The writer, top row, third from left, standing, meets her “lost tribe” at a reunion in Israel. Photos courtesy Marlene Serouya Weinstein
February 28, 2008
My Syrian-born maternal grandmother married my grandfather at a very young age in Cairo, Egypt. A few years later, she left her husband, taking their two young daughters to America, where she remarried and started a new life in New York. Granny was a very brave woman to do this and very modern for her time. Some of my earliest memories are of her relaxing while smoking the hookah she brought over from Egypt.
Years later, after my mother and aunt had families of their own, they heard from their father in Egypt. He, too, had remarried and fathered four more children, including a son named Albert.
Uncle Albert was so excited to find out he had family in America. We received letters and pictures of our extended Egyptian family for 15 years, but we never had the opportunity to meet.
After the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Jews of Egypt were declared stateless. They were persecuted, had their assets frozen, and were eventually chased out of the country. Our last letter from Uncle Albert in 1957 intimated the trouble they were in, and we never heard from him again.
He had mentioned that one sister, her husband, and their young son Marco were leaving for Rhodesia. We tried to make contact over the years, but never found any of our relatives.
Last April, I happened upon the Web site of the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt, formed by Jews who had fled the country in the 1950s and 60s and were disbursed throughout the world. They were looking to reconnect with family and friends with whom they had long since lost contact. I found a May 2001 posting written by someone named Marco stating he had left Egypt in 1957, moved to South Africa, and now lived in the United States.
Grasping at straws? Maybe, but I e-mailed him, giving only enough information to pique his interest, enabling him to give other details, and suggesting we may be related.
A reply came within two days, correctly naming the entire Egyptian family and asking how we were related. I answered that we had the same grandfather and our mothers were half-sisters and told him of our correspondence with Uncle Albert.
He was in total shock. Unbeknownst to us, he and his 12 cousins were never told that their grandfather had had a family prior to marrying their grandmother and that there was a whole other family in America.
My relationship with my newfound cousin began. After several e-mails, we spoke on the phone four days later. He was as excited as Uncle Albert had been when he found out about his family in America. I learned that Uncle Albert and the rest of the family eventually ended up in Israel after some terrible times in Egypt — including imprisonment — and unfortunately, my uncle and three aunts had passed away.
Marlene Serouya Weinstein with two of her cousins.
Marco immediately contacted Jacqueline, another cousin in Israel and the “organizer of the troops,” as he referred to her. He learned that she and all of the other first cousins in Israel were never told about our side of the family either. All this took place two weeks before I was scheduled to leave for my first trip to Israel last May.
Jacqueline contacted me and we made plans to meet in Tel Aviv. She came to my hotel and brought me to her home in Rishon Letzion; the wonderful “reception” began. One by one, the relatives — more than 20 — arrived at her home, bearing hugs, smiles, and food.
This was the most wonderful, warm, friendly, and vibrant family. I brought their baby pictures and parents’ wedding pictures sent to us by Uncle Albert more than 50 years before. They saw many of these for the first time, as their parents had fled in such a hurry, leaving most of their belongings behind.
At the end of the evening, we said our goodbyes. But it was not really goodbye, because now that we had found each other we knew we would continue our relationship. The Israeli adventure was the most memorable trip I have ever taken, but what made it more so was meeting my own “lost tribe of Egypt.”
I believe that fate played a big hand in this. I spent 50 years searching for my Egyptian family without even a clue where they were or how many of them remained. To find them just before my first trip to Israel was truly a miracle.
Marlene Serouya Weinstein lives in Monroe Township.