Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 11 Explainer: Tension in the South

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode eleven, Tension in the South.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 11 Explainer: Tension in the South



Aron Kader:

This is, without a doubt, the heaviest episode of the season. It's truly clever in its ability to address a sensitive subject and get through an obstacle course of issues with humor. The show does an amazing job of showing how war in Gaza causes things to fall apart socially, in the family and in the community. This episode originally aired in 2008 but is just as timely now in 2014 as it was then because the problem has not changed whatsoever.

The episode opens up in Amjad's house where he and Bushra are hosting their Jewish neighbors Timna and Natan. They are having a lovely time drinking tea and chatting about Amjad's upcoming birthday when Natan gets a text message that he should report for reserve duty. When news of the war breaks, the social scene falls apart almost instantly. Bushra and Natan get into an argument regarding the war in Gaza and who the real extremists are, each blaming the other side.

This exchange ruins the social niceties between them and the entire scene unravels. Amjad starts to panic that the war will ruin his birthday party and drive a wedge between him and his neighbors. After all, Amjad just wants to be accepted. He doesn't want war, resistance, or occupation; he is more selfishly interested in having friends and professional success.

This also shows how Israelis can feel when war breaks out. They have to drop everything and report for duty, which could be life threatening, thus causing more resentment towards Arabs.

Amjad gets asked to appear on a news program about the conflict and shoots himself in the foot when he shows equal sympathy with the Jewish families in the south. The news anchor tricks him into hosting a Jewish "refugee" family as a way of demonstrating his desire for peace. This news station is unapologetically sympathetic with only the Jewish families that are caught in the crosshair, specifically the Cohens.

Bushra answers the door when the Cohens arrive. Unaware of the situation, she tries to politely send them away, thinking that they have the wrong house. The news anchor calls Amjad, who is oblivious about the misunderstanding at home, and questions the value of an Arab's word. Amjad allows the Cohen family to stay with them after saying one of the funniest lines of the episode, "What will people think if I kick out refugees? Nobody will come to my birthday party."

The Cohens themselves are reluctant to stay when they discover that Amjad is not only Arab, but Muslim, too. Later that evening the news follows up the story live from Amjad's living room. Yossi Cohen makes statements that are insulting and racist and actually says, "We need total segregation." Amjad's message of tolerance calls for reason and peace.

This interview further complicates things for Amjad as Bushra is livid that he's opened their house to an Israeli extremist who despises their existence. Ironically, Bushra becomes a refugee as a result, taking their daughter and leaving only to return when the Jewish family is gone. Bushra says, "What refugees? The ones with the Israeli government and military behind them? What about the real refugees who have nothing to eat or drink?"

One of my favorite scenes is when Timna sees Amjad in the hallway after the interview. This is the first time that she has spoken to him since the big blowout and since her husband Natan left for duty. She commends him on his generosity for opening his home to the Israeli refugee family and expresses her sadness over innocent people being wounded. She then receives a call from her husband. Frustrated that he's stuck on duty and worried for his safety, she blurts out "Just drop a 10-ton bomb on them and get it over with." This disappoints Amjad and shows that during wars, even lefties like Timna are capable of saying things that are war hawkish.

Yossi later pulls out a gun in Amjad's kitchen to kick him out of his own house. Amjad has no other choice than to turn to his parents for help. When his dad asks how long the arrangement with the refugees will last, Amjad replies, "Until the IDF finishes the job." Abu Amjad smacks him across the face for implying that the IDF has a job that can be finished militaristically. With the whole community aware that he has opened his house to hostile Israeli refugees, Amjad becomes an outcast in his parents' apartment. Staying there is no longer an option. Displaced and with little hope of recovering his home, he goes to Amal and Meir's apartment looking for a place to stay for the night.

The episode concludes with Abu Amjad cleaning up the mess that Amjad has once again made for himself. He brings a displaced Arab family to Amjad's home to balance out the tension that his son has created. He also brings a camera crew to capture the hostility displayed by Yossi, who is now holding the Arab refugees and Abu Amjad at gunpoint. With both sides embroiled in a screaming match accusing each other of being the aggressor, Abu Amjad calls Yossi an occupier while Yossi calls the Arabs terrorists.

The irony is that the actual war is easier to deal with than the society and politics around it.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Jews and Arabs in Israel are constantly caught in the middle of conflict. We go from war to war, one violet situation to the next, always thinking it cannot possibly get worse. And yet it does. The problem is that there is never a solution found, we're just putting out fires instead of fireproofing.

