7. The Karaites of the San Francisco Bay Area
The Karaite community of San Francisco was already well established when I began teaching at Stanford University in 1983, but I was completely unaware of it. The local Karaite Jewish community was not widely known or discussed. The fact that Karaites still existed at all was a bit of exotic specialized knowledge shared by a few individuals with an esoteric interest in their history and religious traditions. It was not integrated into the canons of modern Egyptian or modern Jewish history. I was circuitously introduced to the community in San Francisco through my friendship with one of the few remaining Karaites in Cairo, and my interest in them was shaped by this connection.
While conducting research for my Ph.D. thesis in Cairo in 1980, I met Nawla Darwish and spent time in her house reading the papers of her father, Yusuf Darwish. In 1986, I was again living in Cairo when Yusuf Darwish and his wife, Iqbal, returned to Egypt after living abroad as political refugees and representatives of the Communist Party of Egypt. Yusuf Darwish had been involved in the reorganization of the Communist Party, which publicly resumed its existence in 1975 after a ten-year hiatus. When he learned that the police were aware of his political activities, the Darwishes left Egypt shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Yusuf had already spent three terms in prison in Egypt and did not wish to risk a fourth.
Yusuf Darwish was born into the Karaite community; Iqbal was a Rabbanite Jew. In Egypt, as in Israel, civil law incorporates religious law to adjudicate matters of personal status. Marriage and similar issues were determined by the religious laws of each confessional community (administered by communal religious courts until 1955) supervised by the civil courts. Hence, Yusuf and Iqbal could not be married as Jews unless Yusuf converted to Rabbanite Judaism, a long and difficult process in which, as a communist, he had no interest. It was much easier for Yusuf to undergo the relatively quick and simple procedure of converting to Islam. This enabled him to marry Iqbal in 1949 because Muslim men may marry Jewish and Christian women. Neither Yusuf nor Iqbal was observant, so the conversion was a formality for both of them. Nonetheless, when the three principal tendencies in the communist movement united to form the Communist Party of Egypt in 1958 and resolved that Jews could not be members of the Central Committee, Yusuf Darwish was excluded from the leadership of the party on the grounds that he was a Jew. Their daughter, Nawla, is Jewish according to Rabbinic halakhah (religious law) and Muslim according to the shari‘a. She prefers to define herself as Egyptian.
Although I had spent many hours formally and informally interviewing Yusuf Darwish about his life history and political experiences, I did not know that he had family in the United States until the fall of 1990, when he wrote me to announce that he was coming to visit his sister, Nelly Masliah, in San Francisco and invited me to call her so that we could all get together. This served as the occasion for my introduction to the Karaite Jewish community of San Francisco.
Jacob and Nelly Masliah invited my family to dinner with Yusuf at their home. They prepared a copious Egyptian meal and welcomed us warmly. Yusuf would normally have spoken to his family in French. But because I am more comfortable in Arabic than French, and Yusuf's English is weak, the easiest common language was Arabic. The cuisine, the social ambience, and the Arabic conversation recalled our best moments in Cairo. Yusuf also visited a second sister in the Boston area while I was in town for a meeting of the Middle East Studies Association. There I met Yvonne Masliah and her family and enjoyed another fine Egyptian dinner with Arabic conversation. Afterwards I arranged to have the video cassettes of recent Egyptian films that Yusuf had brought as presents for his family converted from PAL to NTSC format. They seemed eager to view these films, which suggested that they remained curious about Egypt and still felt a positive connection to its culture.
Thus, Boston and San Francisco were added to Cairo and Paris on the list of locales where my common language with other Jews was Arabic. This would have been normal in the Mediterranean basin in the medieval era, but in the late twentieth century it felt subversive. The American Karaites certainly do not see themselves in political terms, and they are generally uninvolved in the debates over the cultural politics of ethnic identity in the American Jewish community. Nonetheless, it seemed to me the practices of the Karaites of San Francisco resisted incorporation into many prevailing assumptions about Jewish identity and Arab-Jewish relations. This attracted me to take an interest in their community even before I began to think systematically about the subject of this book. Therefore, when I resolved to write about Egyptian Jews, I was in a position to discuss them in more detail than others who have previously written about Jews in modern Egypt. My argument for the validity of doing so is presented in Chapter 2. Because I could not eliminate from my consciousness the personal relationships I had formed, the bits of information I had already learned, and the contacts that were available to me as a consequence, my roles as friend, historian, and ethnographer were woven in a fabric that could not be usefully unraveled.
The Karaite Emigration From Egypt
According to an informal Jewish Agency census, nineteen Karaites resided in Jerusalem in 1939. But by 1948, only one Karaite (of undetermined origins) remained there to preserve the Karaite community's claim to their property: the most ancient standing synagogue in the old city. After the first Arab-Israeli war, a small number of Karaites began to leave Egypt and establish themselves in Israel. The first to leave were the poorest members of the community or exceptional families of means who could transfer their assets out of Egypt. Business and property owners tended to remain in Egypt longer. The Karaites were not keen to transform themselves from urban merchants and craftsmen to rural farmers and physical laborers, the ideal of labor Zionism and the likely fate of new immigrants to Israel. They were also fearful of the difficult economic and political circumstances of Israel during the early 1950s.
According to the records of the Karaite bet din (religious court) in Cairo, fewer than 100 Karaites left Egypt before 1956. This is probably an underestimate. Families who departed for Israel may not have reported their departure to the court for fear of implicating the community in their actions. Moreover, members of the community who did not attend synagogue regularly might not have been in close contact with the communal authorities. Maurice Shammas estimated that by the time he arrived in Israel in 1950, 500 Karaites already resided there. The daughter of the first Karaite chief rabbi of Israel, who arrived in Israel in 1949 at the age of nine, thought that there were 200–300 Karaite families in the country by the 1956 Suez/Sinai War.
The policy of the Jewish Agency and Israeli government was to concentrate Middle Eastern Jews in new moshavim (agricultural cooperative villages) or development towns in remote parts of the country. The Karaite immigrants were settled in the moshavim of Matzliah and Ranen, established in 1950 and 1951, respectively. Karaites also settled in the town of Ramlah, their historic center in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The central synagogue of the community, which is now the Karaite World Center, opened there in 1961. When the Karaite population in Israel increased in the late 1950s and 1960s, urban concentrations were established at Ashdod, Be’ersheba, and Ofakim. Karaites also live in the greater Tel Aviv area (especially Bat Yam), Yavneh, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malakhi, Acre, Bet Shemesh, and Jerusalem, where a Karaite bet midrash (religious seminary) has recently been established. The number of Karaites in Israel has always been sharply disputed and cannot be established with certainty because the official Israeli census does not list Karaites as a category and the community abides by the traditional Jewish prohibition on conducting a direct census. Figures range from 15,000 to 30,000.
