Ex-Israeli envoy reveals large number of Ashkenazi Jews lived in Cairo

Former Israeli ambassador to Jordan Jacob Rosen published an extensive list of Jewish surnames in Cairo that disclosed a stunning number of Ashkenazi-sounding surnames.

“Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms settled in Egypt,” Rosen said in an interview. Rosen, who also served as a diplomat in Egypt, said there were about 40,000 Jews in Cairo during the 1930s and 1940s.Conventional knowledge is that Mizrahi Jews largely dominated Egyptian Jewish life. But Rosen’s research offers a new glimpse into the complex Jewish community in the North African country.That there were so many Ashkenazi names in Cairo was “very surprising,” said Rosen.He published his updated study on Jewish Middle East genealogy on the website Avotaynu Online.“This paper intends to fill those lacunae and lists the surnames of the Jewish families, Sephardic and Ashkenazi and the Karaites, which resided in Cairo from the turn of the 20th century with a brief survey of the available sources which were consulted and used to construct such an index,” wrote Rosen.Karaite Jews reject the Talmud and adhere to the Torah as the governing authority for religious life. Rosen identifies Karaite Jews with a K after their surnames.

His list contains 1,854 surnames. The publication of the list prompted 11 additional Ashkenazi surnames to be submitted post-publication: Becker, Lobelson, Falksohn, Cohn, Schlimovitz, Cohn-Galatz, Helal, Halala-Cohen, Frank, Eni, Grabavetzky.Rosen estimated that the split of Jews in Cairo was roughly 20% Ashkenazi and 20% Mizrahi.“Cairo was like a railway terminal, Jews coming and going,” he said.Rosen said there was saying among Jews with respect to Egypt’s diverse and at times transient Jewish population. “A Jew who was born in Cairo will not be buried in Egypt. And if he was buried in Egypt, he was not born there.”“Nevertheless, it is not a complete list, and I am sure that there are more to be unearthed,” Rosen said. Egypt “was the only community where you have Sephardic and Ashkenazi” Jews in the Middle East.The ambassador said there was a weekly Yiddish broadcast during the 1920s and 1930s on Cairo Radio and a Yiddish theater in the metropolis.A small sample of the Mizrahi names on his list are: Abbadi/Abadi/Abadie, Abboud/Aboud, Abd El Wahed K, Hakham, Hakim, Fahouna/Fahuna.Rosen, who is fluent in Arabic, has doggedly pursued the names of Jews living in Egypt and in the Islamic heartland (Syria and Iraq) over the years. He said he is now working on an index of Jews who lived in Alexandria, Egypt.“The most promising and fast-developing source is social media, namely the several Facebook groups of Egyptian Jews, which offer quick communication around the globe,” he said.In addition to scouring Facebook groups, Rosen wrote “ The main source for harvesting Jewish surnames are the two weeklies in French that were published in the city between 1918-1945: ‘Israel’ and ‘L’Aurore.’ They are scanned and can be viewed on the website of the National Library of Israel.”A third source is “the personal memoir books by authors who grew up in Cairo,” wrote Rosen.“Another important source is the different Egyptian business and telephone directories, but they require careful scrutiny to dig out the Jewish surnames, keeping again in mind that only a fraction of the city’s Jews are listed in them,” he said.The challenge for Rosen’s expedition is, he wrote, “the paucity of archival sources as the current geopolitical circumstances prevent access to them, not only in Egypt but through the whole Middle East.”“This is a serious hurdle for researchers who wish to focus more on personal narratives rather than on general trends or to look into the human structures of organizations and the individuals who were members of them,” Rosen said. “In other words, they need surnames and given names to analyze who is who, what is his or her religious or ethnic background, and what can be learned and extracted from them.”Rosen also consulted several people who were born in Cairo who aided him in his work. Source

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