A Jewish Woman's Encounter with Egypt
Ruth H. Sohn
American Library Association
Nominated for Sophie Brody Medal
for Best Book in Jewish Literature 2013
New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards
Nominated for Best Book of the Year 2013
Jewish Book Council
Accepted into Author's Network 2013-2014
An intimate description
of life in the modern Middle East
In Crossing Cairo, Rabbi Ruth Sohn has written an exceptional account of her and her family’s experiences living in Egypt. Advised not to share the fact that they are Jewish, they discover what it means to hide and then increasingly share their identity. Wondering whether it would be possible to cross the boundaries of language, culture, and religion to form real friendships and find a home among the Egyptians, Sohn takes us on a remarkable journey as she encounters the many faces of Cairo.
Throughout this probing contemplation of self and other in a world that is foreign and in many ways inimical to her own as an American Jew, Sohn shows how even the seemingly mundane events of daily life can yield unexpected discoveries.
1. Crossing Cairo 21
2. Settling In 39
3. Learning Arabic 53
4. Meeting the Jews of Cairo 81
5. Passover Break 115
6. The World of the Pharaohs 145
7. Women and Literacy 165
8. Getting Political 179
9. Winds of Change 191
10. Israel’s War with Hezbollah 215
11. The Return 245
Epilogue: A Post Revolution Visit 253
Author’s Bio 269
What others say about Crossing Cairo
The richness of Crossing Cairo is that it functions on a number of different levels. It's a compelling personal story of the author's sojourn in Egypt; it provides insight into the Arab Spring and the events that led up to it; most importantly, it explores the question of what it means genuinely to listen to the "Other's" narrative and use it as a lens for examining one's own. Sohn's willingness to open herself to Egyptians' perspectives on Israel and Judaism is most impressive.
-- Judith Plaskow, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
In Crossing Cairo, Rabbi Ruth Sohn writes in a passionate and insightful manner reminiscent of V.S. Naipul in his Among the Believers. Reflecting on a sabbatical that Sohn, her rabbi-academic husband, and their two sons spent in Cairo, Sohn manages in clear, engaging, and lyrical prose to capture the wonder and complexity, the profound sense of common humanity and great distance, that informed the web of feelings she and her Jewish family experienced as they encountered Egypt and Egyptians during their sojourn there. Writing with remarkable evenhandedness and extraordinary openness, Sohn has written a provocative and mesmerizing book of extraordinary passion and insight. I could not put it down!
--Rabbi David Ellenson, President
Hebrew Union College
Jewish Institute of Religion
In rich detail, Rabbi Sohn chronicles her months living in Cairo with her observant family. At first hiding her religious identity, then gradually and cautiously revealing it to Egyptian friends and acquaintances, she explores the language, culture and disparate attitudes towards Israel and Jews in this fascinating land. An absorbing book.
--Mark R. Cohen, Ph.D.
Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East
Author of Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages
Rabbi Ruth Sohn’s Crossing Cairo is compelling reading for everyone who cares about the Middle East, about Jewish-Muslim relations, about Israel and Palestine, indeed, about humanity...it captures the attitudes of “average” Egyptians toward Jews, Israel, their own government, and life. Thoughtful, balanced, insightful, and delightfully written, Sohn’s work earns a place on the shelf with travel writers as diverse as Bruce Chatwin, De Tocqueville, and ibn Battuta.
--Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Ph.D.
Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue
Jewish Theological Seminary
Ruth Sohn’s Crossing Cairo is simply FASCINATING. A treasure-trove of candid reflections on society, religion, politics, history and national memory in today’s Egypt. I especially admire her honesty in voicing her religious anxiety as an American Jew while living for half-a-year with her family in Cairo; the little vignettes about the Jewish community there (made up of a few locals, Israelis and others) are priceless. I strongly recommend the book for anyone interested in Egypt or planning to visit it.
--Suleiman A. Mourad, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion
Available from Gaon Books, local bookstores,
and online booksellers
ISBN 9781935604501. Paper. 270 pages. $18.95
Ruth H. Sohn is a rabbi, teacher, and writer. A graduate of Yale University, she received rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Sohn teaches and directs a mentoring program for rabbinical students at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and teaches adults in both local and national venues.
Sohn’s articles have appeared in The Reconstructionist, Reform Judaism, The Baltimore Jewish Times and other Jewish newspapers. Her essays can be found in numerous anthologies including The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea Weiss (URJ Press), Dancing on the Edge of the World, ed. by Miriyam Glazer (Jewish Lights) and Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story, ed. by Judith Kates and Gail Reimer (Ballantine Books).
The author has a longstanding interest in the Middle East and Arab-Israeli relations, having lived in Israel as well as Egypt, and having traveled in Jordan and Turkey. She and her husband have three children and live in Los Angeles.