Join us for new readings each week as we prepare a special visit by Sayed Kashua, a new voice of the Palestinian-Israeli experience.
Week of 1-21-16
Brief Review of Let It Be Morning by Sayed Kashua | by Carol Wolf
Week of 1-14-16
Sayed Kashua: a "Don't Miss" Opportunity | by Rabbi Bennett
Tell Me A Story with a Happy Ending | by Sayed Kashua and Etgar Keret in The New Yorker
On YouTube: Sayed Kashua on Why He Left Israel: "It will not ever be good for my children" | 'Arab Labor' discussion with Sayed Kashua, creator of 'Arab Labor,' and Mira Awad, actress in 'Arab Labor '
Why I have to leave Israel | by Sayed Kashua in The Guardian
by Carol Wolf
This novel tells the story of an Arab-Israeli journalist living in an urban area of Israel while working as a respected reporter for an Israeli newspaper. He and his wife and his infant daughter return to the Arab village in which he and his wife grew up due to the growing hostility of Israeli Jews toward Arab Israelis following the intifada. As the story unfolds, the reader witnesses his struggles as he wrestles with issues of his own identity, national loyalty and a disturbing disconnect to what is said and printed in the national and international press regarding efforts to improve Palestinian and Israeli relations and the events that are unfolding in his Arab village.
I liked the way the author structured the story. He traced the history of the relationships between Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis from his childhood to the present. He also traced the history of life styles of those who lived in Arab villages in Israel and their trust of the Israeli government to treat them fairly. This book, though somewhat painful to read, held my interest throughout and enabled me to examine events of the past from a different point of view.
by Robert Taxman
I’m here to tell you about Native, a collection of essays which first appeared in Haaretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper, a column apparently rather popular with Israeli Jews but maybe less so with Israeli Arabs; although the author, Sayed Kashua, is himself an Arab from Tira, a mostly Arab town in central Israel. But Mr. Kashua was educated in Hebrew, not Arabic, at a Jewish boarding school. Most of his writing has been in Hebrew because he feels unable to write effectively in Arabic. His newspaper column, three novels, and a television series are mostly in Hebrew; and he is perfectly willing to lampoon Arab foibles, even though the television family bears a convincing resemblance to Kashua’s. An episode of the series describes an Arab fellow who, having purchased chametz (leavened bread) at Passover for the symbolic price of one shekel, promptly sells it on eBay. This Middle East cognate of All in the Family was entitled Avoda Aravit (“Arab Labor”), Hebrew slang for shoddy work. “They say that I work at a Zionist newspaper,” he has conceded, “and that I supply stereotypes for the Jews.”
Similarly, these essays are wry, self-deprecating, and often quite funny. To conceal his accent, Kashua avoids pronouncing the word “Jerusalem” at security checkpoints; and he drives a Citroen: “What Arab would drive a Citroen?” To the query “How is your writing received in the Arab community?” he responds, “As always, with celebratory gunfire.” Sounding rather Jewish, he defines domestic bliss as “that familiar, pleasant sense of bitterness accompanied by guilt.” Describing his writing technique, he quips that “long hours of sleep help me to dream the plot.”
The ambivalent tone of this work is deeply affecting. It is no accident that Sayed (his style is so candid that I feel that we’re on first name terms) gives his daughter a Hebrew translation of The Catcher in the Rye, a novel which deals with belonging. Sayed’s family feels adrift, not quite Israeli yet not quite Palestinian; references to Jewish religion here far outnumber Islamic ones.
But before you decide unequivocally that this is your kind of Arab, you need to know that Sayed and his family left Israel on a one way ticket last year. He’s our neighbor now, residing and teaching in Champaign-Urbana, because life in Israel became intolerable for him: “Twenty-five years of writing in Hebrew, and nothing has changed. Twenty-five years clutching at the hope, believing it is not possible that people can be so blind.”
For there is a dark side here as well. We read of an Arab child venturing into a Jewish neighborhood, hassled by a cop who assumes that the kid’s bicycle must be stolen. A Jewish classmate of Sayed’s daughter, brushing against her, utters Ichsa (“Yuck”). When he relocates to the Jewish side of town from East Jerusalem, Sayed’s move is like emigration—there are sidewalks, showers that work, “and olive trees, which once belonged to someone else, I heard, but here in the new country they maintain them well, even if they’re not theirs.” Indictments of Israeli society are ubiquitous, angry, painful. Arab neighborhoods are ghettos. Arab land has been and still is being stolen. Arab schools are inferior, ill equipped, and neglected. Sayed’s father “sat in jail for long years, with no trial, for his political views.” For Sayed, and I’m certain for Israeli Arabs in general, the Jewish triumph in its War of Independence is Nakba—catastrophe—with a bitter holiday to mark the occasion.
