Review of Growing Up Jewish In Alexandria: The Story of a Sephardic Family’s Exodus From Egypt
Growing Up Jewish In Alexandria: The Story
of a Sephardic Family’s Exodus From Egypt
There is no shortage of memoirs about the complicated, fraught and often tragic experiences of European Jews from the middle of the 20th century. For most of us here in the United States, and specifically in the New York metropolitan area, that ongoing wave of Eastern European migration formed and continues to inform the culture and fabric not only of Jewish life here, but New York itself.
Less common, however, is a sense of what happened to our Sephardic cousins, especially those who lived in Middle Eastern Arab lands. There is the brilliant and compelling work by Lucette Lagnado and Andre Aciman, of course, but Ashkenazi dominance mostly holds sway.
A welcome addition to offering another look at Jewish diversity comes in this self-published memoir by Lucienne Carasso.
She grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, during a relatively privileged moment for the city’s Jewish community—at least for a while—surrounded by a large, extended family of aunts, uncles and cousin. As Carasso explains, “I decided to write my memoirs to capture the history of my family’s sojourn in the land of Egypt. Like the ancient Hebrews, our sojourn was ended by the exodus of an entire community….I also felt it important to try to put my family’s experience in the context of Egypt’s political history,” a task that perhaps took on greater urgency given recent events in Egypt.
Her family’s century-long experience in the cultured, vibrant, supremely cosmopolitan city of Alexandria ended in November 1956, during the Suez Canal crisis, when her father was arrested by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government. That traumatic experience shattered what the author writes was “an ideal childhood,” filled with strolls along the beautiful Mediterranean beaches, games, parties, family dinners and holiday celebrations. Carasso also evokes the specific traditions of Egyptian Judaism, and the Ladino customs and sayings that defined her universe.
“The world of my childhood is a lost one that in all probability will never be recreated,” admits Carasso. Thanks to her painstaking depiction of that vanished world, readers can immerse themselves in that evocative, exotic society.