Upon arriving in Israel, the Egyptian Karaites were surprised to find that the Orthodox Rabbinic establishment there was suspicious about their identity as Jews. Until 1977, the pragmatic alliance between MAPAI and the Orthodox Zionist Mizrahi Party (today the National Religious Party), allowed MAPAI to run the Israeli government in exchange for adopting the status quo as it had crystallized during the Mandate and Ottoman eras on religious matters. Consequently, in Israel matters of personal status are, with some exceptions, adjudicated according to the halakhah. The state has declared what defines who is a Jew, but the Orthodox rabbinate has the sole legal authority to determine who may be married as a Jew, buried in a Jewish cemetery, and so forth. The rulings of Orthodox Rabbinic religious courts (batei din) are the normal forum for adjudicating such matters, although civil courts have some authority to intervene. These courts regard the Karaites as under suspicion of being bastards (safek mamzerim). Hence, they are not eligible marriage partners for Jews, even Jews who are unconcerned with the status of Karaites according to halakhah, because the only legal way to be married as a Jew in Israel is for an Orthodox rabbi to perform the ceremony.
The Karaites have their own bet din. However, the authorities of the state and the Orthodox rabbinate do not recognize its rulings or jurisdiction. It has only de facto authority among members of the Karaite community who voluntarily accept its rulings.
Prodded by the personal interest of its second president, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, the state of Israel decided to treat the Karaites as Jews and subjected them to compulsory military service, the most significant marker of Jewish identity in Israel. However, in matters over which the state has ceded its authority to the Orthodox rabbinate, the validity of the Karaites as a Jewish religious community is constantly subjected to question. This embarrasses many secular Zionists. But they have not mounted a sustained campaign to rectify this anomaly because it would require a direct challenge to the secular authority of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel and provoke a Jewish kulturkampf for which Zionism does not have a resolution consistent with the political discourse of secular nationalism, citizenship, and equal rights.
Sumi Colligan's perceptive doctoral thesis succinctly summarizes the transformation of Karaite Jewish identity that accompanied the transition from Egypt to Israel:
In Egypt, the Karaites were recognized as a Jewish minority and lived as other minorities in the Middle East, endogamously and self-governing. The general societal ideology which structured their identity was religious communalism and hence, the expression of the content of their Jewishness was not obstructed or questioned. Both the Karaites and the other members of Egyptian society shared the same set of concepts and symbols regarding the structuring of social identity. In Israel, however, other ideologies of “Jewishness” have challenged the grounds on which the Karaites make claims to Jewish identity, and for the majority of Israelis, Karaite is the form, the social category, by which the group is designated. That is to say, many Israelis have a tendency to think of Karaites less as a type of Jew than as a separate social group altogether.
This perception is shaped by nationalist practices that legitimize the particularist prejudices of the Orthodox rabbinate, which went so far as to attempt to keep the Karaites out of Israel altogether. In 1949, the ‘Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency acceded to pressure from representatives of Mizrahi in the Jewish Agency Executive and asked its agents in Egypt to halt the immigration of Karaites to Israel. The local Egyptian ‘aliyah activists rejected this demand. Egyptian members of Bnai ‘Akivah, the Orthodox Zionist youth movement, appealed to the Mizrahi Women's Organization in the United States to persuade their Israeli compatriots to relent. The Egyptian Zionists declared that they would not allow a single Jew to leave for Israel if this decision were not reversed. In fact, immigration was actually stopped for a month in 1950 until instructions were received permitting Karaites to come to Israel.
Because the Orthodox rabbinate never fully accepted the state's determination that the Karaites were Jews eligible for ‘aliyah, members of the community continued to suffer considerable difficulties after arriving in Israel. One of the most publicized examples concerned Yosef Marzuq, the brother of Moshe Marzuq, who was executed for his role in Operation Susannah. In 1961, Yosef Marzuq wanted to marry a Rabbanite woman. The rabbinate of Tel Aviv refused to approve this union. Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi intervened on Marzuq's behalf, both because of Marzuq's brother's services to the state of Israel and because of his long-standing support for the Karaites. As a result, the case was transferred to the more lenient Haifa rabbinate, which issued Marzuq a bachelor's certificate, the requisite document to permit his marriage. But the Rabbinic court made it clear that this would not be a precedent for future Karaite-Rabbanite mixed marriages. Secularist Zionists considered it a great scandal that the brother of someone who gave his life for the Jewish state had difficulty being married as a Jew in Israel.
The Karaite chief rabbi, Tuvia Babovitch, did not encourage Karaite immigration to Israel because of the unsettled political conditions and problematic status of Karaites there. Of course, as a matter of religious conviction, Babovitch, like all observant Jews, believed that Jews had a special attachment to the holy land, especially to Jerusalem. But like many Orthodox rabbis in the first half of the twentieth century, Babovitch did not endorse political Zionism. His attitude undoubtedly influenced many Karaites to remain in Egypt after 1948 and to carry on their communal life as normally as possible. Rabbi Babovitch died in August 1956 and was not replaced. There was no Egyptian Karaite sufficiently learned in the religious tradition to undertake this duty.
This cannot be attributed to the maltreatment of Jews in Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s. Babovitch himself was brought from the Crimea to assume the position of Karaite chief rabbi in 1934. Already at that time, when there was little mistreatment of Jews in Egypt, most members of the Karaite community who had the intellectual talent and interest to pursue advanced studies sought secular rather than religious careers. This was no different from the prevalent pattern among Rabbanite Jews. But the small Karaite community apparently failed to produce a sufficient number of piously minded exceptions to sustain and reproduce their religious institutions.
With the outbreak of the 1956 Suez/Sinai War, the principal of the Karaite elementary schools, Mourad El-Kodsi, was interned. Thereafter, the government gradually diminished the Karaite community's control over its schools until they were nationalized in 1962. The community's Arabic newspaper, al-Kalim, also closed after the 1956 war. The death of its chief rabbi and the demise of the community institutions as a result of the 1956 war precipitated the rapid decline of the Karaite community. Its collapse was more dramatic than the similar and parallel process in the Rabbanite community because before the 1956 war, a larger proportion of Karaites than Rabbanites remained in Egypt despite the difficult circumstances.
Between October 1956 and March 1957, some 40 percent of the Karaites (and a similar proportion of Rabbanites) left Egypt, mostly for Israel. Still, some 2,000 Karaites remained in Cairo when Mourad El-Kodsi left in 1959. The nationalization of large sectors of the economy during 1960–62 impelled a third wave of immigration, though 1,000 Karaites remained in Egypt until October 1966, the date of the last communal elections. By 1970, only 200 Karaites remained in Egypt, a number too small to maintain a communal structure.
The Karaite Jews of Egypt in Baghdad by the Bay
Most of the Karaites who emigrated from Egypt during the 1960s did not go to Israel. Between 1964 and 1970, a substantial segment of the community settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are now some 130 Karaite families and a total population of over 400. In addition, 300 Karaite families live elsewhere in the United States, with small concentrations in the New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas. The Karaites of the San Francisco Bay Area have made substantial efforts to reestablish their community. This has entailed preserving and modifying both the Jewish and Egyptian elements of the practices and self-presentation of the Karaite community of Cairo.