The actual war is between Israel and the Arabs who are in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, not the Arabs that are Israeli citizens, like Amjad and his family.
As we have seen in past episodes, Arabs who are Israeli citizens face many issues, but not full-blown fighting like in other areas.

One of the hardest issues for the Arab citizens of Israel to tackle is what to do regarding their families who live in the war zone. How can you possibly be a loyal citizen to Israel and still care and be devoted to your own people? Occupation, terrorist attacks, and the death of innocent civilians on both sides doesn't make co-existence of Arab and Jewish citizens easy. Alas, at the end of the day, Arabs and Jews that live inside the Israeli borders are close neighbors and have a certain codependency.

Most Jews and Arabs crave, want, and pray for normalcy. Many are tired of the conflict and just want to live side by side in peace. Unfortunately, that is a voice from the region that is seldom heard because the media chooses to show the extreme.

Amjad, Bushra, and their neighbors Natan and Timna are spending quality time together when their normal life is interrupted by the tension of war. Poor Amjad desperately wants to stay normal, he wants to be neutral. He wants to be Switzerland, but that's an impossible task.

The scene in which Amjad's car is stuck between two parked vehicles is essentially a visual allegory for his life. On one hand, he wants to be Israeli and align with the Jews; on the other hand, he cannot be detached from the suffering of his people. The fact that he's trying so hard to be neutral constantly gets him in trouble. As his father says, "You MUST choose a side!"

Everyone is affected by the war. You can argue and compare numbers, but for the individual whose home has been bombed, his suffering feels singular.

Ironically and sadly, the Jew who comes to Amjad's house can't get over his hatred and has no appreciation for the fact that Amjad is hosting him. Comparably, Meir is so used to being a soldier that he sees no harm in standing in his uniform in Gaza and pointing a gun at his future in-laws. He's just so happy to see them.

These situations are exaggerated extremes that show a very important point. We want normalcy, we really do, but to get there we have to be able to see how insane our existence has become. We must acknowledge the fact that this situation can make people lose common sense. And exhaustion with the situation can lead to statements like the one Timna makes regarding Arabs, "Can't we just bomb them all and get it over with?"

Writer Sayed Kashua took a really difficult situation and found humor in it. That is the first step to normalcy.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 12 Explainer: Swimming

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode twelve, Swimming.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 12 Explainer: Swimming



Aron Kader:

This episode reveals that nearly all the Arab characters, with only two exceptions, can't swim. As a Palestinian, I didn't know this stereotype existed. It strikes me as similar to the stereotype about African Americans in the U.S. Low socio-economic status, lack of access to pools, and having parents that don't realize the importance of being able to swim could attribute to Arabs being averse to swimming.

For many Muslims, going to the beach or a pool and getting half naked in public is immodest. However, I think there are plenty of Arabs that know how to swim in Akka and other coastal areas like Gaza.

Amjad feels so much anxiety over his inability to swim that it makes him crazy. He takes lessons hoping to learn the sport before anyone realizes he can't do it.

While trying on bathing suits, Amjad gets a compliment from Bushra that he has a nice body. So he tries on a red speedo and struts out of the dressing room with it on, only to run into Timna and Natan. Natan mentions he's surprised Amjad can swim, while Timna is impressed. Timna says it's great that there are Arabs like him to debunk stereotypes. Timna and Natan later get into a big fight about whether Amjad can actually swim or not. Timna wants him to apologize for insulting Amjad and Natan thinks Timna made him look racist when he was simply being honest. Now Natan wants to prove that Amjad really can't swim to prove his point.

Amjad's mother never let him swim while he was growing up. In fact, she would hold his hand and not let him enter the water. Amjad later learns that his mother was exposed to a tragic drowning incident as a child. Amjad never knew that he was named after his mother's deceased cousin who drowned 50 years ago. His father tells him about his namesake for the first time: Amjad was a tall, athletic, muscular man. He was fast and strong; he could outrun everyone in the village until the day he learned to swim. He tells the story of how everyone that attempted to save him ended up drowning one by one. "Half of your mother's family drowned on that awful day," he says. Abu Amjad starts explaining what a terrible death drowning is, "Your nose fills up, you can't breath, your lungs explode and you look death in the eye." Then he adds, "Burning to death is no picnic either."

Amjad signs up for swim lessons and gets denied based on his Arabic name. He tells Meir to inquire about the class and he gets accepted immediately. Amjad is overjoyed because he has the conversation on tape and can prove that he was discriminated against. The pool manager apologizes then offers him free lessons and family passes to the pool. Then the pool manager makes another jab by saying that everyone must shower before going into the pool. We later see Bushra and her daughter jump fearlessly into the water, proving that inability to swim isn't genetic but cultural.

