Juliette Glasser Transcript March 22, 2013
Q-What is your full name
J-My name is Juliette Glasser. My married name is Glasser.
Q-And what was your name at birth?
J-Uh my official name Juliette Akuka. That’s on my passport.
Q-And when were you born
J-November 4th (I’m a Scorpio) 1941.
Q-And how old are you?
Q-And where were you born?
J-I was born in Cairo, Egypt.
Q-Juliette, I want to thank you for allowing us to interview you for the Sephardi Voices project.
J-Thank you. I think it’s as important for me as well. So Thank you.
Q-And perhaps we can start with an general question? Can you tell us something about your family background?
J-Well....I’ll start with my mother’s side: my mother is first generation Egyptian. Her family-her mother, grandparents, ancestors come from Alepo, Syria. So, she is considered a Syrian Jew. However, my father’s side-his ancestors started in Spain and right after the Inquisition, of course as we know, all the Jews had to leave or convert or KILLED and ...they moved to Morocco. So thyey lived in Morocco for a couple of centuries and that’s where my passport is French. From Morocco I think maybe, I don’t know exactly when did they move to Egypt but at some point they moved to Egypt. My father was born in Egypt. My grandmother was born in Egypt, So...I have two sides.
Q-And do you remember your grandparents?
J-Um..I do remember my father’s mother. And when we were all, when we were exiled in 19/ Well when the problems began she left with one of her other son for Israel. I do remember, my mother’s, my great grandma who was a fantastic lady. But my grandma dies when I was a baby. So I never met my grandmother and somehow the men died young because I never had any grandpas.
Q-And do you know how your parents met and when they married?
J-Yes, actually because it is almost a joke. My mother was always so full of spirit. Uh...my mother became an orphan very young. And when her dad died and her grandpa was a big rabbi so they really had no money. And um...uh..apparently when she was maybe 17, 18 uh she heard her brother was going, her older brother to an outling at the Pyramids-of all the young Jews, young women and young men. And she wanted to go but she didn’t have the money. So she goes to the bus and where everybody is in and who is in charge but my father. And he said, you know give me, it’s so much bieast(sp). She said, “I have no money.” So he looked at her, she was a beautiful woman, he said, “OK, go in”. And that’s where they met. They met at the pyramids actually. Cause that excursion was going to the pyramids.
Q-And what was your father’s name?
J-My father’s name was Leon.
Q-And when was he born?
J-1907 in Cairo.
Q-And your mother’s name?
J-My mother’s name, Elise, it’s a French name but everybody called her Liza.
Q-And where was she born?
J- She was born in Cairo, also in 1917.
Q-Do you recall her maiden name?
J- Yes. Untebee And Untebee is a very Syrian Jewish name.
Q-What did your father do for a living?
J- My father was a merchant and they import and export business so he dealt with a alot of fine china. And I remember he always entertained business people from Europe.
Q-Do you recall the year they were married?
J-Uh yes. They were married August 29, 1937
Q-OK, and can you tell us something about your family’s, your siblings?
J-Sure...um..when, now? Then?
Q-When you want
J-Well, my parents of course got married in Egypt. Four children were born. My oldest sister, her name was Arlette, she passed away, very young at the age of 40. And um, I’m number 2, Juliette born three years later. And then, but in Egypt you know girls are no-no, not great . You know they really kind of adopt the Arabic thing, even maybe China (laughs) where boys are very important much more than girls. So I was number 2 and everybody is like not happy that my mom had another girl. So uh she got pregnant again and finally the prince arrived, that’s my brother Isaac. And he is still spoiled. He just was extremely spoiled. And then much later came Jacqueline who is the youngest and a beautiful girl. So, so we were four children.
Q-Can you recall some stories about your family life?