Coming to the United States, like coming to Israel, was a great psychological upheaval for the Karaites. In America, “We were no longer privileged khawagat (foreigners). I had never worked for anyone else before. Now we were at the bottom of the social pyramid and rejected as Jews,” said the community's acting rabbi, Joe Pessah. The Karaite immigrants to the San Francisco Bay Area belong to several generations; some arrived in their early teens, and others were in their early fifties. Many of them had belonged to the urban middle strata in Cairo, working as merchants in gold or other goods, jewelers, and professionals. Only four of thirty respondents to a questionnaire administered by Jehoash Hirshberg to the San Francisco Karaites in 1986 had lived in the traditional Karaite quarter, harat al-yahud al-qara’in, in Cairo. Only one of them, Joe Pessah, had attended daily prayers at the Dar Simha synagogue there. Fifteen respondents had lived in the middle-class neighborhood of ‘Abbasiyya; Jacob Masliah was one of only a dozen people who had participated in daily prayers at the Moshe al-Dar‘i synagogue there. Most of the other congregants of the ‘Abbasiyya synagogue had attended services only on Friday night and holidays. Upon arriving in the United States, a high proportion of the Karaites entered technical professions, especially the computer industry. Most of the Karaite immigrants have maintained the economic status they enjoyed in Egypt or improved their conditions in the United States.
I compiled the following vignettes through formal interviews and informal participant observation at various events of the Karaite community. They demonstrate a range of ways in which the San Francisco Karaites both maintained their Egyptian communitarian identity, which was (always) already being reshaped, and began the process of adapting to America and the norms of its Jewish community.
Jacob Masliah (Ya‘qub Farag Salih, b. 1913) has been a leading member of the San Francisco Karaite community. His identity has been shaped by a rich fabric of social experience in Egypt and the United States refracted through deep religious commitment and substantial learning in the Karaite tradition and draws on both the millet-communitarian and the Egyptian national elements of the Karaites' self-conception in Egypt. In some important respects, his background differs from the majority of the Egyptian Karaites because the Masliahs were relatively new to Egypt, having emigrated from Tunis in the nineteenth century. Moreover, Jacob Masliah was not employed in the Karaite ethnic economy, although he did use his family connections to enhance his career. He was one of some 150 Karaites who worked in the free professions in the 1940s. Hence, his family enjoyed a comfortable upper-middle-class life.
In other respects, the Masliah family was similar to other Karaites. Jacob Masliah knew Arabic well and felt culturally, socially, and economically secure in Egypt at the same time that he remained fully conscious of his status as a member of an ethnoreligious minority. He graduated first in his class with a degree in architecture from the Royal Engineering College in Cairo in 1936. He was very proud of this achievement and the opportunity it afforded him to be photographed with King Fu’ad. Shortly after graduating, Masliah submitted a request for a certificate of citizenship so that he could work for the government. The request remained pending when he left Egypt in 1964.
Masliah worked designing air raid shelters and other military structures in the Alexandria area during World War II. Then he established a partnership with Nasim Yahya, a member of one of the leading Muslim business families of Alexandria. The legal aspects of the partnership were arranged by his brother-in-law, Yusuf Darwish, a founding member of the New Dawn communist group and a prominent Cairo area labor lawyer.
Among Masliah's design projects was the shrimp processing factory in Port Said established by another brother-in-law, Leon Darwish. This was a new area of economic endeavor for the Karaite community because shrimp is not a kosher food in the Jewish tradition. The factory was quite successful and built up a substantial export trade. During the wave of nationalizations in 1961, Leon Darwish was forced to hire a Muslim to manage the factory. Consequently, he left Egypt in 1962.
Jacob and Nelly Masliah made their home in the fashionable suburb of Heliopolis, far from the center of the community in harat al-yahud al-qara’in. They belonged to the Heliopolis Sporting Club, where Nelly taught exercise classes for women. The wife of ‘Abd al-Latif Baghdadi, one of the original members of the Revolutionary Command Council that governed Egypt after the coup of July 23, 1952, was a student in one of Nelly's classes. Jacob joined a Masonic lodge and rose to the status of third degree freemason. Seventy percent of the members of his lodge were Jews. But the lodge was affiliated with the Masonic federation of the Arab countries and considered itself Egyptian.
Nadia Hartmann, one of Jacob and Nelly's two daughters, was a member of the Egyptian national water ballet team in high school. I met her at her parents' home and asked her about her memories of Egypt. One of her strongest and most detailed recollections was of her trip to Syria in 1961 with the water ballet team to participate in a pan-Arab swimming competition. Before the trip, Nadia's schoolteacher called to assure the Masliah family that they should have no fears about Nadia travelling to Syria to represent Egypt because the school considered her to be an Egyptian like any other student. In recalling her trip to Syria, Nadia's face lit up with excitement. She emphasized that she still remembered the trip “like it happened yesterday.”  Preservation of this memory with warm intensity seemed to be a way for Nadia to preserve a positive connection with Egypt.
At the Heliopolis Sporting Club, Nadia became friendly with Shuhdan al-Shazli, the daughter of Sa‘d al-Din al-Shazli, who later became a general and one of the Egyptian heroes of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In the late 1970s, the al-Shazlis were forced to leave Egypt because of General al-Shazli's criticism of Anwar al-Sadat. Shuhdan al-Shazli eventually made a new home for herself in Sacramento, California. Nadia Hartmann and Shuhdan al-Shazli renewed their friendship when they met in California as exiles from Egypt.
Until the early 1960s, the Masliahs did not feel discriminated against as Jews in Egypt because “the Karaite Jews of Egypt have a special character that is different from other Jews,” as Jacob Masliah explained. He felt that the Karaites' Arabic cultural orientation made them a more integral part of Egypt than other Jews. Then, in 1962, they were asked to stop coming to the Heliopolis Sporting Club. The women in Nelly Masliah's exercise class very much regretted her leaving the club and came to the Masliahs' home in Heliopolis to carry on with their class. But in November 1964, the Masliah family left Egypt because the Karaite community was dwindling in size and they did not want their daughters to marry non-Jews.
Although economic conditions in Israel were considerably improved in the mid-1960s, the Masliahs did not want to live in Israel because they considered the situation there too unstable. They visited Israel for three days on their way to the United States. They chose San Francisco because some of their friends had already settled in the area and because of the city's reputation for good weather. By 1968, Jacob Masliah was working in his profession for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Ten years later, he retired at the age of sixty-five, though he continued to work for ten more years in the business of a friend. Economically, they have adjusted well and prospered in the United States. They eventually bought a home in San Francisco's Sunset district, a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean.
