Last chapter in long story of Jews in Egypt: Argument over where history belongs

Associated Press Write

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egyptian Jews who have settled in the United States, Europe, Israel and elsewhere say Egypt can never be their home again, and some want to retrieve part of what they left behind.

They claim certificates of birth, marriage and death that tell personal history in bureaucratic language. They long for copies of holy books their families bequeathed to temples that these days are rarely visited by anyone who could lift out the scrolls and by reading fulfill the command of Jewish sages: "Every day the Torah should be as new."

Jews still in Egypt reject the claims, which the expatriates have pressed without success in petitions to Egyptian and U.S. presidents,ambassadors and lawmakers.

Shimon H. Alouf, who ministered to Jews of Egyptian descent in New York for 17 years, still marvels at how many still spoke the Egyptian dialect of Arabic when he arrived as their rabbi in 1985. He said they want family Torahs and other items as a way of preserving their memories of
Egypt. "They identify themselves as Egyptian," the rabbi said. "People don't want to forget where they came from."

Desire Sakkal, who was 12 when he left Cairo with his family in 1962, is one of the leaders of the effort to bring Jewish religious items out of Egypt.

Sakkal said that while the campaign now focuses on claiming books and papers, the expatriates might one day demand compensation for lost property like his father's button factory. Egypt's government maintains Jews left because they wanted to and says none were stripped of property or rights.

The government has left the question of the Jewish artifacts to the tiny remaining Jewish community, which responded by asking officials to declare some of the materials protected antiquities.