J- Sure. Um...I can tell you a lot of things. Um...I do remember wonderful moments um, our social life was mostly with family. And uh...uncles, aunts cousins and we would go to synagogue for the holidays to celebrate. Uh..we went to only private Catholic French schools. And there were, I remember going to school almost the whole day and there was, you know, not like today here in the US where we go and we socialize with friends. We went to school and then um I remember in Egypt, we had several servants, And for lunch we had a servant who would take the food that my mother prepared early in the day and put it in that container with three levels , I don’t remember, I don’t klnow what to call it. And she would bring hot food everyday to us, where we would eat good food. And kosher food. Also, what do I remember.Um...I remember days when, you know my parents loved good coutre and fabrics and uh..My mother would hire dressmakers by the week or by the day or by the two days and these dressmakers would come to our house. And my mother had gone to the fancy Swiss shop called “Salon Ver” which means “The Green Salon”. Or “Ciculare” which is a Jewish big department store and she would buy great fabric imported from Europe. And she would buy lots of fabric and these dressmakers, usually they were Egyptian. They would come to the house and measure us and make you know, from the pictures whichever design we want and that was terrific, that was a lot of fun. So...um...What else? I am trying to remember.
The family we would go with uncles and cousins to a big garden called ‘Le Jardin de Planc” and we would have picnics. Especially in the winter when it was gorgeous because in the summer, no, it was too hot. And summertime, the norm was to leave Cairo and to go to the Mediterranean. And uh at first we used to go to a place for three months called “Ros el Bar” on the Mediterranean. And then I think another, few years later we went to another place called “A Bo Kere” And Abo Kere is right next to Alexandia. And there um, all the Jews went. So we just had a ball. You know, we stayed at a beautiful place, like a hotel, on the beach. And we would see the same people every summer but then during the year it was school and that’s it! So, I would say, summetime, was the best time. While I was living in Egypt, as a child growing up.
Q-Do you recall where in the city you lived? What the neighborhood was like?
J-We lived in an area called Babalouq. And um...over there you know, I mean, we lived in a very large apartment and we had a big balcony were, and one of my memory and sometimes, I still have nightmares is when they were putting the city Cairo on fire during the revolution in 1952. And they were getting rid of Kind Farouq, I was very young, very little and the city was black. And um...there were fire everywhere. And I remember the Arab, the Muslim, the Egyptian walking in the streets, holding big knives saying, “We’re going to kill the Jews. Where are the Jews. Any Jews around here?” And we would hide in the basement. Turn all the lights off. Just shivering, shaking from fear, of fear. And uh, and then one time there were sirens and there was bombing and I really recall and it’s very vivid in my mind that uh one time there was a siren turn all of the lights off so the city was black. My father had not come home yet from work and it was black. And I was crying, I was hysterical; you know, couldn’t imagine, maybe they’d killed hi you know? And so I have bittersweet memories but today, I love Egypt. Because the people are wonderful. And I had an opportunity to go back 4 years ago.
Q-And how did that feel?
J-Wow. That was not the first time I had gone back to Egypt. The first time was maybe 20 years ago. I went with my husband but we went as tourists so we had a guide and a driver and we went basically where tourists go. And I was able to remember where we lived and the area from being very nice was full of um..sewer waters in the street and you know totally awful. But the second time I went which was 4 years ago.
As I have told you before-mentioned, I play Bridge and uh there was an opportunity; and I travel to play bridge internationally, and there was an opportunity to go to Egypt, there was a tournament in Alexandia. And I said, and I played mostly online with a lot of French, Egyptian, all nationalities. But since I speak Arabic I made a lot of friends with the Egyptian players, bridge players. And when I crossed with the idea about going to Alexandia to play bridge everybody here said, “Mom please don’t go”, “Juliette don’t go, you may not come back.” And I would type and tell my friends, “I’m afraid to go, I’m Jewish and I was expelled.” So...and they would say to me, “Why? Does it say on your forehead, ‘I’m a Jew’? You must come.” And I did go. And because I was going my son and his wife said, “Mom you’re going, we’re going also. This is where you were born because we don’t know when we’ll go back.” My sister who lives in Atlanta, Jackie also came. And all of a sudden I had a little entourage of us going just to play bridge and come back. And because so, I did go, and I have been, I have travelled a lot, many places; but to me this was the best trip I have ever taken. But before going to Egypt I really wanted to connect with the Jewish community of Egypt-with the very few people. And there is this wonderful website called uh, historical society of Jews from Egypt and they have what they call the “levre dal” a book to sign. I went in there and I said, “ I am going, I am planning on going to Egypt. Does anybody know this lady who is the head of the Jewish community?” And I heard immediately three emails, one from Brazil, one from Mexico, one from Manhattan; people telling me, “Juliette you must go every year. We’re Jewish, we love it there.” And through that connection, I contacted the people in Egypt and three of the ladies who are not Jewish became very close friends of mine—but they were not ordinary Egyptian women. And uh, and also it helped a lot to know Dr.Zahi Hewas, who was at that point the minister of antiquities. And he certainly made my trip very very special.
