6/7 January 2023, 14 Tevet 5783

Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. Both Jacob and Joseph died in Egypt and were prepared for burial the Egyptian way which may well have involved mummification.

Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

And then a little later;  So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Both men begged to be taken back home for burial. It was demonstrably important to them. They had been absorbed and integrated into Egyptian society. And what is so intriguing is we finish the Book of Genesis with these words and begin Exodus with a stark reminder that a new King arose who did not know Joseph. In other words all intimate knowledge and affection for the Hebrew people had vanished.

I have just returned from a week in Upper Egypt travelling between Luxor and Aswan on the Nile. No Jews are left in that area of Egypt. At all. We did investigate Elephantine Island by the banks of Aswan which now is home to a very large Movenpick hotel and a new rougher Nubian village. Once it served as a military garrison of the Persian Empire where Jews were guarding the southern border of Egypt in the 5th century B.C.E. so we had connection to it. We spent a week exploring the extraordinary temples and tombs of Ancient Egypt and saw with our own eyes the visual reminders of change and progress as the Coptic Christians of the 4th century erased the hieroglyphics of the Ptolemies and those that preceded them and added their own religious images. The progress of history viscerally etched into the Philae Temple walls and many others.

Pre 1948 Egypt had a thriving Jewish community, as many as 63,550 in 1937.  Things changed as we know with the establishment of the State of Israel for many Jewish communities in Arab lands like Egypt and Iraq. And congregations were dismantled as Jews fled violence.

Now just a handful live in Cairo and Alexandria only; the two communities there, Sha’ar Hashamayim and Eliahu Hanabi have neither rabbi nor regular services in the building.  But there are traces of their presence. The Bassatine Cemetery in Cairo is considered one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world. I listened carefully when our guide told us almost the whole country were pleased to have peace with Israel. When Anwar Zadat said in 1979, No More War. Apparently the majority of his people agreed. And that sentiment is still there it seems.

Being reminded of Jewish stories and migration is part of the Jewish conversation I wish to be in. Looking forward to hearing your stories this new Gregorian year of 2023 and all it may bring to us here at FPS.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Rebecca