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 – XIV. Societal Context (3 of 4)

Since this is the Second Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, let us now look at the Jewish population. And here, things get really interesting.

We (the Jews) may all have come from the seeds of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but the Jews in Egypt were anything but a homogeneous group.

First, you had the Sephardic (Oriental Jews) and Ashkenazi (European Jews) origins. Surprisingly, these two groups got along well. They all prayed in the same Beth Ha Knesset (Synagogue), and the Ashkenazi quickly adopted the haunting melodies that accompanied many of the common prayers. They socialized with each other and intermarried. The Aschkenazi largely dropped their bland food in favor of the lively Sephardic cuisine.

Then there was the Cairo and Alexandria divide. Most Jews lived in either one of those cities. The Alexandrian Jews considered themselves superior to their Cairene counterpart. And, by and large, they were, where it counts; i.e. in their standard of living and education. Many Cairene Jews realized that, but they would have died before admitting it openly!

I talked previously of the different nationalities existing in Egypt. This applied to the Jews as well; you had the Italians Jews, the French and the British. There were, however, few Jews of Greek origin, and no (to my knowledge) Armenian Jews. There was a substantial population of Turkish Jews. These Jews were the descendants of the Jews that were expelled from Spain during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were welcomed by the then reigning Ottoman Sultan; and they lived and prospered in Turkey for many centuries. Many of them in time immigrated to Egypt.

Like many segments of the population, the Jews had their poor, wealthy, and the in-between. The majority were middle class. The poor were helped by the Jewish community. Some of these poor Jews lived in La Hara (Jewish Ghetto). Some Jews became very wealthy and were given titles of Pasha and Bey.

Religious minorities registered with their religious community. Thus Jews registered, for births, marriages, and deaths, with the Jewish community.

Another element of this society was to often register the birth of boys only. Girls were generally left out. (I am talking here of the previous generation; by the time I was born, all new babies were registered with the Jewish community regardless of gender).

But why was this done in the old days? If a girl was not married by 22 at the maximum, she was considered as “old.” This does not mean that she is condemned to spinsterhood. Her family, however, will have to make concessions and accept a less than ideal groom. As well, her dowry may have to be increased. Thus, there was a definite advantage in keeping her real age a secret.

However, before the Ketouba (Marriage Contract) is signed, a birth certificate is required. And that document, of course, had to be obtained from the Jewish community. And here a scene worthy of a comic opera usually took place. Let us look at a fictional situation which approximates what happened in real life.

Judith M. is engaged to Ephraim A. Ephraim has a birth certificate, but Judith’s parents did not register her at birth. They go to H.L. the Registrar at the Jewish community. The following exchange takes place:

Parents: “Shalom H. How are you?”

H.L.: “O.K. I guess, but with 8 children, you know, its not always easy.” (H.L. has indeed 8 children; but as more is asked from him, the number of children increases. For some reasons, however, he never goes beyond 11. Afraid of the bad eye, perhaps?)

Father: “Judith is getting married.”

H.L.: “Mazal tov.” (Good luck).

Mother: “Mr. L., we have a small problem; we registered Judith when she was born, but lost the birth certificate.” (They are lying, they never registered her and H.L. knows that).

H.L.: “I can check my registers” (He has more than one). “Do you know her exact date of birth?”

Parents looking at each other: “Exact? No. She was born sometime between late March to late April, but we are not sure of the year!”

H.L.: “Let me check my registers.” He then put on a big act of looking through the registers. “I am sorry, but I can’t find her.”

Father: “Do you smoke?”

H.L.: “Yes.”

Father: “Here are some fine Turkish cigarettes for you.” He then proceed to discreetly put a 5 pounds bill in his lapel pocket.

H.L. goes in the backroom to “check” more books. He is in effect verifying how much he has received. He returns and announces that he still can’t find her.

The charade continues with more and more “cigarettes” placed in H.L.’s lapel pocket. There is actually a tariff of sort, but the parents cannot give him the whole amount at the onset. H.L. will ask for more and clamor that he can barely feed his 10 children, they sometimes go hungry!

Eventually, H.L. exclaims, “here she is, I found her, but you’ll have to help me check the accuracy of the date I have. How can we figure out the year she was born?”

The mother fishes out of her ample handbag a small envelope and hands it to H.L.

He opens it and let out a cry of surprise. “It’s a Bar Mitzvah invitation going back many years; what am I supposed to do with that?”

Father: “It’s Shlomo Bar Mitzvah invitation, he is her brother. Judith was born 3 years after him. Go back 13 years from the year of the invitation and you get the year Shlomo was born. Add 3 years to that, and you get the year Judith was born.”

H.L.: “But why not simply bring me Shlomo’s birth certificate?”

Father: “We moved from Alexandria to Cairo. In the course of the move, we lost important documents including the birth certificates of both our children.”

H.L.: “I can try to find him in the applicable records.”

H.L. looks, but the brother was never registered either. The parents made sure to muddy the water and didn’t register both children! At this point, H.L. figures that the difference in age between the siblings is not 3 years, at most 1 year. He then proceeds with his calculations based on the Bar Mitzvah invitation.

H.L.: “Shlomo was born in 1906. Therefore, Judith was born in 1909. Now I need the day and month.”

Mother: “Judith was born 3 days before Pesach (Passover)”

H.L. checks when Passover occurred in 1909 and announces it was on April 6. Therefore, Judith was born on April 3, 1909. He then registers the “true” date and tells the parents to come back in 2 days to get her birth certificate.

On the stated day, the father comes to collect the birth certificate and thanks H.L. profusely.

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