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Emmanuel Menahem - Tsur Mishelo

D'ror Yikra
Ki Eshmera
Tsur Mishelo

Emmanuel Menahem“I was born in 1948 in Port Said in Egypt. My mother was from Egypt and my father was from Aden. My mother’s family were living in Israel well before 1948. My father came from a family of rabbis and Kabbalists and he was a pharmacist and used to manufacture beauty products; he had a large shop in the plush area of Port Said and dealt a lot with Europeans.

He was also a freemason. We lived on the fourth floor of a mansion in a very wealthy area of Port Said. We lived a real colonial life with horse-drawn carriages to take us to school and a dozen or so servants – I had a servant just to look after me!

In the 1930s and 40s trade used to come by ship from the Far East through the Suez Canal to Europe, which is one of the reasons that Jews established their businesses along the canal. There was a large Jewish community in Port Said and our family was very involved with the synagogue – my father was involved in tzedakah and we used to go there after school where we learned to sing from the Torah. The design of the synagogue and the clothes that the rabbi wore were very influenced by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had escaped to North Africa and Egypt at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. On Friday nights my brother and I sometimes went to the Yemeni synagogue where my father’s uncle belonged. We loved going because he lived two floors above the synagogue which overlooked an open–air cinema showing Arabic movies!!

The family business. The Eden Drug Store, Port Said.
I was eight years old when we left Egypt. It was during the Suez crisis of 1956. We were in the north of Egypt, the Suez Canal was held by the British and the French, Israel was on one side and we were literally in the middle of the fighting. My father was taken to Cairo prison from Port Said to be hanged as a British spy - being a freemason made him more of a suspect. Fortunately his lawyer’s husband was a freemason and when she discovered that my father was also one she managed to get him out on bail, which was unheard of. We left Egypt that same night. We lost everything and although our home is still there it’s now boarded up.

Port Said, Egypt

When we came to England we didn’t speak English, only French, but my seven brothers and sisters and I had had a very good education; we were way ahead of our peer group. We’d been to a Roman Catholic school as there were no Jewish schools in Egypt. We’d had a choice of going to a Catholic school or to a Madrassa – a Muslim school where they spent five hours each day learning the Koran.

Wedding of Parents, Mazal to Joseph Menahem in The Ohel Moshe Synagogue, Port Said, 1940My parents had a lot of friends from Egypt in England but we ended up going to Norwood (residential home for disadvantaged Jewish children) as we had no home to go to and my parents went to the shelter in the East End. My mother taught Hebrew at Norwood but my father couldn’t get a job as a pharmacist because his English wasn’t good enough. He worked in some kind of chemical factory. After about 10 months we got a loan from the Board of Deputies and he started to look into buying a pharmacy in Upper Clapton where we lived.

Around the corner from where we lived was one of the only two yeshivas in England. The yeshiva bochers, boys who came from Gibraltar, North Africa and Morocco to study in England, used to come to our home for dinner. One of the students was Pinchas Toledano who later became rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. We became friends and my wife and I and my daughter and her husband were married there.

At the Jewish Community Club, a Purim play. Port Said, 1955
My father died in 1961 when I was twelve and we then had Shabbat in my house for a whole year. Egyptian and Adeni Jews, who knew my father’s background, came and after the year they formed a community, found a room and eventually built a synagogue in Stamford Hill which they named after my father - Nahalat Yosef.

My first version of D’ror Yikra has a very Yemenite feel to it; the second is from the Egyptian Jews and you can hear the Spanish and Portuguese influence. This first version of Ki Eshmera is mainly North African and the second I brought from Egypt. We have the tradition of celebrating Chagim and Shabbat at home so we’re always singing. We do drink Arak in-between though. The Sephardim don’t sing Tsur Misheloh on Seudah Shlishit – they only sing it on Friday night or at a wedding.”

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