The social and economic status of the family of Henry Mourad (b. 1945) in Egypt was similar to that of the Masliahs. The Mourads lived in the heavily Rabbanite neighborhood of Dahir, where Henry attended the Ecole du Commaunauté Israelite du Caire. As a young man, Henry was fluent in Arabic and felt he could easily pass for a Muslim. The Mourads were Egyptian citizens and quite comfortable economically. Henry's grandfather owned a jewelry company, one of the traditional economic pursuits of the community. The Mourad family business was sequestered during the 1956 war and nationalized in 1961. Forced to abandon most of their property and assets, the family left Egypt for the United States in 1964. Henry still remembers with bitterness the personal humiliation and degradation they suffered at the time of their departure.
Henry Mourad's social interactions with non-Jewish Egyptians became strained because the Arab-Israeli conflict emerged as a prominent political issue during his years in high school and university. After being harassed and taunted as a Jew while studying engineering at Cairo University, he pretended to be a Muslim. He remembers feeling proud about Moshe Marzuq's spying and sabotage on behalf of Israel, although he understood that he had to denounce these activities in public.
When I asked Henry Mourad if he felt Egyptian, he was ambivalent. He remembered liking Egypt and feeling comfortable in Arabic, but he resented the abuse and discrimination he suffered. “You can't be Egyptian if you are not accepted,” he said.
Henry's wife, Doris (b. 1948), responded much more definitively that she never felt Egyptian. Her family held Tunisian citizenship and lived in the elite neighborhood of Zamalek, far from either of the two Karaite synagogues in Cairo. Her father did not participate in activities of the Karaite community. Doris attended the Lycée Française of Zamalek, where she refused to learn Arabic because she felt it was unnecessary. For this, she was left back a year in school. She felt isolated both from the Karaite community and from other Egyptians. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1962, when she was fourteen.
Doris Mourad's unequivocal rejection of any sentiments of identity as an Egyptian may be due to her family's distance from the Karaite community in Egypt and her isolation as a child. Moreover, she arrived in the United States as a young teenager, an age when social pressure to conform is extremely intense. Her lack of identification with Egypt is rare among Karaites I have met.
The Mourads live in the suburban midpeninsula area, an hour away from San Francisco. They joined a Reform Jewish temple, and their daughters attended its religious school and participated in its youth activities. They continue to identify as Karaites and take an interest in the cultural heritage of their community. But they do not think their Karaite identity should constitute a barrier to their participation in and identification with their local Jewish community.
Assimilation and Estrangement From the Jewish Community
As a minority within a minority, Karaites in the United States faced powerful assimilationist pressures. Even deeply religious individuals, like Jacob Masliah and Joe Pessah, acknowledged that they were too constrained by the economic burdens of settling their families in a new country, establishing careers, and educating their children and the cultural burdens of mastering English and learning to feel comfortable in the United States to devote much attention to the affairs of the Karaite community during the 1960s and 1970s. They continued to pray and observe other rituals in their homes, but organized gatherings of the community were limited to high holidays, marriages, and the like.
The American Jewish community's ignorance of the existence of the Karaites was another factor constraining their collective assertion of identity of the San Francisco area Karaites. Some were concerned that they might be ostracized by the organized American Jewish community. Some joined Reform or Conservative congregations. The Reform and Conservative rites are not as hostile to the Karaites as the Orthodox rabbinate. Nonetheless, Henry and Doris Mourad recall that the rabbi of their Reform congregation said that the Karaites were extinct. They felt negated by this uninformed assertion.
Even Joseph (Joe) and Raymonde (Remy) Pessah, who became the most energetic and capable organizers of the community in the 1980s, felt unable to claim their identity as Karaites when they first arrived in the United States. Joe Pessah (b. 1945) grew up in an Arabic-speaking home in harat al-yahud al-qara’in. He studied engineering at Cairo University. As a boy, he knew Moshe Marzuq and recalls taking pride in Marzuq's status as a doctor when seeing him in the synagogue. After Marzuq was arrested, Pessah thought that he also wanted to be a spy. When Marzuq and Azar were executed, Pessah thought only of Marzuq, not of Azar. Pessah's identification with Marzuq seems to have been primarily personal rather than ideological. Marzuq was someone he knew—a Karaite who had done well and become prominent. Pessah recognized that the Karaites belonged to a broader Jewish community and fondly remembered the good relations between the Karaites and the Rabbanites in Egypt, but he believed that the Karaites had something special because they treated their children “like jewels.” He considered that the Karaites of Egypt had a religious attachment to Jerusalem and believed that going to live in Israel would hasten the coming of the messiah. But this was not a commitment requiring secular political action.
Joe Pessah was among the Jewish men detained in prison camps during and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He had already met and become engaged to Raymonde Gazzar, a chemistry major at the American University in Cairo. They were married in an Egyptian jail while Joe was still interned on May 31, 1970. Less than a month later, on June 21, 1970, Joe was released. Before the end of the year, Joe and Remy Pessah immigrated to the United States with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Two months after arriving in the San Francisco area, they were remarried in a Jewish ceremony performed by Rabbi Herbert Morris of Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, a Conservative-Reform synagogue. A front page story including a picture of the happy couple in the weekly newspaper of the San Francisco Jewish community celebrated their marriage as a symbol of Jewish perseverance and the heroic struggle of Israel against Arab aggression. However, the article did not mention that they were Karaites and members of a community with several hundred adherents in the Bay Area, some of whom presumably attended the wedding. The Pessahs did not inform Rabbi Morris that they were Karaites because they felt he would not understand who they were. Only after Joe Pessah became successfully established in his own business as a computer consultant did he begin to devote substantial time and energy to organizing the community.
Organizing the Karaite Jews of America
During the 1960s and 1970s, the cohesion of the San Francisco area Karaite community was maintained by sporadic observance of religious rituals, regular social contact, and the collective memories of Egypt shared by the older generations. Jacques Mangubi, the former president of the Karaite community in Cairo, organized a Karaite association in Chicago in the mid-1970s. He died in 1977 and others could not sustain his initiative. In San Francisco, at the initiative of Jacob Masliah and Elie Nounou, some twenty-five members of the community met in private homes to conduct high holiday services. In addition, several families gathered regularly on Saturday nights to socialize and play poker. Doris Mourad recalled the ambience of this scene with insightful irony, noting that while the adults played cards, the teenagers, who were less interested in the forms of sociability and other cultural practices their parents brought with them from Cairo, cruised around San Francisco learning how to become Americans.
Many of the first-generation children succeeded in assimilating American culture and even married non-Jews. Several of Joe Pessah's siblings, for example, married Christians. The prospect of disappearance through gradual assimilation encouraged urgent and self-conscious reflection about action to preserve the Karaite community and its complex identity. The task was especially difficult because many of the middle-class Karaites who came to the United States had not been strictly religiously observant in Egypt and did not have a deep knowledge of the religious tradition of the community. Jacob Masliah and Joe Pessah were exceptional in this respect. Moreover, in all of the United States, there was no ordained Karaite rabbi to provide traditionally sanctioned leadership and guidance.
