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

(page 4 of 4)

The man’s reaction stunned him.

“Oh, that’s so interesting, I’ve never met a Jew before,” he recalled him saying. “When can you come for dinner?”

Jews who have recently returned from Egypt tell of similar experiences. Though Monica Kamen remembers struggling through textbooks full of passing references to Jewish world dominance and Western puppets, she remains overwhelmingly positive about her stay in the country.

“This [was] one of the best and most formative experiences of my life,” she said. “It was amazing to have those relationships with Egyptians.”

Far from shunning her, her friends were curious to find out more about Judaism. One of her friends, an Egyptian Muslim, fasted with her on Yom Kippur out of solidarity. When Kamen hosted a Seder on the second night of Passover, two of her professors came with their families.

For Kamen, the biggest challenge was not so much the outward perception of her as a Jew, but rather the way her experience in the Arab world sparked an inner dilemma about her identity as a Jew, and about her perception of Israel. “I grew up learning one narrative about Israel my whole life, and it was really, really challenged,” she explained.

Friends and family who found out she was pursuing Arabic studies often did not understand. “I definitely got a lot of flak for studying Arabic in the first place, and for going over there,” Kamen said. “A lot of my Jewish peers were like, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

But her father sees things differently. “Monica, to me, was an ambassador for the Jewish people in Egypt. I think it’s important for Arabs to meet Jews and get to know them on a personal level,” Barnett Kamen said.

The mother of the graduate student currently in Cairo summed up what seems to be the general feeling for parents: both fiercely proud of their children and increasingly worried.

“I wish it weren’t my son,” she said. “But I do think [that] these are the people that are going to be able to have an understanding of the culture, and [the ones] able to forge peace in the future.”

Contact Anne Cohen at cohen@forward.com


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!
  • 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.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • 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.