Nessim Hamaoui

نسيم حاموي - Nessim Hamaoui

Nessim Hamaoui knew there was no future for him in Egypt. He wanted to go to the university in Cairo. His teacher had told him that he should change his name from David to Daoud to make sure he would be admitted as David was too Jewish of a name. That was enough for David to make a decision. So, in 1962, as a young man David decided to leave.

Before 1948 Jews in Egypt were very prosperous. Jews owned most of the big department stores, financial institutions and big businesses.

“I was sleeping and I heard a banging on the door,” he says. It was 1948 and he was six years old. The Egyptian secret police [el mokhabarat] had come to search his family’s Cairo home. “There were half a dozen of them. We were all scared and my father was even more. I remember his face as white as the wall behind him.”

In the previous days the house had been filled with celebration over the engagement of David’s sister, Rosette. A neighbor had told the secret police that David’s family was holding Zionist meetings and the police came in the night to search for evidence and weapons.

They tore the house apart, David says. They ripped the mattresses in two and pulled out the contents of drawers while the family huddled on the couch.

The same morning David’s father had a heart attack. David thinks the stress of the search brought the attack on. “My father was a very strong man.” For the next four years David’s father the patron of a textile-manufacturing firm and real estate developer,battled with his unhealthy heart and passed away at age 48.

“I also remember as a Jew in Cairo during the revolution in July of 1952 Cairo was covered in smoke,” David says. It was in the days after King Farouk had been deported to Italy and Nasser had taken control. “My father had passed away a few months before the revolution and we were alone with my mother. We didn’t know what our fate would be with Nasser. We knew that he was anti-Israel and anti-Jews. So we were sacred.”

In 1956, when the Suez Canal war broke out, David and his family hid in the countryside outside of Cairo. He remembers the roaring of the planes and the crackle of the antiaircraft guns. He remembers he hid under the bed. He helped to paint the light bulbs blueso that the planes wouldn’t see the house from overhead. During the same period Nasser started deporting Jews and nationalized all their belonging. David’s sister and brother- in-law were forced to leave. They got on the first plane out of Egypt with 20 Egyptian pounds; their bank accounts closed; there home abandoned.

David’s family was spared. “My mother was a widow with small children. They didn’t think we were a threat.”

In 1962, when David left, he was confused. “I didn’t know what I was thinking.” He first went to France where HIAS (a Jewish agency, the Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society) received him. “They were sent from god,” he says.

But he didn’t want to stay in France. “I was stopped by the French police while waiting for a bus and was asked for my identification. At the time they were looking for Algerians. I didn’t like it and decided not to stay in France and go to the United States”

So, again through HIAS, he made it to Syracuse, New York, where he saw snow for the first time, and met his wife Mireille whom he married in 1966. Years later, after finishing school at Syracuse with two kids, his boss sent him on a trip for a week vacation to SanFrancisco. “I never went back to Syracuse”

David is very thankful for all the opportunities that were given to him by first the HIAS,the Jewish Family Service in Syracuse and of course the United States of America. He warns the younger generations of not taking our freedom in this country for granted. Ifwe do, we will lose its value. This is the most precious thing that the United States gives us. And we should appreciate it and be thankful.

After they had made California their home, he worked for years with his brother in theelectronic business that his brothers founded, manufacturing test equipments. When they sold the company in 1986 David opened his first real estate office in Mountain View anda few years later another one in Sunnyvale plus a mortgage company.

David has four children two boys, Ness and Bert whom graduated from Cal Poly SanLuis Obispo and lives in Los Angeles his daughter Jeannine graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and also reside in Los Angeles and the youngest Jeremy goes to University ofArizona. David and his wife now grandparents still reside in Foster City.