Preserving the memory of Egyptian Jewry

October 17, 2013 by Michael Kuttner
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In Israel  this week to attend the establishment in their name at Haifa University of a Chair for the Jews of Egypt Heritage, Sydney-based Joseph and Racheline Barda of Sydney spoke with J-Wire’s Israel correspondent Michael Kuttner.



Meeting with Joseph and Racheline, a week before the ceremony they spoke about their family history and what has motivated them to spend many years of hard work and personal sacrifice to reach the stage where Haifa University agreed to establish a programme for the study of the history of Egyptian Jewry.

The Barda family arrived in Alexandria, Egypt from Tuscany in 1830 and became involved in the cotton industry, a major enterprise which exported to various countries. The Jewish communities of Egypt were well established and contributed to the life of the country. According to Joseph, they had good relations with the monarchy and were respected by Moslems. It therefore came as major shock when in 1956 they were expelled from Egypt and forced to leave their homes, businesses and wealth behind them.

Dr. Racheline Barda was born in Alexandria and was forced to leave Egypt in 1957. She traveled to Rome where she met Joseph and it was there they were married. Racheline is an expert on Egyptian Jewry and has authored a book entitled “Egyptian Jewish Émigrés in Australia” and was also a speaker at the International Congress of the Jews of Egypt held in Israel during 2006.

While many found refuge in Israel, Brazil, France and the USA some 2,000 managed to gain admittance to Australia, not an easy task as its immigration policies at that time were restrictive and bordering on racist. Nevertheless Joseph and his wife settled into their new home in Sydney, raised a family and started again from scratch.

For many years Joseph nurtured a burning ambition to somehow have the rich history of Egyptian Jewry recorded and preserved for future generations. As he noted somewhat nostalgically, “almost every ethnic group has a museum dedicated to their history but there is virtually nothing established for the study of the history of Egyptian Jews…”  His vision is to record in particular the events of modern era history and towards this objective via the Nebi Daniel Organisation has been trying to get the Egyptian Government to return historic documents held by them. So far this campaign has not been successful.

After many years of planning, Joseph and Racheline finally witnessed the culmination of their dream with the establishment this week of a Chair dedicated to the study of the heritage of Egyptian Jewry. Over 100 people, Jews and non Jews, from all over the world contributed towards this project and although this sounds impressive there are still many potential donors who have not yet been involved.

The dedication ceremony at Haifa University was attended by donors and academics from Israel and overseas. During the ceremony Joseph announced the establishment of the Excellence Award in the field of Egyptian Jewish Studies and appealed to his friends to follow suit and donate to this prestigious prize in order to preserve and explore this rich historical heritage.

The Chair established in their name will be headed by Professor Tamar Zevi, a distinguished linguist.

The Bardas have a close relationship with the Sydney Holocaust Museum and they are looking forward to the establishment of a section there devoted to the history of Jews from Arab countries.

It is obvious that their life long ambition to record and pass on the heritage of Jews in Egypt is finally well on the way to fulfillment.


5 Responses to “Preserving the memory of Egyptian Jewry”
  1. Chers Racheline & Giusy,
    Vous avez fait un excellent travail grace a votre persevérence et votre conviction.
    Vous avez toute notre admiration, BRAVO a tous les deux.
    Marlene & Haim Katzeff

  2. ada says:

    Dear Joe and Racheline Barda,

    The opening of the establishment at Haifa University of a Chair for the Jews of Egypt Heritage,in your names, was a moving and well organized and attended event.
    Bravo for your excellent speeches! I was so glad that I was the first link between you and Haifa University, at the WCJE – The World Congress of the Jews from Egypt, in 2006. With this new Chair, the only one in Israel for the research of the Jews of Egypt – our Culture and Heritage will become an integral part of the Jewish Heritage Tree. I would be glad to collaborate and promote the research at the new important Chair.
    BRAVO and best success,
    Prof. Ada Aharoni
    Founding President of the WCJE
    The World Congress of the jews from Egypt

  3. Jack says:

    Congratulations Joe & Racheline
    You have done well for all of us.
    A big thank you,

  4. A Racheline et Giusy

    Toutes nos félicitations pour la réalisation de votre si cher souhait.
    Vos efforts sont maintenant récompensés et grâce à vous la mémoire de nos familles sauvegardées. Merci.
    Danielle & Harry

  5. Joseph says:

    I have the privilege of having grown up in Alexandria with Joe and Racheline Barda as close neighbours. They are exceptional people and deserve all the support they can get to develop further their mission. The apex would be to obtain permission from the Egyptian government to alo least photocopy the documents held in Alexandria that tell the story of each jewish family who used to live there, like birth certificates, wedding contracts, etc.
    Congratulations and a big hug to Joe and Racheline,
    Joe Ninio

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