Q- Very nice. Let’s go back a little bit to when you were growing up in the Jewish community. A little bit about your observance, synagogue life, family occasions, holidays?
J-Well you know, being Sephardic, being from Egypt , the holidays are different than what is now celebrated here in America. For example, we didn’t have this, every day of the week a gift for the children for Hannukkah. Hannukah was just an observance where we made a special thing called zalabia-it’s like a little fried doughnut. Nothing fancy, everything was very plain, no you know. Um for Purim there was another special dessert that we made and Purim they gave the children silver coins. And so I, I looked forward to/for Purim because I would get money and plus also all these wonderful desserts.
Q-Can you tell us about the desserts?
J-Actually it’s a wonderful dessert. And there is a cookbook I bought 2-3 years ago. And I have it here as a matter of fact displayed. It’s called, I don’t remember the name but something about “the best food of Alepo.” And Alepo is where my mother and her family come from. And all the best desserts are in that book. So that particular dessert that was made for Purim was a delicious pastry made with butter filled with pistachios, ground pistachios. And then you make some kind of a whipped cream, not made with dairy but made with syrup and sugar, egg white, it is heaven and you dip it so you have this beautiful dessert, one half is white cream, the other side/ the filling is pistachio, and it’s beautiful to look at and it’s delicious. But we also, regular menu, what we ate normally, uh...we ate rice almost everyday (laughs) and somehow we ate chicken a lot more so than beef. And I remember, because one time I did go with my mother. When she would go to shop, she would go to the store that sells live chicken and she would feel the chicken and look at the chicken-these are live chicken, and her maid would come with her, And I would just watch, you know, “Oh my god, what’s happening here” but my mother was a wonderful, daring lady. Nothing bothered her, she did her thing. And the fatter the chicken, the better she could make the soup from the fat and then the bonus would be if the chicken had eggs inside it. Soo, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, she would put her finger inside and see if there were eggs in there/inside the chicken. And that’s how she would select her chicken.
And then there was the, I don’t know what they call, they, the Jewish person who cut the throat, shahet? Yes! I think so. And the shahet was there and he would cut the throat and do whatever they do. And the maid I think, right there, would be plucking the chicken, and then carrying the chicken while my mother while my mother, you know l’dame, le grand dame would walk, you know, to go back home.
So, and there was a dish that is very Egyptian but she still made it. It’s called moulehaya, Moudehaya is a green soup, it’s some kind of a green...it’s not a herb, it’s a green plant ok? You remove the leaves from the stem. You chop it, they had this thing and then you made this wonderful boulin and lots of garlic. I have never made it. But my mother always made the best moudeheya. And uh, and that, you know it was very thick and delicious. And you eat that, you mix it with rice and it’s fantastic. So, that dish I remember. I remember the pastries. Of course, you know only for happy occasion they baked and did all that, and usually they would get together, my mom and her sister baking and doing things and um and always they had music on. And maybe that’s my love for music. The minute I wake up I put my music on. I start with maybe French and then different CDs, and then Arabic and um, I can belly dance. At my son wedding, at my daughter’s wedding I belly dance. And I love it. I’m glad whatever I do, however I learned it, I don’t know, I think if you are born in Egypt you have to know how to belly dance. So life was good until the end when bad things started to happen.
Q-And the friends you had in Egypt, would you say they were, you talked about your family, did you have a circle of friends, were they Jews non-Jews?
