Ukrainian Jewish Women Undertake Urgent Activism

Last Wednesday, a Jewish retiree was killed in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk when shells fired by pro-Russian insurgents hit her home.

Over 300,000 Jews live in Ukraine. To see how they are responding since my previous contact with them in November, I contacted Project Kesher, an organization active in helping women in the region restore their Jewish identity that also provides training in leadership and social activism towards building a civil society. (Full disclosure: This is an organization that I support and have taught for overseas and in the U.S.) Their executive director Karyn Gershon responded:

I just returned from Israel, where I saw several Project Kesher leaders from eastern Ukraine who have made aliyah [immigrated to Israel]. I was really moved to know that they left the support of the Project Kesher network in Ukraine and arrived immediately into the arms of the Project Kesher network in Israel. Those who live in the rest of Ukraine are worried about family and friends throughout the country who have been harmed by the war. But, they have not expressed any interest in leaving. They remain perpetually optimistic, but realistic, about the will of Europe and the U.S. to stabilize their country and work for a peaceful resolution.

Activist Torah Study Leads to Response-Ability

Project Kesher organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

Project Kesher organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

At a Project Kesher briefing for supporters in late November, we learned about their “activist Torah study” approach, which has inspired Eastern European Jewish women to make caring visits to displaced Ukrainian refugees, as well as to hold tolerance-building meetings between Russian and Ukrainians. When Torah is this fulfilling, the yearning to hold and have a kosher Torah scroll within your community becomes a value. Project Kesher also organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

Irina Skaliankina is a resident of Tula, Russia who heads Project Kesher’s Beit Binah “Text to Activism” program of Jewish learning and living. “Everything we do is because of Torah,” she said. “Torah inspires our lives and supports us through painful times.”

IrinaVlada

Irina Skaliankina (left) and Vlada Bystrova Nedak.

Skaliankina was holding reconditioned Torah, an extra one that had been sitting unused in the ark, gifted from an American congregation to a town in her region. She hugged the Torah in her arms with passion born of experiencing the love that comes from such learning.

Vlada Bystrova Nedak is a Project Kesher activist and resident of Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, a city of 80,000 where she estimates 12,000 Jewish reside, with about half active in the Jewish communnity. She stood to Skaliankina’s left, also holding a Torah similarly destined, when described how Irina’s ability to use stories from Torah and other Jewish sacred sources to help her spirits when challenging times get her down.

Ignoring “Us” and “Them”

Skliankina demonstrated the current Text to Activism model during a break out session. First she brought everyone’s fullness of spirit into the room in a manner rich in grace and enthusiasm, asking us, “What does shalom mean to you?”

Our answers included “Hello, goodbye and peace” and went beyond to include “wholeness”, “equanimity,” “a worldwide condition of safe, respectful, inclusive living for all” and more. Only then, did she turn to the text (translated here):

Our sages taught that the creation of the first human as a solitary being was to show the greatness of God. For when a human prints many coins from one mold, they are all alike, but the Holy One, blessed Be, imprints humans so that not one resembles the other.

— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a

Skliankina asked, “What do you take from this?” Her simple invitation to share from our hearts led to ripples of growing, shared understanding.

We understood the passage to mean each human is intentionally created a unique individual. This requires us to respect and care for each other regardless of “we” or “them”; to appreciate that no one human is inherently more loved by “God” from birth than any other. We understood that wherever in the spectrum of gender, race or health, we are each given our unique divine imprint.

This imprint, it was suggested, might feel less like a printing press and more like the imprint of a divine kiss of life, just as midrash, Jewish commentary, describes the death of Moses as God taking his soul away with a kiss. Or that God could be understood as our source code, which is shared by all of us, leading to our experience of the unity of all being; and unique to all of us, giving life meaning as we work for a kind, inclusive world. Irina’s text study reinforced our activism for the good of all. Afterward, there was vocal resistance to the idea of “all.”

The program for the day continued with a trip to the Ukrainian Museum in Manhattan. On the buses, some questioned why: “Didn’t they hate us and kill us? Don’t they still? Why give any credibility or attention to that culture?”

The Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls taught that resistance is where the greatest potential for growth exists. The Ukrainian Museum was its own answer. At every turn, the ways in which Jewish and Ukrainian cultural traditions are interwoven were made manifest: the braided bread for greeting guests, the sacred embroidery on garments carrying meaning for leaving, the fabric with symbols that was hung beside doorways much as a mezuzah is, the matchmaker traditions, and more.