By the 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area Karaites were established well enough to consider reorganizing their communal affairs. The community collected $112,000 to finance its activities between 1983 and 1985. Jehoash Hirshberg's 1986 survey of ninety-three community members revealed that half of the respondents were then willing to devote time to community activities. When the Bay Area Karaites began to discuss what kind of institutions would best preserve their community and its identity, two opposing views surfaced. More pious and observant families, like the Pessahs and the Masliahs, favored establishing a traditional synagogue similar to those the community had maintained in Cairo. More assimilated and Americanized families, like the Mourads, favored an educational center that would preserve and transmit the historical heritage of Karaite culture but would not obstruct the Karaites' integration into the broader American Jewish community.
The proponents of establishing a religious center began to organize and in 1982 elected Jacob Masliah as president of their association. In May 1983, Fred Lichaa (b. 1947), who arrived in the United States in 1968 and subsequently established himself as a computer programmer, arranged for the Karaite community to hold once-a-month Sabbath prayers at Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in Foster City on the San Francisco Peninsula, where his family resided. On other Sabbaths, prayers were held in individual homes. This initiative provided a focal point for members of the community who identified themselves as Karaites primarily on the basis of religious commitment.
In July 1983, the Karaite Jews of America (KJA) was formally established as a nonprofit organization. The first board of directors was composed of: Jacob Masliah, president; Moussa El Kodsi, vice-president; Maurice Pessah, secretary; and Elie ‘Ovadia, treasurer. Joe Pessah has served continually as the acting rabbi of the congregation. Since then, the activists of the community have energetically expanded their activities and programs.
In 1984, Joe and Remy Pessah began to publish the KJA Bulletin. It appears at Rosh ha-Shanah and Passover and contains news of the Karaite community, commemorations of births, deaths, weddings, high school and university graduations, and bar/bat mitzvahs, and articles about Karaite history, beliefs, and practice. The bulletin proudly reproduces the rare articles about their community in the mainstream Jewish press and respectfully but firmly explains the differences between Karaite and Rabbanite beliefs and practices while consistently upholding the Jewish identity of the Karaites. The Pessahs also maintain a computerized mailing list of all the Karaites in the United States, with some additional families in Canada, Europe, and Israel.
Every summer the Pessahs organize a Karaite summer camp at Lake Tahoe, California. Two-week sessions are held for seven- to eleven-year-olds, twelve- to fifteen-year-olds, sixteen- to twenty-one-year-olds, and those over twenty-one. The camp provides an opportunity to gather together Karaites from all over the United States. Educational programs for the children are designed to teach them their religious and cultural heritage and strengthen their feelings of connection to the community.
For young adults, the summer camps are an opportunity to meet potential marriage partners so that they will not be forced to marry outside the community. This is especially important because the Karaites do not accept converts. The rate of Karaite intermarriage in the United States is very high, so some members of the community advocate modifying the ban on conversion. Others adopt a wait-and-see attitude until they can have a sense of the level of knowledge and commitment of the children of Karaite-Rabbanite mixed marriages.
Another endeavor contributing to maintaining the communal cohesiveness of the Karaites begun in 1993 is the construction of a Karaite family tree undertaken by David Elichaa of Imperial Beach, California. In Cairo, all the Karaite families were related. This project is intended to enhance community cohesion by documenting the family connections.
The KJA also participated in subsidizing the publication of Mourad El-Kodsi's The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1882–1986, the most easily accessible modern history of the Karaites of Egypt in English. It serves as a semiofficial text, though some members of the community have reservations about it. The volume is rich with photographs, facsimiles of the community's newspapers and other documents and memorabilia, mostly in Arabic, as well as extracts of prayers in Hebrew with English commentaries.
The decision to document and transmit the Karaite heritage poses a pressing question: What is essential? Many of the Karaites' practices in Cairo cannot be reproduced in the San Francisco area because the community is geographically far more dispersed. Moreover, American-born children already have absorbed some ideas about what it means to be Jewish from their Rabbanite Jewish friends. Therefore, Karaite leaders have had to make conscious decisions about what can and must be preserved and what accommodations can be made to their style of life in the United States and to American Jewish culture.
The San Francisco and Daly City Synagogues
By 1991, the KJA was institutionally stable and sufficiently solvent to purchase a house in San Francisco's Sunset district to serve as a synagogue and community center. Joe Pessah led services there on Saturdays and festivals. Prayers were not held on Friday evenings because many congregants had to drive long distances to reach the synagogue. Travelling times on Friday evenings were unpredictable due to the start of the weekend rush hour, so it was impossible to gather a substantial number of congregants. In Cairo, those who attended synagogue only once a week would typically come on Friday evening. In San Francisco, Saturday morning services became the primary weekly prayer gathering. The annual Purim party is a particularly important occasion because it is an attractive event for the children of the community. For the children, celebrating Purim is both fulfillment of a religious duty (commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from Haman) and “fun” in secular American terms.
The purchase of a building was an important step forward in crystallizing the Karaite community and regularizing its religious observances and social occasions. But the leaders of the synagogue were dissatisfied with the limitations of the building. The neighbors of the synagogue, many of them Asian Americans, objected to the Karaites' plans to expand their building to allow construction of a social hall. The neighbors justified their opposition on the grounds that this would increase the flow of traffic on weekends and holidays. But some Karaites regarded the neighbors' objections as anti-Semitism.
The Karaite synagogue coped with this situation without resolving it for several years. Then a rare opportunity presented itself when a synagogue in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco, disbanded and put its building up for sale. In June 1994, the KJA purchased the premises of the former Congregation B'nai Israel; their offer was accepted even though it was not the highest bid because the leaders of Congregation B'nai Israel preferred to maintain the Jewish character of the building. Purchase of the new synagogue building necessitated a vigorous fund-raising campaign. Karaites throughout the United States contributed or loaned over $100,000 to the KJA to finance the transaction, enabling the KJA to sell its San Francisco house and celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah of 5755 (1994) in its new quarters in Daly City.
