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Wahba Street

When Hussein Mansour opens his mouth about growing up in Egypt, Jew hatred, and Israel, I wish my father was still alive.

I met Hussein a decade after my dad died. My father would have loved Hussein as much as I do. I imagine the two of them laughing over silly Egyptian jokes in Arabic. And my dad, Moussa Wahba, would feel as validated as I do.

Both Hussein and my father were forced out of their native land for being what they were. My father a Jew had to go, Hussein a Zionist, had to go. There is no demarcation between Jew and Zionist in Islam.

Born and raised two generations after Nasser began expelling Egypt’s Jews in 1956, Hussein was told that the Jews “just left” somehow. My family was among the 80,000 Egyptian Jews expelled as “foreigners” with just one suitcase of clothing and a kick.

When Hussein speaks about how he came to be a Zionist, the validation restores something in me. For too long now, I have had to explain, over and over again, what it was like to grow up stateless, with parents, family on both sides who had to flee Arab lands because they were Jews.

Most Egyptians today have no idea that we Jews were once a vital part of Egypt.

My father never tired of reminding me (and perhaps himself), how our family were “realEgyptians” going back over two thousand years.  He talked about how once there were so many of us living in a town, it was known locally as “KfarWahba.”

His pride at being Egyptian surprised me, how could he feel proud of a country that betrayed us so badly?  I hurt when I felt his deep appreciation at recalling how respected his grandfather was by the Muslims, “a big honor for a Jew.”

Accepting inequality is part of being a Jew under Islam even in the best of times. There are no more Jews to speak of in Egypt today, but any Egyptian Christian of which there are too many to expel, understands this less than second class status. To be seen as equally human under Islamic ideology is a moving experience.

Hussein’s story is unusual to say the least. His courage, after he unintentionally unearthed the truth in a land of censorship, is epic. He could not stop, and he could not stay silent once he started learning the truth about Jews, Israel, Christianity, and the world.

The middle child in a Middle class mostly secular Muslim family, Hussein was eleven years old when he embarked on a religious path. He began praying several times a day, getting more and more devout. He found himself praying for the destruction of the Jews and Israel. By the time he was a teen he hated us with a passion, a budding Jihadiready to fight the good fight against the Zionists.

Obsessed with comic book Superheroes, Hussein channeled his hate in a wholly original way – He was going to be a superhero.  He, Hussein, would “learn everything about the Arch Enemy, the Jew,” the ultimate evil in the universe, responsible for everything wrong with civilization.

He studied Hebrew, first on his own via the internet and then in university. He knocked on the door of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and got a hero’s welcome (they don’t get many visitors). They gave him books, a world opened.

Threatening calls came to his home, He was arrested for a night, his father was arrested, he was told several times to stop visiting the embassy. He didn’t take the arrests seriously enough, he refused to stop blogging his new ideas.

His consciousness expanded, his friends thought his new ideas were crazy, he kept learning. He studied Jewish history, and then Christianity. There were no Jews in Egypt, but he saw how Egyptian Christians (like Jews), were not the dirty, smelly, vile sub-human filth he was taught. He read about Israel. He wrote.

Instead of becoming the Superhero he set out to be, he rejected Islam. He became a Zionist, an enemy of the state.

He was arrested and tortured for two months until he lost the capacity to see color, to care about anything except dying. Eventually he was helped out of the country, to flee for his life, into America, where I first heard him speak on a panel with other dissidents from the Middle East.

When I first met him, I asked about criticizing Islamic ideology without being silenced as “Islamophobic.”  He laughed, saying one cannot care about that. It was validating, because I am accused regularly, even when I am talking about my family’s experience. Even when I tell the story of how my Iraqi mother, accompanying her father to Basra on business, seeing the Shia merchant wash his hands to cleanse himself, after doing business with the Jewish merchant, my grandfather. This story is “Islamophobic.”

The validation I experience and every Zionist feels with Hussein is a blessing. We need our story understood.

I don’t have to explain to Hussein how sick to their core it makes Islamists that although they got rid of us Jews in their countries all over the Middle East, Israel rose and keeps thriving as a Jewish country in their midst.

With Hussein I don’t have to find ways to explain the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish country, or how the Palestinians were and continue to be inhumanely groomed by Political Islamic ideology as a means to get rid of us after major aggressive wars to destroy the one Jewish country failed. I don’t have to try to convince him that the “refugee” issue and “peaceful protests” in Gaza that keep multiplying in numbers is a cruel sham. He knows.

He knows first-hand, as did my family, as do most Jews from Arab lands, as does anyone who refuses to live in ignorance of a reality we have to wake up to if we want Israel to survive. This connection with him means the world to me.

Wahba is a uniquely Egyptian name, shared by Jews, Muslims, Christians, but it is not a common name for a street. So, when Hussein shared a “by the way, I grew up on Wahba St. in Cairo,” I so wish I could share that with my dad!

About the Author
Rachel Wahba is a San Francisco Bay Area based writer, psychotherapist and the co-founder of Olivia Travel. An Egyptian-Iraqi Jew, Rachel was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. The many dimensions of her exile and displacement are a constant theme in her professional work as well as her activism as an advisory board member for JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).
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