The respectful docent, who had advanced education, patiently and brilliantly took us through the exhibition. She was born in the Carpathian Mountains, and felt like a full landswoman. So much is possible when fears are relaxed and communication and understanding commence. Project Kesher had worked its magic again.

More Than 3,000 Teens From Five Jewish Movements to Conference

The Coalition of Jewish Teens, brings together Jewish teens from all different youth movements, including BBYO, NCSY, NFTY, USY and Young Judaea.

The Coalition of Jewish Teens, brings together Jewish teens from all different youth movements, including BBYO, NCSY, NFTY, USY and Young Judaea.

BBYO, the leading pluralistic Jewish youth movement, and NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement are collaborating to maximize their efforts to engage Jewish teens. Both organizations offer significant channels for teens to have Jewish experiences that can have a lasting and profound impact on their engagement in Jewish life.

“When NFTY teens met BBYO teens for a gathering in Boston in 2011 and discovered that together NFTY and BBYO teens comprise only 15% of Jewish teens in North America, they realized they had to join forces to engage more teens in Jewish life,” said Miriam Chilton, Union for Reform Judaism Vice President of Youth Engagement. “In 2014, 25 NFTY teens and Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs attended BBYO’s International Convention and they decided to meet again this February in Atlanta, where both organizations have conventions during the same week.” [Read more…]

An Original Environmental Tu B’Shvat Ritual

— by Kayla Niles and Rabbi Goldie Milgram

The Jewish festival of the trees, our “earth day” — Tu B’Shvat, begins this Tuesday evening. This article will provide you with a contemporary family ritual for the holiday.

This year happens to be a shmitah year, the year of rest for our agricultural land ending a traditional seven-year cycle explained below. By updating these ancient practices, we can respond to our current environmental crisis with principles derived from our Jewish tradition:

  • When humans are destructive, nature reacts.
  • There is order and inter-relatedness throughout creation.
  • It is a mitzvah to refrain from destruction of the environment — bal tash-chit: For not all resources are renewable.
  • We have to get back to “the Garden.”
  • Earth is “the Garden.”
  • Our responsibility is to tend “the Garden.”

Accordingly, for sure one meaning in Judaism of  “the world-to-come” is this world and having focused consciousness about the condition in which we will leave it for our children. [Read more…]

Gingerbread for Hanukkah: DeLight or Diminish?

Last week, five different people wrote me asking if making a gingerbread Hanukkah house might be a welcoming compromise for intermarried families and for those experiencing “Christmas envy.”

Some people even sent me links to articles about the Manischewitz Do-It-Yourself Chanukah House Vanilla Cookie Decorating Kit, whose comment section in Amazon is rife with complaints about the cookies crumbling in transit; an orthodox website with parve gingerbread dreydels; and my personal favorite, Dawn Ogden’s YouTube video on how to make a gingerbread menorah. [Read more…]

From Tension to Connection on a Train

IMG_9611 - Version 2

A train in Philadelphia. Photo: Barry Bub.

Radio Times yesterday offered discussion of a study showing a positive impact on the well-being of commuters who chatted with the strangers sitting nearby.

I had a moment of synchrony with this study when noticing yesterday that my colleague, Rabbi Amita Jarmon who works as a chaplain in Israel, made a commitment in response to the tension in Jerusalem: “Every time I ride on a local bus or the light rail, I will reach out to a Palestinian passenger.”

So, how did this commitment work out for her?

Rabbi Jarmon reported how she approached two men speaking Arabic very quietly on the light rail:

I came over to you to let you know that I am really sorry about all the suspicion from the Jews toward the Palestinians in this city. Jews are afraid and I know you are afraid as well. I want to bridge the gap, create a positive connection. I want to live in this city together with you. I know that the vast majority of people in this city want to live together in peace.

The two men responded warmly. One became the spokesperson for the two who were coming from work, going home to Shuafat. He said that he has Jewish friends — they go to each other’s homes and trust each other completely. He said that while he is afraid traveling around West Jerusalem, those are only the leaders who “want us to be afraid and to hate each other.”

Rabbi Jarmon’s described her next encounter, on a bus, when she went to sit next to a young woman wearing a hijab:

When I sat down, I noticed she was studying the same “Modern Arabic” book I use and have in my backpack. I showed it to her, smiling. I asked why she was studying it, when clearly Arabic is her mother tongue.

Turned out she was a third-year medical student at Hadassah, and teaches spoken Arabic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was preparing the section that she was going to teach this week.

The fact that she was a medical student meant she must be an Israeli citizen, as Jerusalem Palestinians almost always go to medical schools in the West Bank, Jordan or Eastern Europe. She told me she was from a village near Carmiel. I said to her, “It must be hard to be a Palestinian in Jerusalem now.”

She replied, “Yes, it’s not like this up north, thank God.”

I told her that when I came to Israel five and half years ago, I came with the intention and desire to live here with both Jews and Palestinians. We had a really nice nice connection.

Rabbi Jarmon serves two nursing homes, so she decided to also “reach out on a human level to one of the Palestinian aides who seemed ‘down'”:

He told me it had to do with his family: “Trouble inside the family is even more disturbing than the troubles in the city.” He said that my taking an interest made him feel a little bit better.

Rabbi Jarmon said that these encounters are having a major impact upon her time in Israel:

I feel my main work, my main purpose in being here now, has become to initiate these little positive connections when I am out on the streets and on public transportation. I invite all my friends in Jerusalem to do the same!

How might this affect us here in the U.S., where tensions after the Fergonson ruling are running high?

On the bus today I took a leaf from my colleague’s mitzvah-centered model to consciously sit near a black man I have seen in the sit in front of me on the train perhaps dozens of times and talk to him:

I came over to you to let you know that I am really sorry about how the Ferguson ruling went down. The process has not been conducted fairly.  I want to bridge the gap, create a positive connection. I want to live in this city together with you. I know that the vast majority of people in this city want to live together in peace.

He began to pour out his heart to me to me about his fears and profound disappointment. I just listened and when his stop was called and he realized how long he had been speaking he said, “My name is Joshua. I feel so much better. Thank you for listening.”

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

I said, “My name is Goldie. I hope our paths cross again. Blessings to have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.”

A primary mitzvah of Thanksgiving is hakarat ha-tov, “recognizing the good” in this world and speaking our gratitude for it. I am grateful to my colleague for teaching this practice that can help increase peace in our world, one commuter, co-worker or neighbor at a time.

Book Review: Subway Love

Subway Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a page-turner of a short novel, skillfully designed to encourage both family and classroom discussion of difficult topics such as divorce, abuse, first love, intermarriage, and coping with the end or loss of both casual and important relationships.

For example, is someone you once loved and have not seen in decades being almost unconsciously scanned for by your soul, almost everywhere you go? If that person suddenly emerged out of the pages of time, what would you do?

Do you remember what it was like to break up with a first love, or have that person just disappear from your life?

Has someone’s existence called to you or someone you love in ways that led or lead to risk-taking in order to connect? What if a parent did not appear safe to talk to about what is happening in your life? What if he or she brought a second relationship into your home who abused you, and your safety was not your family’s first priority?

Baskin, known for tackling difficult subjects in her writing, again provides healthy material rich in graphic language and encounters, that is helpful to eliciting inter-generational honesty in the discussion of real relationships. Parents, whether married or divorced, would surely provide a very different narrative about our exhausting struggles to care for our children.

By Baskin revealing a view of the world after divorce, youth and adults have an honest plane for discussion “about the characters” that can help deepen relationships within schools, youth groups, camps and families in potentially life-saving ways.

The book debuted just as New York's mayor refused protection to Five Pointz, an empty commercial building that had become a community gathering point for community musical events, local meet-ups and some of the best examples of the art of graffiti in the U.S. (Photo: Barry Bub.)

The book debuted just as New York’s mayor refused protection to Five Pointz, an empty commercial building that had become a community gathering point for community musical events, local meet-ups and some of the best examples of the art of graffiti in the U.S. (Photo: Barry Bub.)

Graffiti is a metaphor that travels throughout the book, set in 1973:

Mayor Lindsay had declared war and…well over fifteen hundred New York City youths had been arrested for vandalism. He called the graffiti ‘demoralizing,’ and he said the graffiti writers were ‘insecure cowards’ seeking recognition, though nothing could have been further from the truth.

The book debuted just as New York’s mayor refused protection to Five Pointz, an empty commercial building that had become a community gathering point for community musical events, local meet-ups and some of the best examples of the art of graffiti in the U.S.

While such sites often become protected in Canada and England after a period of festivals held on the site, the ultimate message of graffiti and the book, of life’s impermanence, was realized. The buildings were white-washed to abruptly halt the efforts at advocacy and adulation in the press of the art, and then expediently demolished to make way for high-rise rental apartments.

Perhaps impermanence is necessary to define both graffiti and life. The opportunity to reflect upon this reality, as afforded to us by the book, is another important entry point provided by the author.

The question of whether the main characters are intent on breaking the law at points, doing a mitzvot, or simply engaging in self-expression, is likely to be one of many riveting discussions based on the book to hold with teen readers. The book dovetails beautifully with Jewish topics such as our core ethos of mitzvah-centered living, and core challenges such as our struggles with victimization.

In this age, adult personal struggles are typically supported in therapy behind closed doors, leaving youth clueless of how to cope in their own lives. Our youth are too often supported through the peer alternative of immature “wise guys” than mentoring by truly wise guides. Training programs such as those of Reclaiming Judaism are emerging to ensure Jewish educators, understandably reluctant to serve in this way until they are trained, become skillful in guiding young lives.

Baskin’s writing highlights the importance of community-based mentors who are truly available to listen deeply to our youth and mentor them on the journey called life. Subway Love is an honest, important short novel best used in settings of skillful dialogue and safe rapport.

Book Review: The Resolutionary War


As the Jewish New Year approaches, The Resolutionary War and its premise make for an interesting model to contemplate in contrast to Jewish New Year practices.

This debut novel by Sandy Chase and Violet April Ebersole involves a group of individuals intending to meet monthly in support of fulfilling personal resolutions.

Judaism advocates a process that advances healing and intimacy. This involves undertaking a fiercely honest personal inventory of our behavior and relationships across the year (heshbon hanefesh), making appointments with those we have hurt to our regret, a plan of action for how to avoid repeating negative behaviors, commitment to non-defensively support healing within the relationship (teshuvah), which is further sealed by giving charity to support healthy developments within the greater society (tzedakah).

By contrast with Jewish New Year spiritual practices, the book brilliantly reveals profound flaws in the personal resolutions model. Social workers often say that the presenting problem is rarely, if ever, the real problem. This is one of the problems with resolutions: They usually belie the necessary process and guidance to uncover the work that most deeply needs doing.

This novel will easily provoke discussion about family dynamics, because it is rife with painful, often superficial interpersonal dynamics, long-held secrets, and an almost total absence of authentic intimacy grounded in meaningful empathy between the characters. So many relationship skills are missing between these characters that one yearns to jump right in and start coaching each toward the capacity to have a “we.”

A popcorn-style of dialogue gives this debut novel a soap-opera- or graphic-novel-like sensibility. The co-authors chose this approach well, as it serves well to underscore the different social classes depicted among the families. A wide array of true-to-life tensions about life’s essential topics such as marriage, addiction, infertility and adoption give the story weight, character and energy.

The Resolutionary War gives its readers fodder for reflection upon the need to realign their own relationships during this Hebrew calendar month of Elul, which in itself is an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” May each and all be so blessed.

Book Review: Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Story

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Short books, available only by download, are a recent trend.

Sally Wiener Grotta’s Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Stories was sent to me in this form, which worked well for it. It is also available in paperback and hardcover.

This volume, about a Jewish mixed-race woman raised by her Christian grandparents in a rural area, seems to be intentionally designed as a tool for provoking discussion about race, prejudice, interfaith encounters, the Jewish mourning practice of sitting shiva and saying Kaddish, and dysfunctional families.

As an educator always looking out for high-school-level stories that reveal family diversity, the story also raises important psycho-dynamic issues: that some people do change over time, and how projecting expectations onto others can lead to devastating cruelty.

The violence of the rape and trauma scenes seems quite accurate. Shiva scenes of the Jewish week of mourning after burial reflect the unfortunate and common practice of people giving advice to the primary mourners. Our tradition teaches us to listen to feelings, and not offer fixes. Even so, Kaddish works its magic:

For a few brief moments, I no longer feel like a stranger, but part of something larger, grander than myself. We were brought together by death, but we’re held together by the demands of life. That peace and comfort stays with me even as the circle breaks up.

But I have some issues with the work as a whole:

Continued after the jump.
First, during this quick read I kept hoping that the obvious conclusion would not be the actual one, but the end of the tale is truly inevitable.

Secondly, the main character, who is also the most affected by violence, seems almost wooden compared to rape victims this reviewer has counseled in her roles as a rabbi, and a long-time activist in the field of rape prevention and counseling. Overall, the main character seem to be reporting on her life more than fully experiencing it. The book’s author has written an essay on the malleability of memory — an interesting matter in and of itself.

