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The Forgotten History of Jewish Arab Life

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A playful photo of Hayoun’s family in Tunis, in the late 1940s.

I am a Jewish Arab. For many, I’m a curiosity or a detestable thing. Some say I don’t exist, or if I did, I no longer do. I reject these ideas. My rejection demands that I paint for you a lost world to prove that we existed. Sadly, many of the faces, sounds, and moods of the last days of chez nous, of my grandparents’ world, are totally gone. And only so much can be reconstructed here in writing, without the help of the film and song with which my grandparents recalled to me our civilization and its decline.

In the minds of many non-Jewish Arabs who remember us fondly, we are preserved in the cinema of a colonial era—the so-called Golden Age of Egyptian cinema that flourished from the 1940s to the ’60s. My grandparents’ generation, portrayed in those old films, drips with poetry and grace. The films star Jewish Arab actors and singers but aren’t about Jewish Arabs; rather, they recall a society in which we existed without question. We are a reminder of the cosmopolitanism, the pluralism, and the colonial degradation of that time—a time of fresh-pressed suits and tarbooshes, of singing about our anguished feelings as we walked along the Nile.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !