Young Jews Trying To Help Egypt Face Obstacles — Abroad and at Home

Amid Idealism, Uneasy Questions From Parents, Community

Building Bridges: Monica Kamen says Egyptians were eager to learn about her faith. Jewish friends back home were less understanding about why she went to a Muslim country in the first place.
courtesy of kamen family
Building Bridges: Monica Kamen says Egyptians were eager to learn about her faith. Jewish friends back home were less understanding about why she went to a Muslim country in the first place.

By Anne Cohen

Published July 05, 2013, issue of July 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The circumstances of Andrew Driscoll Pochter’s death were just emerging when the questions began: What was a Jewish boy doing in Egypt? How could he have been naive enough to get involved in a protest? Why wasn’t he in Israel instead?

Pochter, raised in a Jewish home in Chevy Chase, Md., active in Hillel at Kenyon College and proud of his identity, was stabbed to death June 28 at a violent protest in Alexandria, Egypt. As the first American victim of the uprising against Mohammed Morsi’s government, Pochter became an instant symbol of the many students who choose to live and work in the Middle East to improve their Arabic skills and further their understanding of the region.

But there is an inherent dilemma faced by Jewish students fascinated by the Middle East and its culture and language: they must grapple with their Jewish identity, often keeping it hidden once they arrive in their host countries. For their parents, the desire to see their children take the lead in understanding the countries in Israel’s neighborhood clashes with the ultimate realization that they aren’t completely comfortable with it.

Interviews with several Jewish families reveal that, for both generations, Pochter’s sudden and brutal death hit a little too close to home.

Monica Kamen grew up in a Conservative Jewish family, attended Jewish day school near Philadelphia and spent a semester in Israel during high school. It was there that she first became fascinated with the Middle East. In 2009 she spent a summer in Egypt; she returned for the academic year in September 2010. When the uprising began, on January 24, 2011, she found herself smack in the middle of revolutionary protests in Alexandria.

Her father, initially supportive of her decision to study in Egypt, was frantic. “What would happen to this American Jewish girl if she was arrested?” Barnett Kamen remembered thinking. “There would be no recourse if she just sat in jail.”

“It’s important for everybody to know that they don’t have any rights over there,” the elder Kamen said, adding that organizations who offer these opportunities need to take stricter measures to make sure that participants are prepared before leaving, and that contingency plans are in place in case of emergencies. “I have no problem with Jews going to Arab countries on programs, I just want to make sure that the programs know what they’re doing,” he noted.


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!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • 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.