Third, an aphorism says that between the liberal cities of Philadelphia and Harrisburg lies Appalachia, and the book proves this point. The characters seem caricatured; many of them would readily fit into an episode of Northern Exposure, or the townies of the recent film, Nebraska.

I kept wishing for brief film clips, rather than having to “get the picture” by reading the by-the-book style of writing:

“Hello Judith, don’t suppose you recollect me.”

A woman stands over me, but not too close, as though she’s hesitant to encroach.

About 65, she’s painfully thin, with that strained scrawny appearance of one who’s fought her way through a hard life and survived. Her face is rough and deeply lined; her nose and mouth twisted and papered with small scars. Her dull dark brown hair is streaked with yellowing gray swathes, but tightly groomed, not a strand escaping the bun at her neck. Though decades out of fashion, her flowered dress is starched and spotless…

For some contexts this form of writing can work well, especially for entry-level writing classes, and high school settings, where discussion of the powerful contemporary themes will be of great benefit.  

Book Review: One Egg Is a Fortune

miso marinated Atlantic salmon with shiitake mushrooms, grilled scallions and a miso glaze— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

One Egg is a Fortune, edited by Pnina Jacobson and Judy Kempler, is three books in one: a high quality gourmet Jewish cookbook, a table book of magnificent food photographs, and an anthology of fascinating narratives from fifty contributing authors from around the world.

The editors put ten years into developing this beautiful volume, and it is perfect as a gift.

Taste test? The closest to that that we can do is to offer a section from the narrative of the former United States ambassador, Dennis Ross, and his excellent recipe as well. B’tayavon!

Ross’ narrative and salmon fillet recipe follow the jump.

I was sent as ambassador of the United states to meet with Arafat in Tunis in 1993. This was to be the first of many meetings. Arafat liked to play the host, insisting on serving our delegation lunch.

We were about ten people around the table, four from the United States. A meal of roast chicken and potatoes had been prepared. Arafat was determined to not only serve the meal, but also to carve the chicken.

Banter lightened the situation with words to the effect of, “Are you actually going to cut my food for me as well?” with a reply of, “If you like,” and my response of, “No, thank you. The last person to cut my food was my mother.”

Dessert followed and Arafat passed around an assortment of Arabic sweets such as baklava and kanafi, a Middle Eastern dessert made from cheese and brown sugar. The meal was, in fact, good and just what both parties needed to continue.

From then on food became part of the negotiation process. Dennis fish is a variety of bream found in the Red Sea, so when I walked into a meeting, I would ask, “Let me guess what we are eating today — Dennis fish?” Arafat would laugh and at least in this context, he had a sense of humour.

This repartee continued every time we met. I heard that even in my absence Arafat would mention this wordplay just to irritate the Israeli delegation. (Page 197)

All of the vignettes bring personal stories from very interesting lives to our attention. The contributing authors come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Ukraine, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, England, Canada and the United States.

Salmon Fillets with Green peppercorn, Mushroom & Macadamia Nut Sauce

  • 6 × 180g (6.5 ounces) salmon fillets
  • garlic salt
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 15 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped

Sauce:

  • 50g (2 ounces) butter
  • 250g (9 ounces) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns, vinegar strained
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Sprinkle the salmon fillets with garlic salt. Pour over lemon juice and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Grill or BBQ salmon, skin side down until almost cooked through. Turn and cook the other side for a minute or two.
  3. Make sauce: Prepare while fish is cooking. Melt butter in a non-stick fry pan. Add mushrooms, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms wilt and just begin to turn in color.
  4. Spoon sauce over fish and sprinkle with nuts and herbs.

(Serves 6)

Book Review: Crossing Cairo

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Crossing Cairo is a fascinating and useful read for potential travelers to the region, armchair adventurers and also for those who contemplate the lessons of personal experience and history.

The book is a memoir of the 2006 six-month stay in Egypt of a Jewish couple and their children, aged 12 and 17.

As the author, Rabbi Ruth Sohn, pointed out in her prologue, 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt in the early 1940s, and today, there are barely any remaining Jewish Egyptian citizens. She finds them though, and introduces us to their story and takes us to what remains of Jewish sacred spaces.

She also makes interesting connections with local Muslims and other groups, and so is able to give us a window into the daily lives of those with cultural norms quite different to those of the West.

