Jews celebrate the Exodus from Egypt every Passover. Jean Naggar, whose Jewish family’s Egyptian roots go back hundreds of years, experienced her own personal forced exodus.
Sipping from the Nile is a beautifully written, painstakingly documented, and fascinating account of a family’s life, history, and eventual exile. Naggar lovingly recreates a culture and time that no longer exist.
The Mosseri banking family lives a privileged and cultured life on the banks of the Nile. Their imposing mansion and grounds, and their own synagogue, are attended to by a cadre of servants. Their wealth brings them excellent educations, contacts, and prestige. They are an integral part of Egyptian society and move freely in aristocratic and diplomatic circles.
Naggar chronicles the refined lives of her large extended family with great detail and loving memories. Her parents provide the cloistered and shy Jean with a genteel, safe, and gallant world. She recounts the traditions, customs, holidays, and foods of her childhood and describes her early and growing interest in writing, literature, and music. Her memories are most interesting as she discloses her dreams, hopes, fears, and her search for her own identity. We get a peek into old-style European grand tours as she describes how the Mosseris travelled extensively and expensively, experiencing renowned hotels and restaurants, private dressmakers, and the finest stores.
The multitude of photographs throughout the book add depth, understanding, and familiarity to the people and places that gave meaning to Naggar’s life.
The uncertainty and deadly fears experienced during 1956, the year of the Suez Canal crisis, are vividly presented. It is the year everything changes in Jean’s life. It is the year most of the Jewish population leaves or is forced to leave Egypt. Naggar powerfully conveys the upheaval, terror, and dread of the unknown as her family struggles for visas and assistance to escape their homeland.
Sipping from the Nile presents a positive model of rebirth and survival. Naggar marries, moves to New York, launches a successful literary agency, and has a family. She even revisits her native Egypt, where she finds the landscape forever changed. Genealogical Trees, historical timeline, photographs, readers’ guide.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.