Jacob in Egypt

What makes my brother Jake different from the all other Wirtschafters? 1. All other Wirtschafters primarily think of Egypt in terms of the past. Jacob lives in the Egypt of the present. 2. All other Wirtschafters spend their Passovers referring to Egypt as a place that must be fled. Jacob spends his Passovers reporting about Egypt as a place that must be understood. 3. All other Wirtschafters speak of Egypt as part of a vast list of places that fall under the category of “there.” Jacob speaks of Egypt as a specific place that one refers to as “here.” 4. All other Wirtschafters read about what’s happening in Egypt and the person we worry for the most is Jake. Jacob writes about Egypt and worries about the Egyptians.
Twenty-five years ago, during my first year of rabbinical school in Jerusalem, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with Jake in Cairo. Even though he wouldn’t be living in there for a long time, he was already falling in love with it. It isn’t hard to see why. Cairo is a vast city of corresponding and competing layers. Look around and you’ll see the ancient layer, the medieval layer, the colonial layer, the contemporary layer and more. You can ride an underground metro-system built by the French. Then return to street level and you can board a bus where there’s nothing unusual about having an ostrich for your fellow passenger. The pervasive presence of the military and police force might remind you of Israel. The sheer size, remarkable diversity, and high number of tourists, draws comparisons to Rome, Paris, London or New York. Before Beirut was devastated by war it was popularly referred to as “The Paris of the Middle East.” As the turmoil continued, Cairo became known as “The New Beirut.”
A photograph taken by Jacob Wirtschafter on the streets of Cairo. March/April 2017

All of that was a long time ago. While, unfortunately, I’ve haven’t been back to Cairo since that short visit, for my foreign- journalist brother, Cairo has become a home away from home. Terrorism and extremist violence is heartbreaking no matter where it happens, but for the past couple of years, terrorist attacks in Egypt feel more personal in nature. The attacks on Egyptian churches in recent days have been particularly upsetting. We’re proud of Jake for writing powerful pieces and doing important work. In a manner reminiscent of soldiers, we’ve come to accept that foreign-journalists believe in what they are doing, understand the risks involved, and are prepared to make sacrifices in order to do their work. Yet we ask our friends and family members in these dangerous fields to understand that there are times when we who love them wish that these risks could be borne by someone else. Admittedly it’s not a mature or altruistic sentiment, but at least it’s honest.


Irony isn’t what makes this week different from all other weeks. World events happen with little or no thought for our personal and religious sense of time. When we pray for World Peace Egypt is, most certainly, on our list. Terror attacks are nothing new or unusual “over there.” My brother isn’t the first Jacob to live in Egypt and he won’t be the last. It does feel “different,” however, to pray for peace in Egypt on the week of Passover. It feels different when the reporting from the latest terrorist attack is written by your brother. It feels different when the Jacob who sojourns in Egypt is not only a biblical fore-father but a brother you’ve been blessed to personally know and love. There is a degree to which it feels strange and selfish to pray for the safety of one person when an entire nation is on edge. But, as it just so happens, that one person is my brother, this Jacob is our Jacob, today’s Egypt is still a place torn by terrible conflict, and this Passover isn’t like all other Passovers.
So, tonight, during the Sabbath midway through this festival, I ask that you join me in praying for ALL our brothers and sisters in Egypt, literal and figurative: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish; citizens and foreigners; the defiant and the fearful; the angry and the aggrieved; the hungry and the homeless; those who have recovered from their wounds, and those who have succumbed to them; the well protected and the utterly imperiled; the hopeful and the hopeless; the reporters and those they write about; for my brother Jake, and everybody, no exceptions.
 May all those in Egypt know peace in the days ahead.
Links to some of Jacob’s most recent articles about life in Egypt and the greater Middle East:

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