More after the jump.
Both the author and her husband are rabbis. Rabbi Sohn’s husband specializes in “explaining Islam to Jews and Jewish communities,” so the trip comes about through his needs and contacts.

While the children attend the American International School, we primarily hear Rabbi Ruth Sohn’s own adventures in the neighborhood and shops, and benefit from her open ways of getting to know the locals and appreciate the cultural differences between Egypt and America.

Honest, well-written reporting prevails in the book. We learn of her fears, friendships, mishaps and cultural missteps and discoveries.

This approach affords legitimate reader anticipation: Will Sohn’s fears, or her hopes, about Egyptian life and culture prove true? Will her natural openness prove sustainable? Will it be safe to tell people that the family is Jewish — let alone with two rabbis? What major cultural differences will emerge? What will healthcare be like? Transportation? Food? Employer-employee relationships? Will they be welcome? Might they leave prematurely?  

“It’s all about relationships, here in Egypt.” Kathy had commented the first time we got together…

There was even a culture around extending greetings to people. Anyone you passed on the street or saw in a shop, if you saw them on a semi-regular basis, you were expected to acknowledge with a greeting, even if you did not know their name. This was a real greeting, not just a nod, or a smile, or a casual hello…

when I asked someone on the street for directions, the person would start to explain  and then pause and say, “Come, I will show you.” And then walk me to my destination…

As I was soon to discover, the culture of helpfulness also had its downside. That is, the obligation to be helpful is so strong in Arab culture that one is expected to never respond to a request for help by saying no, or even “I don’t know.” It was considered far better to try to help, than not to try at all.”

Open discussion by locals about government corruption in front of Sohn is taken as a sign of acceptance, and a warning of what she might expect.

After 1000 people drown in a ferry incident, she notes that “when it became clear the ship was going to sink, it was the captain who was the first to leave and the crew ‘jumped ship’ in the lifeboats, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves.”

We get to meet many local characters through Sohn’s ability to cultivate close relationships and confidences, including Musheera, a Muslim who grew up in Tunisia and is married to a Jew.

They were bringing up their two children as Jews, they said, although they celebrated the holidays of both religions at home…

Musheera explained how she had really looked forward to moving to Cairo… but she was deeply disappointed. “Egypt is a far cry from a cosmopolitan society,” she said, shaking her head. “It may have been once, but it is the opposite today…

People here are very close-minded and inflexible, even though they are warm and friendly when you first meet them…

You don’t know what they really think… [Musheera] recalled an incident where someone actually stabbed a man and woman who were kissing in public. I am really scared sometimes that as a Muslim woman married to a Jew, I could end up the victim of such an attack…

Rabbi Sohn gives a vibrant accounting of the history of the Jews of Egypt within only a few pages:

The downturn in prospects for Egyptian Jews seems to begin when the Muslim Brotherhood is founded in Egypt in 1928. Anti-Zionist demonstrations are held in Cairo and Alexandria then, in April and May of 1938, with marchers shouting, “Throw the Jews out of Egypt and Palestine.”

By the late 1930s, the leaders of the Brotherhood and the nationalist group, “Young Egypt,” had adopted the antisemitic rhetoric of Hitler and his followers, claiming, for example, that the major political and social problems of the Muslim world were the result of a Jewish conspiracy.

Despite the intent of Egypt’s Jews to remain, it increasingly became impossible due to arrests, freezing of Jewish assets, expulsions with documents marked in Arabic “one way-no return,” blacklisting of Jewish businesses and accusations of espionage, torture, and two Jews condemned to execution, and others to long prison terms.

Then we learn that:

Legislation was passed in 1956 that enabled the government to deny Egyptian citizenship to people classified as Zionists; by 1958, the language of the new laws and speeches of government officials no longer distinguished between “Zionist” and “Jew”… within a few months, 14,000 Jews left Egypt.

Rabbi Sohn honestly reveals how easily she came to off-base assumptions about locals when in early arrival, or tourist, mode. Her shifts in perspective are sometimes in appreciation and sometimes in distress of what the probable truth of local views on matters economic, American, Israeli, Jewish, and governmental might be.

Sohn does some very inspiring acts to help those she meets along the way, without regard to religion, race, creed, gender or color. She also uses humor to good effect.

In Crossing Cairo, Sohn demonstrates how extended exposure to the people and practices of a culture may lead to significantly different interpretations of their comments and behaviors.