J-Well, that’s a very good question. The school I went to certainly they were my friends but I only saw them at school. And there were some affluent kids but they came from Muslim families. Uh but those are just like not buddy buddy friends. The bets friends I made were during the summer because day and night we were together, we were with each other for 3 months and that’s a long time. And you know uh, we became very close friends and the sad part that’s what really makes me feel sad is here in the US or any place, any country people remember they have childhood friends. I feel my past is a total void. I have no friends from my childhood. Because when the Jews left Egypt, when they were expelled, they were scattered around the world.
Q- So those were Jewish friends from the summer.
J- My Jewish friends, I don’t know where they went, where they are. I have no past. No friends from my past. Basically my friends are the friends made in America. It’s very sad but my family, my cousins, I’m very close with. And those are my close friends.
Q-And when you were with the family, what language did you speak?
J- We spoke French. At home we spoke French.
Q- Out in groups, did you have, did you also speak French?
J- We spoke French, yeah we always spoke French. Uh, you know every now and then maybe there was an expression that was terrific in Arabic and we would say it in Arabic.
Q-Did you know Arabic?
Q-Or learn it?
J-Yes, I you know, like uh Professor Green said, you know, most of the Egyptian Jews speak French first and then the Arabic they learn by speaking to the servants and since we had a lot, you had to learn, you had to. And now I’m glad I speak Arabic because it’s, I think it’s terrific.
Q-And your father did business in what language?
J-Uh my father, probably English and French. Yeah.
Q-Where did you learn your English?
J-At school in Egypt as well, yeah. Yeah uh Egypt was an extraordinary place during that time. You had communities from France, from England, from Italy, from Greece, from Armenia. Uh, you know, Egypt at the certain point was becoming, I think it was right around the Suese(sp) canal it became the important place, if I’m not mistaken. And the prosperous country uh people were coming from all over. And my mother growing up because they, she needed money, she was an orphan. She was working as a helper in a, in a studio for sewing in a place. And the lady, the owner was Armenian and my mother learned to speak Armenian. And if my mother was sitting here right now next to me she would be saying, “I speak 6 languages. I speak Greek. I speak Italian. I speak Armenian. I speak Arabic. I speak French. I speak English.” But the joke is you know Greek she may say a few words but at that time she did speak and understood. But there were many many, it was a very cosmopolitan country and everybody, everything was tolerated. And today when I go online to play bridge and I talk to some of my friends, they said, “when the jews left, that was, the end of Egypt.” The end of the prosperous Egypt. It went downhill.
Q- Observance, synagogue, membership, holiday?
J-Uh again, you know, I was quite young so my memories there are not very vivid. Um we did go to a synagogue, I do not remember the name of the synagogue.
Q-Do you remember Shabbat or anything?
J-Uh did we go during Shabbat? Um, no I don’t think so. I thin k we went for the holidays.
Q-Did you observe Shabbat at home?
J-Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, no, to this day it’s ingrained in my mind not to turn the light on, not to cut anything, not to light matches. I don’t eat pork even though my siblings do and I do not eat shellfish. Which is very unusual but I guess my parents really did a number on me.
Q-And I’m curious, what it is like to read the Passover liturgy at a Seder as a Jewish family in Egypt?
J- When the Seder was read during Passover Haggadah you know, I think there was a sense of pride. We are the Jews. We are in Egypt. But they still longed to go to Jerusalem. So you know, and the reclining and um the special dishes and uh there was a sense of just good feeling, happiness, unity. Um we are together, we’re having this delicious meal and we are the Egyptian Jews and we are in Egypt. So the feeling was wonderful.
Q-And after 1948, Israel was formed did your family have any Zionist feelings? Any feeling about Israel connection? Desire to go?/
J-OK I, I um again, I was very very young so i do not recall any of that perhaps um you know, another person would tell you that. We were definitely for Israel. Definitely, definitely. And um, you know but Zionism I cannot comment on that.
Q-Um so before we move on anything else about your life in Egypt that you would like to tell us?