The formal organization of the Karaite community facilitated its recognition by other American Jewish rites. In 1984, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly resolved that Karaites should be regarded as Jews as long as they did not reject Rabbanite tradition. The Reform rabbinate adopted a similar decision. In fact, there are sharp divergences in certain Karaite and Rabbanite customs, which this formulation avoids addressing. For example, Karaites do not celebrate Hanukah, a particularly prominent festival in American Jewish life, on the grounds that the holiday is not mentioned in the Torah. Its historical origins are in the postbiblical era. The Karaites also reject the calendrical reforms introduced by the rabbis in the ninth century, and their holidays may fall at slightly different times than the Rabbanite festivals. Hence, the decisions of the Reform and Conservative rabbis express a spirit of goodwill toward the Karaites without fully accepting the validity of their tradition. Even this somewhat conditional acceptance has allowed the Karaites to gain gradual recognition as part of the Jewish community of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1995, the Northern California Jewish Bulletin began to include the KJA in its weekly list of Jewish congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The character of Karaite Jewish identity remains religiously, politically, and culturally distinctive. For most American Jews, support for Israel is the most prominent expression of their Jewish identity. Visiting Israel for a summer has become an important rite of passage for Jewish teenagers of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Karaites certainly support the state of Israel. They visit and maintain close ties with their relatives and the official leadership of the Karaite communities there. But the core of their identity as Jews is their religious commitment and their cultural heritage. Their Jewishness is not dependent on their political relationship with Israel, certainly not with the leaders of the state. Few American Jews except the ultraorthodox are willing or able to preserve their identity in the same terms.
Jehoash Hirshberg has explained the central role of liturgy and paraliturgical songs in maintaining the continuity of Karaite tradition in the San Francisco Bay Area Karaite community since its buildings, institutions, and books were all left behind in Egypt. Joe Pessah is primarily responsible for liturgical matters. He consciously strives to preserve the purity of the Karaite liturgy and other customs from outside influences because the Karaite tradition in the United States is a young and fragile transplant liable to be destroyed by the excessive integration of Rabbanite or other exogenous practices. Pessah makes a clear distinction between traditional Karaite tunes and Egyptian folk melodies, which the Karaites of Israel appear to have freely integrated into their paraliturgical songs. Nonetheless, Pessah and other community members encourage their children to listen to commercial recordings of Egyptian music so that American-born Karaites will be familiar with their cultural roots and be exposed to an alternative to contemporary Western music and what they regard as its associated negative influences. Joe and Remy Pessah also maintain close contact with Egypt through regular reading of popular Egyptian magazines like Ruz al-Yusuf and Uktubir, which they shared with me when I visited their home.
Such continuing attachments to Arabo-Egyptian culture are common among members of the community who grew up in Egypt. Jacob Masliah fondly recalled that his geometry teacher was the brother of renowned novelist Naguib Mahfouz and that the Mahfouz family lived near his childhood home in ‘Abbasiyya. An older member of the community advised me that if I wished to improve my Arabic pronunciation, he would be glad to lend me his set of audiotapes of Qur’an chanting. Just as Muslims do, he considered the language of the Qur’an to be an ideal form of Arabic. He recalled that at school he had been the best student in his class in Arabic grammar and poetry, and he was proud that when he visited Muslim Egyptians, they were surprised by his retention of excellent Arabic despite having left Egypt thirty-six years ago. He brought to the synagogue a large pile of current Arabic dailies (al-Ahram, al-Hayat, al-Sharq al-Awsat, and al-Watan), whose contents he shared with other members of the congregation during the meal after the services. As I was preparing to leave the synagogue, he passed them on to me to help keep my knowledge of Egypt current.
The organization of a synagogue and related projects gave the San Francisco Bay Area Karaite community a firm institutional structure that it had lacked during the first twenty years of the Karaite presence in the United States. The lapse of organized communal religious life for a generation and the rapid assimilation and Americanization of younger members of the community ensured that despite efforts to maintain and reproduce the historical practices of the community in Cairo, the new synagogue would incorporate substantial novel elements into its services. The ritual core of the synagogue service in San Francisco maintains continuity with the Cairo tradition. The traditional prayer book is used, and prayers are recited in Hebrew with only an occasional informal English commentary. No significant liturgical innovations were introduced, and Joe Pessah endeavored to maintain a unified singing style.
About thirty to forty people participated in regular weekly Saturday morning services in San Francisco when I attended periodically from 1991 to 1993. As in the Rabbanite tradition, the core of the service is the reading of the weekly Torah portion. Because no one in the community could chant the weekly portion reading from an unvoweled handwritten Torah scroll, Joe Pessah and others read from a voweled printed volume. Great attention was lavished on correct pronunciation and cantilation of the text.
The Karaite pronunciation of Hebrew is distinctive, more antique than modern Hebrew, and closer to the sound of Arabic. Karaites continue to pronounce the velarized s for the tzadik, the semiguttural h for het, and the j for a dotted gimel. Because the Karaites do not operate their own religious school, children who have studied Hebrew in the United States have learned the standard modern Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew at religious schools of various Reform or Conservative congregations. Knowledgeable and concerned parents and elders have tried to rectify the children's Hebrew pronunciation. But many children become confused during prayers in the synagogue. It is considered sinful to make an uncorrected error while publicly reading from the Torah, and some senior members of the congregation extend their concern over correct pronunciation to the recitation of prayers. Although I tried to use the Karaite pronunciation of Hebrew when attending the San Francisco synagogue, my pronunciation was sometimes corrected and even preempted lest I make a predictable error.
In Cairo, most women did not study Hebrew, receive formal religious training, or attend synagogue regularly. When women did attend, the separation of men and women in the synagogue was observed. In San Francisco, some women continued to refrain from regular synagogue attendance. Even though her husband was one of the most active members of the community, Nelly Masliah did not attend Sabbath services unless there was a special occasion like a bar mitzvah.
The San Francisco synagogue gestured in the direction of traditional gender separation, although the physical structure of the building imposed a degree of proximity that would have been unacceptable in Cairo. The former living room of the home served as the main prayer hall. A sign at the entry to the living room announced, “This is a kosher place for prayer. Women enter through the kitchen.” Observing this instruction allowed women to assume their places in the dining room of the house, directly behind the living room and not physically separated from it, without entering the living room. Nearly half those who attended services were women, some of whom recited their prayers in loud and energetic voices, a marked departure from the Cairo custom.
At the conclusion of the reading of the weekly Torah portion, there was a break in the service. Every congregant then rose and shook the hand of everyone else present and conveyed the traditional greeting, shabat shalom (a peaceful Sabbath). Individuals who had entered the synagogue at different times and did not have an opportunity to speak before prayers briefly exchanged social news. During this time, men and women spoke to each other, shook each other's hands, and crossed into previously gender-segregated spaces. After the greetings were completed, men and women withdrew to their segregated spaces, and the service resumed. The positive value of strengthening the bonds of the community by the greeting ritual was apparently judged to supersede the importance of strictly maintaining the traditional gender segregation of space in the synagogue.
After services, everyone went to the basement of the house and shared a large meal featuring traditional Egyptian cuisine. There were often comments about the excellence of particular dishes or the fact that only certain individuals remembered how to make a special dish properly. This is not necessarily an indication that people actually forgot what they once knew. Even in Egypt, not every woman was equally proficient in the kitchen, although the tone of voice with which such matters were discussed suggested the opposite. This feature of Karaite social life differs little from Rabbanite Jewish customs. Comparing culinary skill in preparing traditional dishes is a prominent component of community chitchat at nearly any Jewish social gathering where food is served. Conversations during the meal were held in Arabic, French, and English.
