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I attended a program at the Jewish Storytelling Center in New York City in November 1998. The program was about Jews who were thrown out of Egypt once the state of Israel had been created. After the program, I was speaking with some other members of the audience, and Rachel told her story. I think of this story as just one of millions of stories of refuge families forced to leave their homes.
"When I think about leaving Egypt, I always remember two dolls: Sarah and Suzette.
I was 7 when we had to leave Egypt. Our ancestors had lived in Egypt for hundreds and hundreds of years. But once Israel was created, we had to leave Egypt.
You see, all the Jews in Egypt, including my father, lost their work permits.
My parents decided to go to France, where my aunt lived.
We could only take what you would take on a vacation: a few suitcases per person and just enough money for a few weeks. So my parents decided to buy the best clothes we’ve ever had. I got several party dresses, all silk and velvet and lace. Mama got fancy dresses too, and an alligator pocketbook and matching shoes. She even had a full-length fur coat! Of course, we were going to sell everything once we got to France, but it was nice having those clothes, even just for the boat trip.
I remember waiting in line to get onto the ship. I was wearing one of my new dresses and I was holding my doll Sarah, the only doll my parents let me take.
Sarah was a baby doll, about the size of a real baby, with a china head and hands, and a cloth body. Sarah was wearing her best dress, a long white dress with lace and eyelet.
"Mama, why is this taking so long?"
"The soldiers are searching everyone’s suitcases, Rachel."
"Why are they doing that, Mama?"
"They’re looking for money people are trying to smuggle out of Egypt, Rachel."
"Oh," I mumbled, and I hugged Sarah closer and snuggled into my mother's fur coat.
Then it was our turn. My parents put our suitcases on the tables, and the soldiers rummaged around through all our new clothes.
"Pocketbook!", ordered one of the soldiers. Mama handed over her new pocketbook and the soldier rummaged around in it.
"Hmm, no extra money, that’s strange. Ah!", he said looking at me and then he reached over the table and grabbed Sarah out of my arms. He threw Sarah down on the table so hard that her head cracked open. Then he cut open her body with a knife and pulled all the stuffing out.
"No money here either. Go on." And he threw Sarah in a garbage can.
Mama grabbed her pocketbook and then picked me up, saying "Shush, Rachel, shush, It's time to get on the ship, Rachel." So my last memories of Egypt were of me sobbing into Mama's arms and looking back at that garbage can, trying to get one last glimpse of Sarah.
When we got to France and were in my aunt's apartment, Mama said to me, "Rachel, let's go into the bedroom and look for some money to buy a new doll."
"Look for money? What do you mean?"
So we went into the bedroom and Mama dumped everything out of her alligator pocketbook on to the bed. Then she took her sharp sewing scissors and started snipping at the stitches holding the lining of the pocketbook to the alligator leather.
"Mama! You're ruining the pocketbook! And we've got to sell it tomorrow!"
"No, Rachel, I'm not ruining it. In fact, I've done this before."
So I watched her snip until the hole in the seam was about 4" long. Then she put her hand in the hole and pulled out pile after pile of money. Waving one pile, Mama said, "We'll use some of this money to buy you a French doll, Rachel."
So that's how we bought Suzette.
So, when I think about leaving Egypt, I always remember those two dolls: Sarah
and Suzette. And I also remember the only alligator pocketbook my mother ever owned."