J-I think, I can tell you, I can just say one word: life in Egypt was very care-free. Nobody, you know the Egyptian people are very happy people. They joke, they laugh, they smile. And I think the Egyptian Jews or maybe a lot of the Mediterranean Jews or others, non-Jews have this very, this sense of joie d’vie. So um..you know it was, it was a good time to be there. It was a wonderful country and now as much older and so many years later I have reconnected through my bridge with Egyptian people. And somehow it has reconnected me back to Egypt to where...this is funny to say, I may not, I should not maybe say it. But when I play bridge online, there are Israelis playing too. I enjoy playing bridge with the Egyptian people, they are nice, they are tolerant, they are fun and they always say joke. While, when I play with Israeli they are very abrupt, and not tolerant, if for example, I make a mistake and I want to do something, they do not permit it, that’s bridge so it’s difficult to explain. So somehow, you know it has brought me closer back to my, to my Egypt, of my childhood. Here I am a Jew but I love Egypt. I do. And I love it’s people. Of course, a lot of them if they know I’m Jewish but my friends are you know educated, affluent, physicians, lawyers and all of that and they know, they know me. And they like me, they like people for who they are not because of their religion.
Q-So can you describe some of the events that lead up to your family’s decision to leave.
J- Well, it was not a decision for us to leave. It was a command that came. We were told to leave.
Q-And what year was that?
J-Uh, We left Egypt in 1956…one day two officers came knocking at the door, presenting my father with papers and telling him, “You have 48 hrs for you and your family to leave this country.” So you can imagine, this is mom and dad and four children. And you can only take a suitcase and maybe two bracelets and whatever. If you are born in Egypt and you are a Jew, you are not Egyptian. You have to be a Muslim to be Egyptian. So, many of the Jews who were told to leave did not know where to go.
I recall somebody, who was already married in Egypt and he was told to leave. And no country would accept him. And then he heard of a country that would accept him: Brazil. He had no idea where Brazil was, and he and his wife ended up in Brazil where he became very affluent. So since we were living in Egypt and feeling comfortable. We really, my father never, you know, we were fine we didn’t need to have any passport or anything like that. But I think in 1952 when things became very bad and my father started to think, we need to have a passport here if we are leaving. So he contacted the French embassy. Because his ancestor great great grandparents were French, because they lived in Morocco and Morocco was a French colony. So he pursued there the, that, the demands and we were given French citizenship, French passports. And that is how from Egypt we went directly to France.
Q-And how did you travel?
J-Uh, we travelled by ship. And, I’ll never forget that journey. The ship was Greek. And of course it was not a deluxe ship and we were not going on a , in a, the best state room. We were way down and when you leave, when you go on a ship in October on the Mediterranean, the seas were so choppy, horrible, stormy. And we were all crying, vomiting, thinking we’re never, we’re not going to get out of this alive. So this is a child of 12-13 in a rickety ship, dark, horrible.
And the ship stopped first in Greece, in Perez and in Perez you have they the Israeli representative board the ship to tell you, you must go to Israel, that’s your home. We were travelling with aunts and uncles. I would say 80% of my relatives got off the ship and they went to Israel and that’s where they live now.
My father always was different. He said, “We are French. We need”/ And we heard terrible things: people who are going to Israel right now, they are living in little tin places. And they said, “We are going to go to France first and if we feel, we can always go to Israel.” And uh, so the next stop was Marsailles. And we got off the ship and we were welcomed and helped. Not only by the French government but also by HIAS-the Hebrew Immigration Association or whatever. And they took us to, in buses to a place where they were receiving the refugees and here is my mother who is the grand’ dame, all of a sudden in buses with other people...and then we went there and we stayed there and I felt very strange. And then um, and then we were moved to a hotel room, a small room in a hotel in Marsailles. We were six people in one room.
Q-So you were telling us about your settlement in Marseilles/ In the Hotel
J- /Right. Yeah. OK so we were, and then I think it must of been when they moved us to the hotel, it was in the city center, one little room. I mean, basically 6 adults with I think 1 bed, 2 beds, i don’t remember but it was Passover time. Of course we were eating Matzah and my father was so nervous that they’ll know we are Jewish. He would walk around, and you know you eat matzah and there are crumbs everywhere...he would walk around with a little whisk broom and a little shovel. He said, “Eat only over the table! We don’t want them to see the crumbs. We don’t want them to see that we’re Jewish.” That stuck to my mind.