None of the children and teenagers speaks any Arabic, though several understand some of the spoken language. Some of the teenagers are highly Americanized. It is unclear whether enough of them have the knowledge and commitment to resist assimilationist pressures and maintain the distinctiveness of the Karaite tradition once the generation that remembers the life and customs of the community in Egypt departs.
On several occasions when I attended the synagogue, I used the meal and social time after prayers to make arrangements to meet and interview people in their homes. Writing is prohibited on the Sabbath, but I would always bring a pen and paper. I knew that I would be able to remember names, addresses, and dates for only a limited time. So I planned to write down my appointments and any other interesting information in my car after leaving the synagogue and before driving home. Because I did not want to take out a pen and paper in the synagogue building, I was embarrassed when the most devout leading members of the congregation asked me if I would like them to write down for me their addresses and directions to their homes. Although I am not religiously observant, I did not want to ask people to violate their religious beliefs on my behalf.
Joe Pessah explained to me that in the United States certain accommodations of this sort were necessary in order to preserve the community. In Cairo, everyone walked to the synagogue because riding in a vehicle is prohibited on the Sabbath. But some people drove as many as fifty miles to attend Sabbath services in San Francisco. He thought that it was much better to encourage such people to drive and attend synagogue because it was obviously impossible for them to do so if they did not drive.
Other ritual innovations practiced by the San Francisco Bay Area Karaites include the institution of bat mitzvah ceremonies. Joe Pessah's mother, Sarina Pessah, did learn Hebrew in Cairo but did not have a bat mitzvah because the community did not observe this rite of passage. She commemorated the opening of the new synagogue in Daly City and her seventieth birthday by celebrating her bat mitzvah.
Some leading members of the community now celebrate Hanukah in their homes. “I never knew about Hanukah until we came here,” said Fred Lichaa. “It was too much to compete with Hanukah and Christmas. It was easier to say [to the children], ‘You'll get your gift at Hanukah.’” 
The San Francisco Karaite community and its leaders are guided by an attitude of flexible pragmatism. Their supreme value is preserving the existence of the community, and they are prepared to compromise strict observance of rituals in order to promote this objective. Thus, the San Francisco community observes what might be regarded as “reform Karaism.” No one has attempted to articulate the legitimacy of this practice in the same way that the Rabbanite Reform and Conservative rites have justified their departures from Orthodoxy. The Karaite community of San Francisco can live with this contradiction because, as in all Middle Eastern Jewish communities, membership is defined by acceptance of the authority of the acknowledged leadership and the belief that ethnoreligious identity is ascriptive and permanent. Piety and precision of observance are desirable, but not necessary for membership in the community. Some Karaite leaders aspire to preserve the traditions and customs of the community as they remember them being practiced in Cairo; others are aware that some changes are inevitable. The social adaptations necessary to maintain a community in the United States make it unlikely that the practices of the Cairo community will ever be fully reproduced, even if the Karaites succeed in passing their traditions on to the second American-born generation.
On the Perils of Ethnography
When I began to study the Karaite community of the San Francisco Bay Area systematically, they welcomed my interest because the personal relationships I had established led them to trust that I would represent the community sympathetically. And I had every intention of doing so. I understood that my interpretation of the significance of Karaite practices did not necessarily accord with the self-understanding of most Karaites. This difference did not seem likely to generate antagonism, especially because my attention was focused on the Karaites of San Francisco rather than broad political questions about the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But after I met Karaites in Israel and began to learn about the issues affecting their community, some difficulties developed.
Between Passover and Rosh ha-Shanah 1993, the San Francisco community hosted an extended visit by the former Karaite chief rabbi of Israel, Haim Levy. I was in Israel conducting research for this book when he arrived, so I did not meet Rabbi Levy until the latter part of his stay in San Francisco. In Israel, I spent considerable time reading in the library of the World Karaite Center in Ramlah, where I was generously hosted by First Assistant Chief Rabbi Avraham Gabr. Because there was no heat in the library, Rabbi Gabr invited me to use his office as a reading room. This allowed me to observe the regular comings and goings of his daily business, and it allowed him to keep an eye on me.
Rabbi Gabr spoke to those who visited his office in Hebrew or Arabic, whichever was more comfortable for the visitor. I normally spoke Hebrew with Rabbi Gabr and his visitors, but from time to time people would take an interest in who I was, and to test my credentials or amuse themselves, they would speak to me in Arabic. I found conversing in Egyptian Arabic with Jews in the middle of Israel deliciously iconoclastic.
I felt a connection to these Karaites that had something to do with our common identification as Jews as well as the normal human contact we had established as a consequence of my regular visits to Ramlah. In addition, our relationship was sustained by shared knowledge outside the boundaries of normative discourse in Israel: my interest in modern Karaite history, my sympathy for the Karaites as a victimized minority in Israel, a network of common friends and acquaintances, an appreciation for Arabo-Egyptian culture, and fond memories of certain localities in Egypt. The Karaites of Ramlah preserved important elements of their Egyptian culture—language, food, music, religious rituals. Beyond these tangibles, the humane, face-to-face social style, an almost naive trust in the integrity of one's fellow human, an unpressured approach to accomplishing tasks that always allowed for the possibility of human frailty, and a deep preference for the needs of real people over abstract principle situated the World Karaite Center in Ramlah closer to Cairo than to Tel Aviv.
This was the dominant impression in my mind when I returned to the United States and met Rabbi Levy. I had a long discussion with him during which he repeatedly asserted that the Egyptian Karaites were active Zionists and had prepared to emigrate to Israel even before 1948. He insisted that there were no significant differences between the Karaites and Rabbanites, both in Egypt or in Israel, and that the Karaites were not subjected to any significant discrimination in Israel. This was a rather different story from what I had heard from any other Karaites in San Francisco, Ramlah, or Cairo. Rabbi Gabr, for example, though hardly a political radical, resented the Israeli government's unwillingness to recognize the Karaite bet din and felt that “as long as we have no representation in the Knesset, we are treated unjustly (mekupahim).”  Rabbi Levy became hostile to me because he apparently decided that my questions about these matters were motivated by the traditional antagonistic Rabbanite perspective that portrayed the Karaites as Arabizers and adopters of Muslim customs.
Rabbi Levy was one of the first Karaites to arrive in Israel in 1949. He served in the army and attended the Hebrew University. He was therefore far more Israeli in his outlook than most members of his community in Israel and San Francisco. He was a strict proponent of religious orthodoxy and would not profane the Sabbath by writing. But he also advocated a high degree of accommodation to Israeli norms, including a revised vision of the history of the community in Cairo that transposed religious attachment to the Holy Land into political Zionism. Rabbi Levy was removed from his post as Karaite chief rabbi of Israel because some leading members of the community felt that his policies diluted the community's distinctive identity and traditions. His visit to San Francisco took place after his deposition and may have been an aspect of his strategy to recoup his standing in Israel.
