all that he still succeeded at work and with some friends he was again able to earn a lot of money. It was only that fact which kept him sane and he did not suffer a heart attack from this destructive set of events, especially when he was seeing his cars driven by three ZOBAT (officers) from the Egyptian army and a strong man ruling over his business.

Still my father loved Egypt because it was Egypt and he always said that they will never do anything bad to us. He was sure of that. But unfortunately things went from bad to worse and the political situation was not so agreeable after all.

Finally one shiny day he decided to leave everything behind and take us out of Egypt. I must say we were spared the 6 days war experience in 1967 and we have not gone through what other Jews have gone through during those sad days.

I loved my father very much and I had a lot of respect for him but I still I could not understand why the hesitation in leaving such a country and why Jews had to suffer (sorry to say, suffer by their own hands) by not leaving at the time that place were they could not find happiness or joy for the children they brought into this world.

I hope that I have made a good decision when I decided to come to Israel, for the sake of my children and grand children we feel here at home and no one can take it from us, unless they kill us all; and maybe that is what G_d wants; but I leave that in his hands to decide if we shall remain as his “peuple elue" (chosen people) or not. And may G_d bless and safeguard us all with his benevolence.

Lucy Calamaro