So from there, uh, I think that was a short time, we lived in the hotel. And then somehow we were moved to anbother place but that place was great. It was a townhouse on the Cour de niche, on the water in Marseilles. Uh, we lived upstairs, my uncle, aunt and cousins. So it was always comforting to have my cousins with me, uh, and that was fantastic. But this was just a stop, it was not the final destination as lodging. But I remember that was great.
And from there they moved us again. And this time we were moved to what they call HLM, which mean, low income housing? Tetements? Whatever it’s called. And kinda outside the city. And there we...we had a whole new apartment but you know, it was not ideal place to be. And I think after maybe a couple of years uh we left to go to America.
Q-So while you were in France, I just wanted to ask you about the one suitcase you brought with you, there were lots of documents? You have a lot of momentos. How did you, you know decide what to take and how did you manage with such a little.../
J- Ok. Phyllis. This was not from me. This was my father. My father liked everything to be organized and obviously to him-all these documents, all these photos were very important. And when they passed away, I took them. Because these, these are my treasure. This is my, my, my childhood. That’s my life. So it wasn’t me who took them, it was my father my mother who packed them because they felt, these are important. And you know what, I’m surprised. You know, when you are expelled, do you bring documents of your marriage certificate written in Hebrew and in Arabic and in French and whatever but they did. And it was my father, I don’t think my mother would have done that. (Laughs) It was my father who uh brought all these important documents.
Q-And while you were in France, did he work at all?
J-Yes, yes. I mean we had no money. We had to work even if your 8 years old. My father I think found...uh. well you know, they were helping him to get a job. So he worked in an office whether, I don’t know what he did but an office doing...you know. ..Secretarial work. Uh, my mother, poor thing, uh she had to work too. And this is a woman who was the “queen”, all of a sudden, now, (excuse me), was doing alteration at her house. And people would bring clothes to her and she would do alteration. And my sister, Arlette, who was maybe 16, 15, had to go get a job. So...I was too young to work.
Q-What did you do?
J-I went to school.
Q-What did you study?
J-You know, at that time, I felt education we had, even though I didn’t finish my , you know, complete, I didn’t complete my official education; but it was a matter of survival. It was a matter of, we need to eat. We need to survive. The education we have, we spoke a few languages, we were very proud people. And...uh, so my parents felt that I should go to a school where I would need to learn to be a secretary. And I still have a book here that shows how to do an invoice (laughs). How to do this, how to do that, it was, I think they call them technical schools. And that’s the school I went to. But then, you know basically it’s not, you know, an official education. Because the idea was train Juliette so she can go to work too. But once I came to America, I went to college.
Q-So when did you decide to leave France and come to the United States? How did that happen?
J-Uh, an uncle of mine, the brother of my mom, at the age of 28, very ambitious, handsome. He used to play basketball at the Macabi in Egypt and he wanted; his dream was to go to America. So he left Egypt, moved to France, and trying to join the US army in France had like something there. And because he played great basketball, they immediately take him and took him and he played Macabi in France as well. And that uncle, left to go to the US, single, not married. He was 28-30 and somehow he had a connection, somebody he knew in Boston. He moved to Boston connected with that person, who had a store and that one store became two stores in Boston and then he and his partner felt Atlanta is a good place, let’s open a store in Atlanta. We were ready, we were on our way, well we weren’t on our way but we thought of going to Boston. And then maybe a month before we were leaving we moved to, we didn’t move, we went from France to Atlanta. And we settle in Atlanta.
Q-Was it difficult to get, how did you papers to allow you to go?
J-Well we had French passports but we had to wait to get a visa from the American consulate. And you know because my uncles was helping us, preparing documents maybe to get a visa, I think a greencard happened once you’re here, to get a visa to come here as immigrants. So that’s how it happened. It was very simple and I was very young so I’m telling you what I remember.
Q-So what was your life like when you got to Atlanta?
