Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – CLI. Stories My Grandmother Told Me (3 of 10)

The circus story

Silvana and Luigi Pantone lived in La Hara. As previously mentioned, La Hara was Cairo’s Jewish Ghetto. It was not comparable to Jewish Ghettoes in Europe; rather, it was a place where Jews could practice their religious and cultural rituals undisturbed.

In time most Jews left La Hara, and only poor Jews were left there. It was, and remain to this day, a maze of streets with occasional names and house numbers.

Silvana and Luigi were as Egyptians as they come. Then, from where did their Italian names come from? Both of them claimed an Italian ancestry. How far did you had to go to find the original Italian ancestor? Probably very far. Whatever the case, it was not advisable to question their origin.

I never met them, but this is how my grandmother described them.

Silvana was strong as an ox. Even a man would have been very foolish to take her on. She was also loud and vulgar. A kerchief was perpetually tied on top of her head. The kerchief had usually one extra knot, sometimes two or even three. What did that mean? My grandmother when asked assumed a mysterious air and simply smiled. Years went by before a friend in Israël that used to live in La Hara elucidated the mystery. One knot means that her husband had made love to her once the night before, two, he did it twice, and three, he did it thrice. The friend added that this was vulgar (no kidding!) and that only the most unrefined females openly conveyed such a message!

Luigi towered over most people, the prudent course was to accept what he told you, and make sure to laugh at his jokes.

It will come as no surprise to you to hear that none of them spoke a word of Italian. Neither was their Arabic of the Classical genre! Rather, it was earthy and rich in swear words!

How did Luigi made a living? He owned a circus!

I was stunned to hear that my grandmother was acquainted with a man who owned a circus. I had been to the circus a few times and knew what that entailed. But the time would come when I would learn that the scope of this particular circus was very limited.

One day, Bida was telling Nisso about an event that I will relate next. When she said that Luigi was a circus owner, he burst out laughing.

The circus in question consisted of a merry-go-round, a teeter totter, a rocking horse, and two swings! And Luigi rented them to children for a few piastres.

There came a day when Luigi decided to get out of the circus business! Jews had just established a new state. He had heard that a strong man like him was welcomed and well paid for his work.

Because conditions were still very difficult in Israël, he left Silvana behind. While no wilted flower, Silvana was still a woman; it would not do to take her into the unknown. He would ask her to rejoin him when the time was right.

Silvana waited like what seemed an eternity before she heard from her man.

One day a man went through La Hara holding a letter in his left hand, and a bell in his right hand. He rang his bell incessantly, and yelled at the top of his lungs: “Silvana Pantone. Silvana Pantone.” Sure enough, a lady opened her door and told him that she knew Silvana well and would take him to her house. La Hara, having few street names  and house numbers, required the equivalent of the town crier of old to find a specific person.

The letter was from Luigi, and Silvana was beside herself with joy; she ran to the kitchen, brought a knife, and ordered the man to open the letter; being illiterate, she urged him to read it to her.

It was good news. No, the milk and honey was not yet freely flowing there! But Luigi was making good money, and the Soukhnout (Jewish Agency) had promised him a house.

In no time at all Silvana secured the necessary documents, packed as much as she could from her household, and departed via Italy (of course!) to the Holy Land.

The great escape

Maimonides (also known as Harambam or the Rambam) was a great Rabbi, philosopher, and healer.

This story takes place when he was a political prisoner. He shared his cell with another learned man who was also jailed for political reasons. The two men got along well, and their friendship made their predicament easier to bear.

One day, out of the blue, the Rambam told his cellmate: “I am leaving, would you like to come with me?”

His friend thought that he had taken leave of his senses. He asked him, “How are you leaving? We are in prison, and we are here for a long time.”

Harambam didn’t answer him. He went to the wall and drew with chalk he had available a large body of water and what looked like a giant ship. He stood back, brought some changes, and repeated the process a few times. Eventually he looked satisfied with his drawing.

Again the Rambam asked his companion: “I am leaving, would you like to come with me?”

His friend retreated to the far end of the cell, now sure that he was dealing with a mad man.

Maimonides now walked to the wall, lifted his right leg as if to step on the ship, and vanished!  When his cellmate looked at the wall, there was no sign of the drawing drawn by the Rambam. His companion had effected the greatest escape in history without the intervention of any outside agent such as an angel!

[My grandmother has assured many times that this story was true, and that it happened some 800 years ago! It tested my credulity even as child, and, of course, it still does today.]

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