The Uneasy Life of a Jew in Egypt

After Andrew Pochter's Killing, an American in Cairo Reflects

An American Jew in Cairo: Living as a Jew in Egypt’s capital comes with its challenges but also moments of incredible bonding with others.
Getty Images
An American Jew in Cairo: Living as a Jew in Egypt’s capital comes with its challenges but also moments of incredible bonding with others.

By Anonymous

Published June 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

“The problem is that those people just don’t think,” Egyptian friends, themselves well educated, respond when I tell them these kinds of stories. “Not all Egyptians are like that.”

I know. But I’m still left confused.

Other times I simply do not want the burden of being the token Jew. I do not want to worry whether every move I make will be weighed against generations of stereotypes about the mythical religion and people that in that moment I manifest. It’s the more selfish approach, I know, and perhaps unfair of me to presume. But Cairo’s paranoia is a powerful force.

Then there are the times I prefer to retell the countless encounters with Egyptian friends or professional contacts that keep me staying here. Most friends knew me as just an American before my religion came up in conversation. And I don’t think much has changed since. If anything, I feel closer now to those with whom I can freely share the traditions, stories, and ideas from my upbringing that were such a formidable part in shaping how I see the world today. I like, too, to hear their reactions about how they perceive these parts of the life I lived.

The other day another American and I met a new Egyptian friend for dinner in Imbaba, a poorer area of Cairo where she lives. We ate at one of Cairo’s most famous meat restaurants — and I dined on my vegetarian favorites of babaganouj and garlic pickled eggplant. She was, like most Egyptians, appalled. “What?” she demanded. “Why are you vegetarian?” I provided my usual response, “In America I do not agree with how we produce our meat for environmental and ethical reasons.” I elaborated a bit. And then I added the part I do not always share. “And I grew up with certain food restrictions because of my religion. In my family, we only eat certain meat. It’s called kosher, like Muslims and Halal.”

In yet another only-in-Egypt moment, she was enthralled to learn I was Jewish. “I’ve never actually met a Jew before!” she exclaimed, clasping my hand. I smiled and told her that Egyptians often questionably say when the subject of Jews comes up, “Well I know lots of Jews…” We then launched into one of my favorite kinds of conversations — and discussed different food practices amongst various religions.

After dinner we went back to her family apartment on a quiet side street removed from the Imbaba crowds. They never used to lock the building door, she told me, until after the revolution. We drank juice with her mother and sister, and then watched some of President Morsi’s speech together. They are religious people and openly expressed their criticism. “He mixes religion and politics in a bad way,” her mother lamented, waving her hand in disgust at the small television set.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.