J-It was fun (laughs). Again, we lived upstairs in a house, downstairs, townhouse, big, huge. And um, I was 17 when I came to the US. And, um, I my uncle was there, I had another family was there and wow we are now in America. But I was French in my heart, I don’t know what I was, you know, it’s like I say a joke: I say, when I speak Arabic, I speak with an accent, when I speak French, I speak with an accent, when I speak English, I speak with an accent; I don’t have a country, I don’t know where I belong.
Q-So if somebody says where’s home, what would you say?
**J-Where is my home? You know, I think... my heart is Egypt as a Jew. France is here (touches head). France is very important, French. America is also important to me because that’s where we were accepted, greeting, and that’s my home. I love America but in my heart it’s France and Egypt, you know, it’s very deep inside me.
But life in Atlanta was good but I met my husband very quickly. I was 17; I had just gotten off the boat. And he was studying dentistry at Emory University. And somehow the Atlantic constitution got wind of refugees from France and they found, they went to that school where I was taking a class uh English for foreign born and they did a whole two page story on everybody who was there but the big picture was myself and a good friend I had made when I took there, she also was Jewish but she came from the Belgian Congo and so, so, you know, I only lived in Atlanta...hmm..just four years. I went with my husband 3 years, we got married and then left Atlanta.
J-Well because Jeff was a dentist, diploma. At that time, you had to do the service, the military, and because you are a doctor, you go, as a...officer, so we went for two years at Magdill Air force base in Tampa. And I became pregnant right away and 10 months later my daughter was born in Tampa. But those were very difficult times, very, because I was very close to my parents and here I am new to this country, married, and away from my family was very painful. To be away from my family, with a baby. I was 20, 21 years old. It was very difficult.
Q- What year was that?
J- 1964, 63.
Q-And how long did you stay in Tampa?
J- We were there for 2 years. 2 years service, he was a Captain. You do the service for two years and then because his family lived in Miami so then he, obviously we were moving to Miami but I was so young, so naive. I never put my foot down and said, “No, I want to go to Atlanta, where my family live.” I guess, you know, I went with, with the flow. And but I love in Miami, Miami is great. And my family in Atlanta is here all the time. Uh, my parents moved here to Miami 20 years ago, or more, 25 years ago. So, so things are good. Things are wonderful.
Q-And how many children?
J- Uh, I have three children and they are the best. My oldest is my daughter, her name is Lynn. She is married to a wonderful, young Jewish American man, Mitch Parker. They have three children and my oldest grandson, their oldest son is his second year in College. So, it’s. It’s like , “I can’t believe it! The years are going by too fast here.” And then I have my second child, is Greg who’s an attorney, here in Miami, married to a wonderful young woman, Alisa. And they have two children and one on the way. And then my youngest one is Jonathan, he lives in Houston and they have one child, who’s four. And I adore my children.
Q-And what was your family life like growing up with the children in the Unites States?
J- Oh, you mean once I was married?
Q- Once you were married, I mean I would say how did you carry on some of your Sephardic traditions?
J-I will tell you um because I was so young, married young, very young mother at 21 and now we’re in Miami, I’m speaking with an accent yet I was very ambitious and I wanted to be part of this Jewish community and I remember they would ask me, “Where are you from?” and I was embarrassed to say, “I’m from Egypt.” I would say, “I’m from France.” And then eventually I said, “Oh screw it. I’m from Egypt but I’m French.” And then people would say, “Oh you mean, there are Jews in Egypt?” They didn’t know that Jews really came from Egypt.
And it was difficult for me, you know, uh the, I joined an organization called Suburban League, where all the affluent Jewish women were there but I was ambitious and, you know, other was different. They were all Ashkanazim, I was probably the only Sephardic woman there and certainly I looked different than they do. Um it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy. But um my husband was starting a new practice, my family was not living in Miami, I was alone so my concentration were , you know, raising my children great, being with my husband and uh...growing, growing to be an American. I...we socialized, I entertained, we had a lot of parties. I do some good cooking. I taught cooking for about a year and a half. And the cooking that I taught was only with phillo dough cooking, where I would create my own recipes and I had ten.. I had men too, come to my kitchen here and uh, I taught cooking. And I always wanted, I played a lot of tennis, I always liked to do things, even though, my children when they were young and they went to school, I would take courses at Miami Dade or at FIU and that’s how I, I enriched my life.
