Joe Pessah was born in Egypt. His mother tongue is Arabic although his family also spoke French and English. In the 1940s he and his family were among the 80,000 Jews living in Egypt and thriving in their Jewish community. However, in the 1950s and 1960s life for the Egyptian Jews became increasingly difficult and harsh. A law was enacted declaring that Zionism was a crime; however, the term Zionism was never defined in this decree which allowed police to interpret it as they saw fit and so Jews were often arrested on the basis of being “Zionists.”
In 1967 when the Arab states lost the Six-Day War against Israel, many Arab states took their rage out on the local Jews in their countries. The Egyptian government arrested all the Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 55, totaling approximately 600 people in all. Joe was one of the men who was arrested simply for being Jewish. He did not see his family or fiancé for six months and after those six months his fiancé was only allowed to visit him for five minutes once a month. One day, Joe’s fiancé brought a rabbi with her to the prison he was incarcerated in and the couple were married but they were not allowed to hold each other’s hands.
For three years Joe stayed in the prison where he was beaten and tortured and finally in 1970 he and the other prisoners were released due to pressure from outside organizations. After they were released the Egyptian government revoked their citizenship and deported them. Joe left Egypt for Paris where he reunited with his wife.
Joe then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he is now a marketing applications manager for a tech company. He also serves as “acting Rav” for the largest Karite Jewish Community in North America at Congregation B’nai Israel in Daly City, California.