David and Doris Schey in Egypt
David and Doris Schey in Egypt

The tour was led by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and an Egyptian Coptic Christian man with a deep knowledge of Egyptian history, including the ability to read hieroglyphics.

…“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert …
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. …”
From Ozymanidas by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

David Schey was amazed rather than in despair. He and his wife, Doris, were in Luxor during a trip billed as “the first ever kosher tour of Egypt through the eyes of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible)” — and he was looking at two enormous trunkless legs of stone that made him immediately recall Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ode written more than two centuries earlier.

He was even more amazed when their tour guide told them that Ozymandias was the Greek name of Ramesses II, the Egyptian pharaoh at the time of the Exodus — the one who enslaved the Israelites and tried to prevent them from leaving. For Schey, it was a highlight of a recent 10-day trip to Egypt.

Inveterate travelers who need kosher food and Shabbat-friendly itineraries, the Scheys, of Huntington Woods, had taken several tours and river cruises with Kesher Tours, which works with an Israeli company, Shai Bar-Ilan Geographical Tours.

The Scheys booked the trip many months ago but weren’t sure until Jan. 17, the day they left, that it would actually happen.

While the tour was conducted in English, only three couples among the 33 travelers hailed from the United States. The rest, though originally from the U.S., Canada or the U.K., lived in Israel.

The tour was led by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and an Egyptian Coptic Christian man with a deep knowledge of Egyptian history, including the ability to read hieroglyphics.

The group visited Aswan, Cairo and Luxor; and in each area, they saw sites related to Jewish history.

Near Aswan, they visited Elephantine, an island fortress in the Nile River and the site of the oldest known Jewish diaspora community. 

In Cairo, they saw the synagogue where Moses Ben Maimon, the Rambam, worshipped, as well as his home and medical clinic. They saw the Ben Ezra Synagogue, where the Cairo Geniza was found by two Scottish women in 1896; the documents buried in the geniza dated back to the 11th century and provided great insight into Jewish life in the area.

The group planned to hold Shabbat services at the Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue, the only one still functioning in Egypt, but for security reasons they prayed at their hotel instead.

In the Cairo Museum, they saw a stele, an upright, engraved stone slab, dated to pre-Exodus times, that mentions the Israelites. Their guide pointed out the location of the Biblical Land of Goshen. 

In Luxor, a hieroglyphic inscription named sites conquered by Ramesses II, including some, like Bet Shean, in Israel. At a temple in Luxor, they saw more inscriptions that related to the Exodus.

The Scheys also enjoyed the non-Jewish sights on the tour, including several pyramids and temples. David was particularly impressed by a painted statue of Ramesses II that he described as “the most beautiful statue I’ve ever seen. It was very realistic; the skin tones were so lifelike!”

While in Cairo, the group met with Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Amira Oron, whose parents came from Egypt. She told them that the relationship between the two countries is better than it has been in years, and that Egypt is interested in Israel’s high-tech achievements, especially in water conservation.

Another highlight of the trip was a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, the fertile area fed by the Nile. 

Though theirs may have been the first kosher tour to Egypt, it was obvious that Israelis were no strangers to the locals. Wherever they went, David said, vendors would shout, “Shalom, shalom! We love Jews. We love Israel!”

What’s next for David, 81, a retired social worker, and Doris, 77, a retired teacher?  They had signed up for a cruise to Scotland, Norway and Iceland, originally scheduled for last July. It has been rescheduled for August. They had also planned a river cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2020 that was canceled. They’re hoping it might happen this December.  

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