And gradually my circle of friends grew, and grew, until, where I know wonderful people who I’m very close to and I love them.
Q-And what were your Jewish connections like in Miami? Did you belong to a synogague?/
J-/It was only Jewish. We joined Temple Betham and I married a man who’s family, I don’t know if I even call them reform because they never observed anything. They had bacon in the morning for breakfast and uh bread at Passover yet they were Jewish. And here I am, you know, uh coming from Kosher and lighting the Shabbat candles and um...fasting on Yum Kippur and my husband never did any of that so it was very, it was hard to kind of turn him around but I did and I said, “It’s not for me, it’s for the children.” And I light my Shabbat candles and um, we belong still to Betham probably. My three children were bat mitsvahed, bar mitzvah there. We had two confirmations there. Uh, I had parties in my house, um, for the brisks, baby naming, all the wonderful celebrations that Jewish religions has. Do it all and in the beginning, it’s funny how you grow older and you grow more confident.
In the beginning, being a foreigner, I felt so insecure, so insecure. With all these women, you know, I call them the Japs-with the diamonds and whatever. And here you know, I didn’t care for diamonds or anything like that because really European don’t. And uh, and as I grew up and I saw it is nice to be different, I’m not part of the herd, I’m different. And uh accept who you are. And I uh, I have and now, you know...I’m proud, of my roots, I’m proud of the fact that I was born in Egypt, proud that I speak French, that I speak four languages and all of that...is not often, you don’t see often.
Q-And how have you preserved your Sephardic traditions to your children, do you feel that you’ve transmitted any of these feelings to them/
J- That’s, that’s an uncomfortable question (laughs). My husband is very Ashkanzi and um...so he doesn’t eat that food. Um so my cooking has really not been Sephardic cooking but American cooking. But my children know who I am and what good food I make. I make the grape leaves, stuffed grape leaves, I make the tabbouleh and I make the hummus, kebea and all this wonderful cooking. But um to have preserved my Sephardic roots, it’s really only in my heart because Temple Betham certainly is not...But in Atlanta, my family were members of a Sephardic synagogue, temple Orsvit Shalom, were they were all Sephardi.
Q-What do you think your refugee experience has had on your life?
J-You know...It enriched my life. Because I have gone through so many, what do you call stumble, humble? What’s the word? I’m blocking. Hurdle. A lot of hurdles! (Laughs) Um, Egypt, suffering, leaving, refugees, exiles, France, this, that but you know what, I survived. Uh, it has enriched my life. And also, enriched my life with the knowledge with the tolerance that I can have but at the same time, it’s not all perfection. Because when you grow up hearing bombs, listening to people who want to kill you and seeing the city on fire you develop anxiety, you develop fear. And some of these things are inside me. You do not erase them. You do not erase them easily..mmhmm. So you know, everything is glamorous and perfect and beautiful but you know there’s been pain inside of my heart as well, losing certain members of the family because to me Egypt is my father, my mother, who are no longer here, my sister who died at the age of 40. My uncles, my aunts, so many I adore who are gone. To me, that’s Egypt and now maybe, subconsciously, my reconnection with the bridge player, with Egypt is getting closer to the people I loved who passed away. So I can tell you, I am grateful and um, what can I say...But I think I’m a happy person and I can laugh at things but I have cried plenty too.
Q-OK, well thank you so much for the interview, is there anything else you’d like to say or share, any message you would like anyone to have who might listen to this interview?
J-I am thinking, I think I told you everything that I need to say. Um...I, I would like to, to, I am very grateful to my husband Jeff, he helped me. I always say, “Jeff, you are the rock.” Only I came as a refugee, very vulnerable, crying and uh insecure and Jeff is a very solid man and uh patient, and we balance each other very well and we made beautiful children and we have terrific grand kids and um and this is what I want to add, that I’m lucky to have found the right person to marry and last week we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. So that’s my conclusion.
Q-Ok. Thank you Juliette.
J-You’re welcome Phyllis. My pleasure. Thank you.