Over the last two decades, there has been much renewed interest and research into Jewish communities in the Middle East, especially about Jewish life in Egypt during the 20th Century.
To that end, demographic mapping consultant, Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch, has conducted a study revealing an extensive list of Jewish surnames found in 20th Century Cairo. The list was compiled due to the scarcity of primary Jewish documents dealing with the day-to-day personal lives of Jews living in Middle Eastern countries. Researchers, in the past, have had difficulty studying personal narratives of Middle Eastern Jews during this era, due to a past research focus which has largely been structured around general communal trends or communal organizations themselves, rather than the lives of individual members.
Rosen-Koenigsbuch called the Jewish communities of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said “example(s) in place” with “no central depository or database which is accessible.” For instance, some of the communities’ documents which were able to be taken out of Egypt landed at Yeshiva University in New York City. However, they deal primarily with Jewish education and affairs. They do not tell the stories of the day-to-day lives of Jews who lived in the communities.
To facilitate research into the lives of Jews living in Egypt, Rosen-Koenigsbuch decided to compile a lengthy list of Jewish surnames from 20th Century Cairo.
The task was not an easy one. He faced several hurdles. Databases in Israel of Egyptian Jews do not list Egyptian Jews who possessed European passports. Half of Egypt’s Jews also immigrated to countries other than Israel.
Rosen-Koenigsbuch used as a main source for discovering Jewish surnames two weekly French newspapers published between 1918 and 1945, Israel and L’Aurore. These publications became invaluable in researching Jewish surnames, with one hurdle being that the same surnames were sometimes spelled multiple ways. The newspapers also listed Jewish children at communal schools and organizations, which was a big help but did not list Jewish children not enrolled in such institutions.
Another source that Rosen-Koenigsbuch used were the memoirs and novels by Jewish authors who grew up in Cairo. Here, he discovered places of birth, residences and dates fo death. He also made use of Egyptian business directories and telephone books, carefully scrutinizing each entry. Both sources were instrumental in compiling his list.
The list of surnames, available on the Avotaynu Online website, has 1,854 entries so far. Karaite surnames are labelled with a K.