Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Forgotten Siren: From Cairo Diva to Israeli Single Mother

April 30, 2014

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

A young Souad Zaki in the recording studio in Cairo. (Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

A young Souad Zaki in the recording studio in Cairo. (Courtesy of Moshe Zaki)

TEL AVIV — Most people have heard of Egyptian sultry siren Umm Khultum, the greatest female Arabic singer in history who dominated Middle Eastern stages and airwaves from the 1930s to the 1970s and still enjoys widespread acclaim. However, though she too was a prominent singer of popular classical Egyptian music leading up to the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the same cannot be said of Souad Zaki.

Had political realities been different, Zaki may have become an international singing sensation like Umm Khultum, who picked Zaki to co-star in the hit 1945 film “Salamah.” But as nationalism and anti-Semitism took hold in Egypt, Zaki, a proud Jew and Zionist, left her birthplace and privileged status behind for the life of a struggling immigrant in the young Jewish State.

Thus, just as Zaki’s star was rising in Egypt, she became a cleaning lady at a bank in Tel Aviv.

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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Facebook Meets Medieval Genizah

September 17, 2013

This piece was first published as “Facebook meets medieval Genizah in intriguing new novel” in The Times of Israel.

'A Guide for the Perplexed' author Dara Horn's fascination with memory and history began in her childhood. (photo credit: Brendan Schulman)

‘A Guide for the Perplexed’ author Dara Horn’s fascination with memory and history began in her childhood. (photo credit: Brendan Schulman)

When author Dara Horn was growing up, she fantasized about being able to record everything that ever happened to her. She always kept journals and diaries, and she wrote everything down.

 She still keeps journals — mainly ideas and observations to fuel her fiction — but now the idea of trying to remember and record absolutely everything is far less appealing. This no doubt has something to do with her busy days as a 36-year-old working mother of four children under the age of nine. But Horn believes it has even more to do with the era in which we are living.

“Technology has turned my childhood dream into a nightmare!” Horn exclaims in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel from her home in Short Hills, New Jersey. She’s paid close attention to how social media, which was originally about sharing, has become much more about recording the minutia of our lives.

“Technology has changed the capacity of how we remember, it’s turning personal memory into public history.”

This was the observation that launched Horn into her new and fourth novel, “A Guide for the Perplexed.” Published earlier this month, it is intriguing readers with its four different narrative strands spanning millennia of Jewish time and space, which Horn deftly weaves together while asking two key questions: “How does memory differ from history?” and “How can we have free will, if all is predetermined?”

The contemporary strand places the novel in the near future, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where brilliant software developer and Internet entrepreneur Josie Ashkenazi has invented a social media platform called Genizah that not only allows users to upload any and all information (photos, videos, text, medical records — you name it) into a virtual storage space, but also automatically records everything users do and catalogs the uploaded information according to users’ instincts and routines.

Josie is married to Itamar Mizrachi, an Israeli man who helps run her company, and together they have a young daughter named Tali. Also in the family picture is Josie’s older sister Judith, who works at Josie’s company and has always been envious of her brilliant and beautiful sibling. When, at Judith’s urging, Josie takes a short-term consulting gig in post-Arab Spring Egypt (she is brought in to help with the digitizing of the archive at the Library of Alexandria) and disappears after being kidnapped, Judith insinuates herself into Itamar and Tali’s lives.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Locusts Go Biblical — But Are They Kosher?

March 8, 2013

This piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.


If it were a movie, Israel’s real-life nightmare would be a cross between “The Birds” and “The Ten Commandments.”

Just in time for Passover, the Holy Land has been plagued by millions of locusts swarming in from across the Egyptian border.

Hysterical news reports warned Israelis in the southern part of the country to stay inside and close all doors and windows to protect against the Biblical calamity, said to be the worst to descend upon the Holy Land in decades.

But at the same time, some were searching out the pests in hopes of hauling in a tasty — and arguably kosher! — treat.

The skies across southern Israel were blackened this week by the flying insects. Some fields were damaged before the Agriculture Ministry was able to send out crop-dusters to battle the tiny beasts. Fortunately, the pesticide application to 1,865 acres that began early Wednesday morning and extended throughout the day managed to prevent the locusts from doing more damage and moving on to the country’s central regions. Also, a cold front is expected to come in and knock out any remaining swarms.

“It’s like an insect cemetery down here,” Omri Eytana, a farmer from Moshav Kmehin the Nitzana area, told Army Radio as he inspected his fields after the crop-dusting was over. He reported that his tomato plants, which were protected by nets were in good shape, but that there was extensive damage to potato crops.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.