An interesting take on one Egyptian family's mixed background resulted in a film shown recently at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival:
Egyptian director Nadia Kamel, worried by messages of religious war her young nephew was hearing from Cairo mosques, decided to show him their own family's history of mixed marriage in a journey that takes her from Italy to Israel.
The film focuses on the elderly grandmother Mary. She is half-Egyptian Jew, half-Italian Christian and married to an Egyptian Muslim. A Communist and staunch supporter of Palestinian rights, she has shunned contact with Jewish relatives since they moved in 1946 to British-mandate Palestine, two years before Israel was created. The film follows her as she decides to face disapproval of Muslim relatives in Egypt by visiting relatives in Israel.
In the 1930s-40s, Egypt was multi-ethnic, multi-religious - with thriving communities of Jews, Italians, Greeks and others. Her story shows that the divisions that appear so intractable now did not exist two generations ago.
The film shows the similarities between the Muslim family in Egypt, the Christian family in Italy and the Jewish family in Israel. They look similar, their homes are similar and they speak to each other in a mix of Arabic, Italian and French.
Mary's brother went to Italy as life in Egypt became hard for foreigners. Her parents stayed. Her cousin went to fight for Israel's creation but other relatives left Egypt out of fear.
One Jewish relative still listened to music by Egypt's late diva Om Kalthoum. His wife told of her warm ties with her Muslim neighbours in Cairo, who treated her daughter like their own.
That girl's sons are now in the Israeli army. Their photos in uniform hang in the same room where Om Kalthoum's voice rings out.
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