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 – CXI. Alexandria – My Maternal Family (2 of 5)

Aunt Rachel

I have previously talked of Rachel. To recapitulate, she had been widowed at a young age. She was also childless, but her nieces and nephews filled that gap. She was an amazing administrator (of the household) and a superb cook. Had she been born 70 years later, and with the benefit of education, she could have been a chef.

Uncle Maurice and aunt Renee opened their home and hearts to her, and she became a member of their household. Their generosity was amply repaid for she became an asset to this young family.

While she was respected, and never wanted for anything, she also worked very hard. On top of cooking for the family, supervising the domestic help, and helping with the upbringing of her nephews and niece, she also had to contend with the fact that uncle Maurice loved to entertain; and neither he nor his guests would have consented to eat any food besides what Rachel had cooked. Add to that complex equation the fact that she cooked in an impossibly small and dark kitchen, and you will understand that she welcomed with open arms the man who would eventually become her second husband.

Sometimes in 1951, she was introduced to a widower, Daniel. He had a good position with a brokerage firm. His house was huge: 2 large dining rooms, a sitting room, an imposing entrance, 3 bedrooms, and a large kitchen with a window. From the sitting room you stepped onto a large balcony overlooking an Alexandria streetcar station and an open market; you could spend two solid hours there and never get bored. Finally, Daniel’s late wife was a very particular person, thus the house was tastefully furnished, well maintained, and kept impeccably clean.

Daniel was intelligent and attractive. He could talk about many topics, and was very witty. However, by his own admission, he had a quick temper.

While my aunt was getting a catch, he was getting the jewel in the crown! Nevertheless, none of them leaped blindly; they went out together, and got to know each other. When finally there was a meeting of minds, Daniel proposed to Rachel and she consented. But there was one more formality: obtaining the consent of uncle Maurice! As it happened, Robert witnessed this unusual scene.

Maurice, Rachel, and Daniel started with small talk; eventually Rachel informed Maurice that Daniel had proposed to her, that she liked him, and that she was requesting his permission to get married! Maurice, of course, readily consented. The way was opened for a farah (wedding).

I know you’re shocked, and so am I. Here is the older sister having to obtain the approval of her younger brother before she can get married. But keep in mind that this was Egypt in the 1950s. Maurice was the only male in the family, and it would have been unthinkable for her to marry without his consent. Finally, the whole thing was essentially a formality, a matter of following the accepted custom in such a case.

The marriage worked well. Rachel delighted in her new status and home, and oncle Daniel was over the moon with his wonderful new wife. From that point on, when we went on vacation, we stayed in their home.

But, alas, it was not to last. A few years later, the Jews of Egypt embarked on the second exodus.

Rachel and Daniel went to Israel, and there they settled in a town near Haifa. At the onset, like all immigrants, they were given temporary housing; later the Souknout (Jewish Agency) provided them with a small apartment with a geared-to-income rent. Uncle Daniel was provided with a job: light gardening in the homes of well-to-do families. For a man who held a responsible position in Alexandria, and lived in a splendid house, this was a fall from great heights. But what could he do; here the Egyptian saying applied: Ma’alesh ya zahr; an approximate translation: Never mind, I accept what life throws at me. When everything was said and done, there was a bright side: At least Jews now had their own state which automatically accepted them and extended all the help it could.

In the meantime, another drama was playing itself out in Alexandria. Uncle Maurice had a visa to immigrate to Italy; there, his brothers-in-law were conducting business in Italy and Switzerland, and they needed him. All was fine, he could go there with his family; but there was a problem, what to do with his mother? She had no visa to go to Italy. The only choice for her was to go to Israel and live with her daughters. But here again there was a major difficulty; nonna Bida had zero documentation. There was therefore a big scramble to obtain the necessary papers. Bribes were paid right and left; and there came a day when an “official” birth certificate and an apatride laissez-passez (the equivalent of a passport for a stateless person) were issued for Victoria R. Before she knew it, my grandmother was on a ship taking her to Italy; and then a second ship that took her to Israel.

Aunt Linda was living in an impossibly small house, but she had no choice but to take her mother in. In time, when aunt Rachel was given her own apartment, she took Bida in. Later on, when we came to Israel, my grandmother came to us for extended periods, but her official residence in Israel remained by Rachel and Daniel.

Uncle Daniel passed away a few years later at the age of 62; by then, he was a heartbroken man.

My beloved nonna passed away in 1967, she was in her late seventies or early eighties.

Tante Rachel was not left alone. Two nephews and a niece lived in Haifa. As well, a lot of help was extended by one of Daniel’s daughter, Renee. Renee has lived with aunt Rachel back in Alexandria and was greatly helped by her. She (Renee) was therefore glad to return the favor. At our end, in Canada, we did our best to help financially; Robert, Flora, and myself send what we could afford.

Aunt Rachel died in the mid-’80s. She was in her early eighties. With her passing, our family lost a beautiful soul.

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