Uncovering Egypt's Jewish History

The Jewish community has long been part of the colorful mosaic of Egyptian history

Choir of Rabbin Moshe Cohen by Nebi Daniel Association public photo collectionAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

A Storied History

Jewish people have been a part of Egyptian culture for nearly 2,000 years. Although few Egyptian-Jews remain in the country today, their heritage is intertwined with the rich and diverse history of Egypt.

Alexander The Great 356-323 Portraits Ruler Of MacedonLIFE Photo Collection

From Ancient Times

This history of Alexandrian Jews can be traced back to the arrival of Alexander the Great (331 BCE), founder of the city. Under the Ptolemy rulers, they were given a section of the city where they could practice freely while living alongside other ethnic groups.

Part of the Whole

Samy Ibrahim, a member of the Egyptian-Jewish community and executive directory of the Drop of Milk Association, discusses how Jewish heritage fits into the colorful mosaic of Egyptian history.

By Bob LandryLIFE Photo Collection

In the early 20th Century, Egypt was home to 80,000 Egyptian-Jews, mostly in Cairo and Alexandria. Some members of this community had a profound influence of Egyptian culture and society.

Daoud HosniAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Daoud Hosni

Daoud Hosni (1870 – 1937) was a prolific Egyptian-Jewish composer, updating and adapting traditional Arab music. He was the first person in Middle East to compose music for an Opera entirely in Arabic.  

Mourad FaragAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Mourad Farag

Mourad Farag (1867-1956) was an author and poet. One of his most famous poems proclaims his love for his homeland, Egypt.

Mourad FaragAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

My homeland is Egypt. She is my birthplace,
In her was I brought up, and in her was I educated.
She is my mistress and the source of my livelihood...

...May she live free, even though I have been enslaved
By the intensity of my love for her independence.

(translation by Leon Nemoy)  

Ben Ezra Synagogue (2017-08) by OvedcAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

As regional tensions escalated, most of the Egyptian-Jewish community left the country during the 1950s and '60s. Their presence in Egypt continued to dwindle and the community that remains now numbers in the single digits.  

However, remnants of Egypt's Jewish heritage remain, including beautiful historic synagogues in Cairo and Alexandria.

Samy Ibrahim discusses the importance of preserving Egypt's synagogues and what they teach us about Jewish heritage in the country.

Basatin Cemetery (2020-09) by Luke HollisAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Shadows of the Past

Another testament to Egypt's Jewish heritage is the historic cemeteries of Basatin. The main cemetery has been used by the Jewish community since at least the 9th Century CE.

Leishaa Cemetery After Conservation (2020-08) by Ahmed ShafiqAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Revealing Jewish History

Last year, the American Research Center in Cairo (ARCE) initiated a project to clean and restore two of the smaller Karaite family graveyards of Basatin to preserve and share these incredible relics of Egypt's Jewish heritage.

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Credits: Story

This conservation of the historic Jewish cemetery of Basatin was conducted by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in collaboration with the Drop of Milk Association and funded by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP).

Story created by Tessa Litecky, ARCE
Learn more about ARCE at arce.org  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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