Shirley Chitayat is the grandaughter of Moshe Bassiouni, one of the earliest Jews to settle in Sudan. Her uncle was the famous Dr Bassiouni, but she is also a Doctor herself. Shirley practiced in Israel, having studied medicine at the University in Khartoum.
So we start with the family history? Ok. It will be good to say that my grandfather Moshe, they called him Mousa, was the first who built the community in Sudan. Originally they were Spanish, and then from Spain they went to Turkey, and then from Turkey they came to Israel, at that time it was Palestine, they came to Hebron. From there they went to Sudan, that was in 1842. After that there was the Mahdi and so on. There were very few Jews then, about three families all together. They were compelled to be Muslims, my grandfather remained Jewish, but he didn't do it openly. He used to go to his house and to pray and to put on his tefillin and everything, but outside they thought he was Muslim. They gave him the name - his name was Moshe Ben Zion Koshti - so they gave him the name 'Bassiouni'. I don't remember him because he died in 1917, a very long time ago!
My grandparents were well-known; my grandfather was the president of the Jewish community until he died in 1917. He also errected the first synagogue in Sudan a few years before he died in Omdurman. He made a cemetery too for the Jews in Omdurman and he and my grandmother are buried there. My grandfather also sent for a Rabbi from Egypt to convert my grandmother to Judaism before she gave birth to the children, and this Rabbi also circumcised his first son. He had four children and my mother is the second one.
My grandmother was very...she didn't study at all...but she was very wise. She lived with us at home - with my mother and father, and she died around the age of seventy. She wasn't born Jewish, she was a Copt, but the Mahdi forced everybody to marry again when he made them all convert. My grandfather already had a wife from Turkey, her name was Bechora and she was Jewish, but he had to marry my grandmother. The other wife was living at the same house but she died a few years after and she was also buried there in Sudan.
When my grandmother was converted to Judaism, she was very strict and she passed everything on to us. My mother was also, but you know…sometimes it goes (laughs). We did all of the feasts, more than in Israel! So Rosh Hashanah for example. First of all, they used to buy us new new clothes, and then we went to the synagogue, and after that we went to visit all the other people in the community. Kippur we were in the synagogue all day and we slept in my uncle’s house in Khartoum, because we were living in Omdurman. In Purim we have to give the mishloach manot to each other. Pesach - Pesach was very…for me it was very interesting and important. We used to keep everything, and properly, because of my other grandfather. He studied with the Rabbinate and he used to bury his knife for the shechita. Yes, we used to keep all the feasts and everything kosher.
My father was Cesar Levy, he came from Egypt to Sudan and he married my mother. He was a shipment merchant for materials, fabrics. We used to get from France, from Switzerland, and sell them wholesale - he was a wholesaler. When he retired we went to Khartoum from Omdurman. Truly, he was the best father I ever heard of (laughs). He was so, so good to us and to all the family; his family, my mother's family…he liked to help everybody! He used to take me every morning to the university because I was studying to be a Doctor, and before we went he used to make sandwiches for us to take to school. He used to make them himself!
Together my parents got on very well - but my mother, because she was born in the Sudan, she had stricter ideas. As a teacher she had her ways, but she was very good with us, very good. She helped everybody, everybody liked her so much. People came to her for advice, if there were some problems or something, then they all come to her for advice. They were liberal my parents, but not so liberal like the Israeli’s, they still had the old fashioned ways. We came to Israel in 1966, and slowly, slowly they saw that they had to…to compete with Israel! I remember my sister, (you know she was almost married!) and she was still going to the neighbour to smoke, because in Sudan you couldn't smoke in front of your father, it was disrespectful. I remember one day he came to her and he told her,
‘Listen, if you want to smoke, you can smoke!’
(laughing) So, you know…that’s it!