Rabbi Levy's clash with me was based on his correct perception that I did not see his community as he did. He presumed that I was motivated by anti-Karaite Rabbinate prejudices and the standard Zionist view that immigrating to Israel was “good” and remaining in Egypt was “bad.” At first, I was extremely distressed that Rabbi Levy was suspicious of me and my motives. In retrospect, I have come to think that it was his right to suspect me. My presence and my research agenda accentuated the Egyptian Arab face of the Karaites I met. If I had been a fluent speaker of French and had spoken no Arabic, if I had been interested in Karaite religious doctrine and its historical development, if I had not spent considerable time in Egypt myself, a rather different interpretation of the meaning of Karaite experience and identity would have been available to me. Rabbi Levy regarded the representation of the Karaites implicit in the questions I put to him as a threat to the well-being of his community in Israel because he understood that I was interested in the cultural differences between Karaites and Rabbanites. In terms of the prevailing norms during the period of his socialization in Israel, when even the assertion of Middle Eastern Rabbanite identity was unacceptable, he was correct.
However, the majority of the Karaites I have met were not embarrassed or reluctant to share the Egyptian Arab face of their identity with me. I am convinced that this component of their identity is as “real” as the face that they may present to the official Jewish communities in the United States and Israel. Because the norms of Jewish life in Israel and the United States assign a negative value to it, some Karaites unself-consciously and reflexively mask this face. Rabbi Levy is one of the few who consciously deny it. Others display it proudly to those who can appreciate it and affectionately recall many aspects of their life in Egypt even as they recognize that continuing that life was impossible and that it is unlikely that any Egyptian Jewish community will be reestablished in the foreseeable future.
One Sabbath I attended services in San Francisco when Rabbi Levy delivered a sermon—in Arabic, the only common language between him and the majority of the congregation because they do not understand modern spoken Hebrew and he is not fluent in English. During the sermon, he paused and asked me to translate a phrase for him from Hebrew to Arabic. I was flustered because I did not expect such a request, which blurred the boundary between my status as an ethnographic observer and my identity as a Jew participating in a religious service. Ultimately, I was pleased and flattered to be asked to serve as translator. In the course of writing this book, I have come to accept the inevitable perils of those who live on cultural boundary lines and serve as translators.
1. Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 185–88. [BACK]
2. For example, Gudrun Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914–1952 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989) and Michael M. Laskier, The Jews of Egypt, 1920–1970: In the Midst of Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Middle East Conflict (New York: New York University Press, 1992) mention the Karaites only briefly. [BACK]
3. Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 170. [BACK]
4. Rabbi Avraham Gabr, interview, Ramlah, Jan. 11, 1993. [BACK]
5. Mourad El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1882–1986 (Lyons, NY: Wilprint, 1987), p. 296. [BACK]
6. Maurice Shammas, interview, Jerusalem, May 5, 1994. [BACK]
7. Yosefa Nunu, interview, Ramlah, Mar. 7, 1993. [BACK]
8. The lower figure is that of Nathan Schur, History of the Karaites (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992). p. 142. The higher figure is the one usually given by Karaite spokespersons. Schur's work is informed by traditional anti-Karaite biases and is not particularly perceptive or reliable. [BACK]
9. Sumi Colligan, “Religion, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Israel: The Case of the Karaite Jews” (Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, 1980), pp. 296–97. [BACK]
10. Shlomo Barad, “ha-Pe‘ilut ha-tzionit be-mitzrayim, 1917–1952,” Shorashim ba-mizrah 2 (1989):118. Barad offers no documentary evidence in this article to support this rather harsh allegation, so I went to interview him at his home in Kibutz Karmia on Jan. 3, 1996, to hear how he had come to this conclusion. Barad was a member of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Tunisia, and his gar‘in was training at the movement's farm at La Roche, France. The Tunisians were to have completed their training and emigrated to Israel, but they could not leave La Roche until a new group of trainees arrived to replace them. Their departure was delayed because of the late arrival of members of the Egyptian gar‘in from Egypt headed toward ‘Ein-Shemer. The Egyptians told him that they had delayed their departure and halted all immigration from Egypt as a protest against the Jewish Agency's policy of excluding Karaites from immigration to Israel. They resumed recruitment and processing of immigrants and they themselves departed only after receiving assurances that this policy had been reversed. [BACK]
11. Colligan, “Religion, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Israel,” pp. 234–35; Y. Bitsur, Ma‘ariv, June 30, 1961. [BACK]
12. El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, p. 99–100. [BACK]
13. Ibid., pp. 62, 296. [BACK]
14. Joe Pessah, interview, Mountain View, California, June 12, 1992. [BACK]
15. Jehoash Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” Pe‘amim 32 (1988):73. [BACK]
16. Information about the Masliah family is based on my long friendship with Yusuf Darwish and many meetings with Jacob and Nelly Masliah, especially formal interviews in their home in San Francisco on May 8 and 16, 1992 (the second with the participation of their daughter, Nadia Hartmann). [BACK]
17. Number of professionals as estimated by Maurice Shammas, interview, Jerusalem, May 5, 1994. [BACK]
18. Nadia Hartmann, interview, San Francisco, May 16, 1992. [BACK]
19. Henry and Doris Mourad, interview, Los Altos Hills, California, June 10, 1992. [BACK]
20. Ibid. [BACK]
21. Joe and Remy Pessah, interview, Mountain View, June 12, 1992. [BACK]
22. “Egyptian Love Story Leads to Altar Here,” San Francisco Jewish Bulletin, Jan. 29, 1971, p. 1. [BACK]
23. Henry and Doris Mourad, interview. [BACK]
24. Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” p. 70. [BACK]
25. Information in this section is based on articles in various issues of the KJA Bulletin, confirmed and elaborated by discussion with members of the community. [BACK]
26. Northern California Jewish Bulletin, Sept. 9, 1994. [BACK]
27. Jehoash Hirshberg, “Musical Tradition as a Cohesive Force in a Community in Transition: The Case of the Karaites,” Asian Music 17 (no. 2, 1986):46–68; Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” pp. 66–81. [BACK]
28. Conversation with Elie Nounou, Congregation B'nai Israel, Daly City, California, Feb. 16, 1996. [BACK]
29. Elaine Laporte, “Karaite Grandmother Celebrates Bat Mitzvah-at 70,” Northern California Jewish Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1994, reprinted in KJA Bulletin, Mar. 1995, pp. 15–16. [BACK]
30. Deborah Kalb, The Jewish Monthly, Mar. 1992, reprinted in KJA Bulletin, Sept. 1992, p. 6. [BACK]
31. Rabbi Haim Levy, interview, San Francisco, July 13, 1993. [BACK]
32. Rabbi Avraham Gabr, interview. [BACK]
33. Sumi Colligan, personal communication, September 14, 1994. [BACK]