The 601st commandment of the Jewish faith states: "Thou shalt never again dwell permanently in the land of Egypt". [Deut. 17:16]
Well - looks like I blew it from day one.
I was born in Egypt, a permanent dweller. The time was early September. A few days later was Yom Kippur, and already I was learning to beat my breast in repentance. "For the sin that we have committed by dwelling permanently in the Land of Egypt".
So I was born in Cairo in 1949 and lived there until I was 18. Then I came to the United States as a refugee, and have lived here for the past 37 years.
A Jewish community has existed in Egypt since time immemorial. Alexandria had a large community 2500 years ago, and it flourished for hundreds of years. Maimonides lived and worked in Cairo more than eight centuries ago. The Cairo Genizah, that treasure trove of Judaica discovered in the 19th century, attested to a long unbroken Jewish presence in Egypt.
But the community was uprooted, like all other Jewish communities in Arab countries. The Jews of Egypt were close to 100,000 strong in 1948, when Israel was created and Egypt promptly sent its Army to destroy it. Then the noose began to tighten around their collective neck. Only 10,000 remained after the 1956 Suez war. Only 1,000 remained at the time if the Six-Day War in 1967, including myself. I left in late October 1967, one of the last Jews to leave Egypt. Today fewer than a dozen elderly Jews remain in the country.
A few months before my 18th seder in Egypt, it was time to go. My exit visa came on October 20th, 1967. Pharaoh decided to let THIS Jew go. It gave me two weeks to leave. On both sides of the exit visa stamp, there was a red "Y" in Arabic between quotation marks, added by hand in red ink. It stood for Yahudi -- Jew. A signal to those who would later check this visa to harass me as much as possible.
Years later, when I started having children, I stuck this exit visa in our family Passover Haggadah, next to the traditional words, "B'chol dor vador, hayyav adam lir'ot et 'atsmo, k'illuhu yatsa mimmitzrayim -- In every generation, every Jew must consider that *he, himself* was *personally* rescued from Egypt." That's always been easy for *me* to say!
I must say that the Lord indeed works in mysterious ways. I am a lot happier living in the United States than I could ever have been in Egypt, even under the best of circumstances. On this 350th anniversary of the coming of the Jews to America, I, and all of us, should be thankful for the many blessings our great country offers, help protect them, and never take them for granted.
The Haggadah says:
Vehi sheamda lavotenu velanu
The promise made to our forefathers holds also for us.
Shelo echad bilvad 'amad 'alenu lechalotenu
For not just one enemy has risen against us to destroy us.
Ella shebechol dor vador 'omdim 'alenu lechalotenu
But in every generation they rise against us to destroy us.
Ve haKadosh Baruch Hu matzilenu mi-yadam
And the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.
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