“Every act of violence is a betrayal of language.” -Naomi Shihab Nye
“I detest any form of violence.” -Andrew Pochter
Pochter wrote that in an e-mail to a group of Kenyon students which included myself following violence in Gaza and Israel last November. A month and a half after losing him, I still don’t have the words to express the devastation we continue to feel. As I watch events unfolding in Egypt, the pain I feel in our losing Pochter is magnified because of the barrage of images and descriptions of mob violence which trigger my grief, the great losses Egyptians continue to face, and my consideration of what his response to such horrific violence might have been.
I was asked to write this brief memorial of Pochter for AAI. It was originally published July 1, 2013.
The news of Andrew Pochter’s death has been devastating and heart-breaking. Not only did I lose a friend, but we all lost an ally in the cause of peace and mutual understanding.
Andrew and I met on his first day at Kenyon College, in Gambier, OH, where he was to be a rising junior. I was assigned to be his “Upper Class Counselor,” a mentor for first-year students to assist in the academic and social transition to life at Kenyon. Even from his first few days in Gambier, I was impressed with his curiosity and enthusiasm for the Middle East. He had just returned from a gap year in Morocco, and on his first night he regaled the other two students in our group and me with stories from his travels. I had just finished an internship here with the Arab American Institute, and he peppered me with questions he’d been mulling over after reading Arab Voices by Dr. Zogby over the summer. Even from our earliest conversations, we were connected in our belief that religion, despite its reputation for inciting bloodshed and war, could also be a tool of peacemakers and justice seekers. He quickly became involved in Kenyon’s Middle East Student Association, and became an integral member of our organization. We took Arabic and religion classes together, we debated news and politics and which region or country of the Middle East had the best food, and we organized campus events to raise awareness and educate the campus about the Middle East. He spoke to me about pursuing documentary filmmaking in North Africa upon graduation.
Arabic word “sulh” means reconciliation or cooperation; it means peace, as it refers to the cessation of conflict. Its derivation “sulha” is the term used for a traditional process of conflict resolution and mediation in much of the Arab world, including historic Palestine. One of my last memories with Andrew was watching he and Sarah Gold, one of AAI’s summer 2013 interns, perform a poem they co-wrote, what they dubbed a “hip-hop sulha” as a final project for a class we were taking about Israel-Palestine. This video of their piece is a beautiful reflection of his spirit and the work he did at Kenyon. Through his leadership in MESA, he played a tremendous role in shifting campus culture surrounding discussions of Israel and Palestine. Andrew Pochter built bridges, organizing lunch dates with disparate friend groups, and always inviting new people to our meetings and events. He especially believed in the power of music and poetry to expand people’s appreciation of different cultures. He was a compassionate listener. He was never satisfied with a debate that didn’t include as many perspectives as possible. He wanted to understand the region through first-hand experience, not the banter of pundits or ideologues. While Andrew was excited to work with children while in Egypt, I know he was also looking forward to learning the Egyptian dialect, visiting historic sites, and immersing himself in Egyptian culture.
The Egyptian struggle for free and fair governance was not Andrew’s battle, and I think he knew that. Undoubtedly he was inspired by it, but he was a participant in a revolution of a different nature: an uprising of humanity to demand that all people have narratives and all people have rights, and that everyone should be treated with love, dignity and respect. This struggle is one that we now undertake with new vigor and purpose in his memory.