Video: Escape from Egypt: YU Student a Witness to History


sion-setton-matzav-pic[Video below.] Sion Setton, a fourth-year rabbinical student at yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan (RIETS), had no idea that over the course his short vacation to Egypt tracing his family roots, he would witness the beginning of a historic revolution.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Setton may be a native New Yorker, but his roots are Egyptian.  “While Egypt’s history with Judaism has been long and often turbulent,” said Setton, “a lot of people might not realize the presence and the value Egypt had for the Jewish nations throughout history. There are many synagogues to see and a rich history to learn from.”

“I wanted to see where my parents grew up, the different synagogues they went to and the streets they walked down. I wanted to go and experience that myself,” said Setton.

Upon landing in Cairo, Setton immediately got hints of the anti-Mubarak sentiments that flourished in the air. “My taxi driver from the airport was telling us all about the amazing sites to see in Egypt but also pointed to Mubarak’s home and expressed, ‘We’re not so happy with him,'” said Setton.

Later that night at his hotel, Setton was informed of a holiday that would be held the following day to “honor the police,” as it was explained to him. He was further notified that there might be a few anti-Mubarak protestors and to “be careful.”

“We didn’t think it was such a big deal. When you’re from Manhattan, you think of a protest as peaceful picket signs,” he says. “We didn’t think it would become something so chaotic.”

Last Tuesday was Setton’s final evening in Cairo, and though he was advised not to go out because the protest might accelerate, he said, “It was my last evening in Cairo and I was not going to just stay in the hotel.” When he left the hotel that evening, all seemed fine: people were gathering and police were present, but everything seemed quiet. It was when they were returning to the hotel that things took a turn for the worse.

Setton recounts the tale of that terrifying taxi ride. “As we were going through Tahrir Square, we started to see hundreds of people walking around – some with masks and batons – and we noticed very few cars. Soon we noticed people crowding around our taxi.”

At this point, the police had used tear gas to contain the riots in the square and the crowds were seeking shelter wherever they could – including in Setton’s cab.

“I was in the front and I locked my door, but my friend in the back didn’t have his door locked and someone opened the door and was trying to get inside,” he recalls.”Suddenly the driver just put the pedal to the metal, almost hitting a few members of the crowd and drove as fast as he could away from the square.”

People died that night and dozens were injured while Setton and his friends safely got away.

“G-d bless this driver who saved us from that chaotic square,” Setton said.

Despite the terrific events of that night, the next morning Setton awoke unfazed and ready to continue to see the sights. “I thought it would be a one-day protest. I didn’t expect things to escalate.”

When he originally booked his return flight, Setton wanted to return Thursday but could only get a flight for Wednesday, which turned out to be the last day the airport allowed flights to leave.  Setton also had the opportunity to see the pyramids and the Cairo Museum, again on the very last day before they were closed to the public. Most important, Setton got out of Tahrir Square safely and without injury, and that he feels was truly Hashgacha protis.

Click below for a video of Sion discussing his experience:

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