Without Return

Memoirs of an Egyptian Jew


Jacques Sardas

An inspiring story of finding hope in frightening times, of exodus and determination, and of timeless questions shared among generations

The Seeds of the Story

Without Return has its origin in the weekly brunches Jacques Sardas used to have in Dallas with his teenage grandson Jake. Like many people his age, Jake was wrestling with questions about religion, politics, worldwide conflicts, and the meaning of life. Jacques assured him that he had similar questions when he was young; he described his difficult childhood, his hesitations, and his doubts. But still, Jacques said, he was able to find beauty and meaning in life. To Jacques’s amazement, his grandson not only listened but also wanted to hear more—and more. At Jake’s urging—and that of the rest of his family—Jacques set down his story in writing, leaving not only a record of a unique moment in time but also an engrossing tale of survival and triumph.

An undated photo of a streetcar in Alexandria, Egypt.

Born an Egyptian Jew

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Jacques and his family were members of the close-knit Sephardic Jewish communities there and in Cairo during the middle decades of the twentieth century. His parents—whose roots stretch back to Izmir, Turkey, and the Greek island of Crete—followed Jewish traditions but also incorporated aspects of Middle Eastern culture into their daily lives. Like many of their neighbors, Jacques’s family was conversant in several languages, including French, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Ladino.

Although family ties were strong, the Sardases were very poor—at times desperately so. As an Egyptian Jew, Jacques refused to accept that he was destined to live in the economic caste of his birth. His determination to break the mold became a driving force throughout his life, as did the inner strength that came from his mother’s belief in him. Still, as a young man, Jacques struggled, often bitter and angry over his lot in life.

The Sardas siblings in 1936: from left, Léon, Denise, Jacques, and Saby.

The Second Exodus

In the early 1950s, the nationalistic fervor that swept Egypt in the wake of the Suez Crisis forced many Jews to flee, a period often referred to as the second Exodus from Egypt. During those years Jacques confronted the reality that he was a man without a country, an apatride. Facing uncertainty but determined to secure a comfortable future, the man who would become president of the worldwide tires division of Goodyear set off for a faraway continent, knowing that his passport had been inscribed with the words Moughadra nihaëya bedoun awda—“Departure definitive, without return.” His forced emigration would take him through Brazil, France, and finally to America.

Jacques’s passport, showing the visa with the fateful words in Arabic: “without return.”

Without Return provides an essential addition to the mosaic of experiences surrounding the exile of Jews from Egypt following the Suez Crisis. A family story of challenge and redemption, it is also a profoundly human story that illuminates the valiance and resilience of the human spirit.”

—Jean Naggar, author of Sipping from the Nile


Without Return will speak to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. It testifies eloquently to the common humanity that unites us and offers an evocative journey into a world where people of all races, faiths, and nationalities—Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Italians, and French, among others—once lived together in peaceful coexistence.

Above all, Without Return is a compelling and inspirational personal history that encourages readers of all ages and backgrounds to discover their own family stories and demonstrates that each generation can draw strength from those who came before them.

Without Return will be published on the seventh anniversary of Jacques’s bar mitzvah, a moving event that took place in his eightieth year, when his grandson David encouraged Jacques to become a bar mitzvah alongside him.

The author is donating his proceeds from the sale of this book to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas

Published by Thebes Press
Dallas, Texas
978-0-9980849-0-9 (paperback)
978-0-9980849-1-6 (e-book)

Cover design by Patrice Sheridan
Cover photograph: The passenger ship Achilleus in port; Interfoto/Alamy Stock Photo