A 21st Century Exodus: IDF Spokeswoman Was Raised in Egypt, Taught to Hate Jews
Dina Ovadia is 22, and like many Israelis her age is serving in the IDF, in her case in the Spokesperson’s Unit. Yet as little as 7 years ago she wouldn’t have envisioned this for herself. At that time Rolin Abdallah was her name — the name her family gave her as a security measure because she was a Jew living in Egypt.
In fact, according to a profile on the IDF’s official blog, Ovadia didn’t even know she was Jewish until a group of Salafists showed up on her family’s doorstep and told them to leave the country within the month because of an uncle that had fled to Israel and joined the IDF.
They “would encircle the house in their vehicles, shooting into the air. That month even the school didn’t call. I slept with my mother – I was terribly afraid,” she told the IDF blog of the intervening month.
While growing up in Alexandria Dana’s family did its best to shield her from the realities of being Jewish in the country. “I didn’t have a religious background in Christianity or in Islam. I never knew what I truly was. My parents didn’t keep the [Jewish] traditions and I always assumed that we were secular Christians,” she said.
“I studied in a Muslim school. I started to grow up and learn the Koran, and then I already started to ask myself: ‘why am I learning this?’ I reached a stage where I got really into it, studying for tests, memorizing passages. At school they asked me to start wearing a veil to my Koran lessons. I didn’t like the idea – as a girl it seemed ugly to me,” she smiles. The disagreement led to her parents enrolling Dina in a private Christian school, where she was more at ease. “It was really fun and I felt freer,” she says.
As a child Dinah knew little of Judaism or it adherents. “In school they always taught us to hate Jews and Israelis,” she says. “Let’s take Koran class for example. I would be sitting, taking a test, and would read a verse that said you need to kill Jews. I also remember during the Second Intifada all the TV programs I watched that always said that Israelis are bad. I cried over the story of Mohammed al-Dura. My grandfather did his best to explain to us that they’re not bad, that we have to understand that in war, that’s what happens…In school they taught us that Israel is the enemy. They would say when I grew up that I would understand. During the Intifada I was even at demonstration, waving the Palestinian flag. It never even occurred to me that I was Jewish.”
Dinah, it seems, has learned to live with the past, but more importantly she has embraced the present. “In truth, I don’t say that I’m from Egypt,” she says. “It’s behind me already…I have no desire to live in Egypt, and I don’t think I could forgive those people for what they did. But there’s something I’ve never told anyone before…I want to go back and visit, and to see my house. I want to go and [say]… I am a Jew – and I’m proud and happy. I want to go back to Egypt in uniform, to show them that we’re not murderers, that we’re not actually bad people. I’d like to go back to my school, and to the morning assembly we had at the beginning of every day. I want to explain to them that all we’re doing is defending our country.”