Can a loyal Jewish American read stuff like this sympathetically? Surely this is one-sided and unfair. Isn’t it also true that Arab citizens are granted full equality under Israeli law, that elected Arabs sit in the Knesset? Who started the War of Independence? Was there any Palestinian identity before the Partition? What about innocent shoppers being fatally knifed at random? Why should Jewish schools need bomb shelters? How have Jews been treated in Arab societies, including Palestine? Isn’t Israel’s very existence still in doubt?
All this is so, but I really believe it’s beside the point. Sayed Kashua doesn’t claim that there is any blameless side in the Holy Land, “so blessed and so cursed.” He simply enunciates the uncomfortable notion that there is truth on both sides. My wife tells me repeatedly that I can’t begin to understand the problems of Israelis without living among them, and this is also true (Yes, I know that I sound like Tevye); but does this justify everything that happens there? Shouldn’t Jews seek justice, even when their very existence is at stake? As Americans, as Jews, should we ignore injustice in Jerusalem while condemning similar events in Ferguson? By demanding justice in Israel as we do in America, don’t we become better Americans and more authentic Jews?
Rabbi Bennett recently mentioned our custom of spilling a few drops of wine at the Passover Seder to acknowledge the suffering of the Egyptians, who had their own Nakba at the Red Sea. If you are willing to spill some wine, you should read this book—for its eloquence, its humor, but most of all for its humanity.
by Michael Sherberg
I was with a group of Shaare Emeth friends the other day when the topic of Sayed Kashua’s visit came up. Voices of caution and suspicion entered the conversation. There were voices of self-congratulation as well, that we as Jews should be proud that Haaretz had condescended to publish Kashua’s wildly popular columns (which you can read in his new book, Native). Should Kashua feel grateful, I wondered, that the Jewish press in Israel had embraced him? Do we expect him to bow before us?
Suddenly I felt terribly sad, because I generally prefer not to think about how reflexively xenophobic we Americans can be, how easily we can summon words about an Israeli Arab that we would never dare speak, for example, about Ta-Nehisi Coates, even though he and Kashua are telling the same story. Just as we read Coates with an open mind, because we know something about the history of racism in America, so too must we read Kashua with an open mind, so we can understand what it means for an Israeli citizen to live at risk in Israel.
So start with Kashua’s first novel, Dancing Arabs. In it, his first-person narrator tells his story of growing up Arab in Israel. There is no overarching plot but instead a series of interlocking short narratives, sewn together with Kashua’s characteristic humor. Each focuses on one of several contexts and experiences: family, social group, school, work. This is a deeply honest novel, marked by the way in which Kashua’s protagonist can be so unsympathetic at times. He is no saint, which makes his story all the more relatable. For Kashua, to be an Israeli Arab involves a constant dance of identity between the poles of authenticity and passing, acceptance and rejection, the perpetual search for an accreditation that should be automatic to anyone born a citizen in any land. We as Jews know this story, for it has been ours as well. We know what it means to be regarded with suspicion, to have to prove our loyalty, to work hard, to believe that the world will treat us fairly if we behave ourselves as others demand that we do, only to be marginalized, rejected, even murdered.
In an age in which many of us are looking to Israel to sort out its own identity issues, Kashua introduces an important voice, asking each of us, as Jewish Americans or American Jews, how we can reconcile our own notions of social justice with our love for a country that appears at times almost constitutionally unable to subscribe to those same principles. This is a conversation that demands our participation, no matter how uncomfortable. Kashua, the perennial insider-outsider, helps it along.
by Suzi Bayne
I read Second Person Singular (Exposure), a fascinating take on a universal misunderstanding within the context of an unknown culture. Exposure juxtaposes two men's stories on hidden identities. One is the story of a man, "The Lawyer," and his quest to expose his wife's alleged infidelity. The other story is of "Amir" and his fear of exposing his secret identity. The stories intertwine throughout the book going back and forth between the two men as well as between time. It was sometimes confusing to know if the story was in real time or seven years prior.
The Palestinian Israel culture is as much a character of the novel as the people in it. It is a lifestyle I found interesting because I did not know it existed. Kashua uses the treatment of Palestinians in Israel not as a statement but as a natural backdrop of the story he is telling. The fact that this is how Palestinians are actually treated makes one stop to think and question how we perceive Israel to be. If you have never visited ALL of Israel, not just the Jewish, touristy side, do you know this side of Israel exists?
I did not care for the main character. Taken in the context of a Palestinian Israeli, he may just be reacting to the culture he was born into compared to the carefully structured lifestyle he manufactured. The thought of his life falling apart makes him act erratically. To me, his self-absorbed lifestyle and his treatment of his wife are just annoying. Amir, on the other hand, is a sympathetic character and one cheers on his newly manufactured life.
The book works on three different levels: The exposure of the lawyer's life, the exposure of Amir's life, and the exposure of the actual life of the Palestinians. It is a very thought-provoking book.