Andrew D. Pochter had a natural curiosity about the world and a love of language, and he wanted to work in the Middle East in hopes of pursuing peace and understanding.
Pochter, 21, was killed Friday during anti-government demonstrations in Egypt. He was witnessing the protests as a bystander and was stabbed by a protester, according to a family statement and accounts of friends.
Pochter, from Chevy Chase, was one of three killed and dozens injured in competing demonstrations in the coastal city of Alexandria concerning the nation’s Islamist president.
Active in a Jewish student group at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he would have been junior in the fall, Pochter traveled to Egypt this summer on an internship to teach English to Egyptian 7- and 8-year-olds. He also hoped to improve his Arabic. He planned to spend the spring in Jordan, according to a family statement and a close friend.
Pochter’s family said he “went to Egypt because he cared profoundly about the Middle East. He had studied in the region, loved the culture, and planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding.”
“Andrew was a wonderful young man looking for new experiences in the world and finding ways to share his talents while he learned.”
Fluent in Arabic, Pochter embraced his Jewish identity but also wanted to learn about other cultures, friends said.
Marc Bragin, Kenyon’s Jewish chaplain, said Pochter approached his Jewish identity, and much of the rest of his life, “with an open mind and an open heart and tried to take in as much as he could.”
He was a member of Kenyon College’s Hillel, the campus’s Jewish group, and was a co-manager of the organization’s house during his sophomore year, Bragin said. Pochter was also going to be a co-manager in the coming school year and planned to live at the house. He was often responsible for coordinating bagel brunches and Shabbat dinners for 30 people.
“He was the first person you would see when you walked in Hillel House,” Bragin said.
Zachary Caputo, 21, who lived across the hall from Pochter during their freshman year at Kenyon, described his dorm room as “an organized chaos,” with tapestries, rugs and knickknacks from his time living with a family in Morocco after high school.
Pochter was also on the school’s rugby team, a member of the Middle East Student Association and a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.
Pochter wrote about the Arab Spring protests in an article for Al Arabiya News in 2011. He loved the culture and planned to live and work there.
In the article, Pochter wrote, “At least within Morocco, the people are gaining a sense of how to approach their political and social issues.
“Though time is a factor in how quickly the government will react to these rights and propositions, my host family, like many others, will be on the streets to make sure that their claims and concerns are heard by all parties.”
AMIDEAST, the nonprofit training organization where Pochter was working at the time of his death, issued a statement Saturday: “Those who worked with him in the short time he had been in Egypt remember him for his enthusiasm, compassion and engaging and friendly manner. His loss comes as a shock to his students and colleagues.”
Neighbors and friends arrived at Pochter’s home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Montgomery County on Saturday morning, bringing cards, flowers and food. A few shook their heads in grief as they got out of their cars and asked that reporters respect the family’s wish for privacy.
Pochter’s family has deep roots in the Washington area. His father, Ted, worked for 20 years at the District’s Parks and Recreation Department. Rochter’s mom, Elizabeth, is an administrator for policy and programs at the National Gallery of Art. And his sister, Emily, is the executive assistant to Democratic strategists Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen at SKDKnickerbocker, according to the firm’s Web site.
Neighbors said the family, including Pochter, is “socially conscious,” the type of people who are “trying to make the world a better place.”
“Egypt’s struggle is now at our front door, and it seems Andrew has become part of it,” said Cara Alfano, a neighbor in the close-knit community. “He is a product of this century and of this moment.”
“A lot has happened in his lifetime,” she said Saturday.
“After 9/11, America was wondering, ‘Why does everyone on the other side of the world hate us so much?’ Andrew was paying attention. He grew up in that time of confusion and mayhem.
“Andrew was doing his part to make the world more understandable with language and communication,” she said. “He was pursuing his place in life in a useful, purposeful way.”
Pochter attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School during his freshman year and transferred to Blue Ridge School, a boarding school near Charlottesville, according to an official there. He took French and Spanish classes and was on the wrestling, soccer and lacrosse teams. He also served as the senior class secretary and received the school’s Foreign Language Award at his 2010 graduation.
Sonya Broeren, Kenyon’s associate director of admissions, recalled interviewing Pochter in the fall of 2009.
“I was enamored by him,” she said. “I just loved his energy. He just wanted to do so much to better the world.”
Four days ago, Pochter sent a Facebook message to his close friend Meryn Chimes, 20, of Northwest Washington, describing the people he was meeting in Alexandria, the marketplace near the apartment he shared with Egyptian students and how he had just finished teaching the first session to his students.
“He said they had trouble learning English, but they had tried really hard and he was really proud of them,” Chimes said Saturday. She said Pochter was “a great explorer.”
“He was really interested in people, the culture, the language,” she said. “He wanted to see everything. Alexandria was one stop on what would be very many adventures to follow.”
In an e-mailed statement, the State Department’s press officer, Drew Bailey, confirmed Pochter’s death and urged the Egyptian authorities to investigate. “We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues and we continue to provide appropriate consular assistance,” the statement said.
Aboard Air Force 1, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said: “We’re providing all the services we do these instances. Clearly it’s a tragic case, and it’s particularly painful to lose a young person. It speaks to how volatile the security situation is there. The President certainly is aware of the loss of that American and shares in the grief that the family has.”