Amjad gets overwhelmed at the swim lesson and tells the teacher about the drowning in his mother's family. The swim teacher tries to justify why Arabs can't swim in the most racist way possible. He says, "Certain races, especially Palestinians, they have historical issues that make it hard for them to float." This teacher thinks he has a scientific approach to help Arabs learn to swim. Amjad says Arabs can't swim because of the government's ongoing neglect of infrastructure. The coach says it's genetic and tells Amjad to wrap himself in water wings to "fool the water into thinking you're a normal person."

When we see them next, Amjad is wrapped up in floatation devices. The teacher is trying to teach him how to come up for air while swimming when things go horribly wrong. Amjad freaks out and starts kicking, grabbing, and wrestling with the teacher. He climbs on top of him to keep from downing and accidentally holds him under for so long that it kills him.

It's later reported on the news that the death wasn't politically motivated based on security footage that caught the lesson on camera. Natan smiles as he watches the program because he now has proof that Amjad was lying and couldn't swim, after all.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Arab Israelis drown every summer in Israel. Many Arabs don't know how to swim, yet still go into the sea, and when they drown, family members who don't know how to swim go in after them and drown as well.

This show has established that Arabs in Israel are second-class citizens. They don't have access to the same resources that Jewish Israelis have. At the same time, some Arab cultural behaviors are old-fashioned and not always clear. Parents that do not know how to swim don't teach their children to swim so the fear of children drowning ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Arabs may never learn to swim because of traditional and religious reasons, but primarily because they don't have anywhere to swim. Swimming lessons are not a priority because they are very expensive. It's not engrained in their culture; it's simply an issue of Arabs not having access to or being welcome in facilities that teach swimming.

Of course, this doesn't mean all Arabs can't swim. As we see in the show, Amjad can't swim, but his wife and child jump in the water and swim with no problem at all.

This episode shows blatant racism in Jewish society, including the desire for segregation. Amjad tries not to take it personally, but everything is personal. Instead of just saying he can't swim, he decides to prove that he's upper class so he lies, once again trying to keep up with his neighbors, and once again getting himself into a bind.

It's ironic that water, which is a symbol of purity for both Jews and Arabs, is the center of such chaos and turmoil.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 9 Explainer: Civil Guard

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode nine, Civil Guard.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 9 Explainer: Civil Guard



Aron Kader:

Amjad joins the civil guard (or neighborhood watch) against his and the tenants' better judgment. Yoske, the old leader of the group, is especially hesitant as his wife's biggest fear seems to be an Arab with a gun.

Israel mandates military service so almost every Israeli citizen is trained to use a weapon while Arabs, including Amjad, are not. Amjad is timid in the beginning, but soon becomes drunk with the authority of having a gun and becomes addicted to his Tuesday night patrol. He slowly starts to abuse his power and begins to imagine threats everywhere.

This is apparent in one scene when a girl in the community approaches Amjad to get rid of "Arab thugs" that are lurking around the area. The threat is more perceived than real and the hooligans are just Arab teenagers hanging around some nearby steps.

Yoske's wife, and her fear of Arabs with guns, is funny to me because of the history of Palestinian resistance being carried out with rocks and slingshots. Part of the Oslo Accords in 1993 allowed Palestinians to have armed security forces for the first time. They were given the responsibility to police their own areas, which was a big step for Palestinians.

For years Israeli forces were the only police and were subject to resistance, fights, and clashes that arose as a result of them being seen as occupiers. Israel thought if Palestinians could police themselves, it would keep the peace and eventually build trust through mutual security interest.

One of Israelis' biggest fears concerning the Oslo agreements was that allowing Arabs to carry guns would create more problems; they feared that Arabs would turn the guns on Israelis. Of course, this is not a totally unfounded fear and many would be cautious of giving firearms to those that have lived their entire lives under oppression and occupation. The very sad irony of the Oslo Peace Plans was that after an agreement was made, a Jewish extremist assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, eventually putting an end to the peace plans.

In the end, Amjad becomes a threat and turns out to be a menace to the neighborhood by being aggressive with his newfound authority. He illustrates that power can corrupt and when your job is to look for threats, you can usually find one, unless you're the threat.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

In this episode, Amjad joins the civil guard in order to protect the neighborhood from a series of break-ins.

The Civil Guard was established in Israel on July 10, 1974 when a group of civilians volunteered to do night patrols in neighborhoods near the border that were exposed to terror attacks. This came right after the Ma'alot massacre of May 15, 1974 that involved a two-day hostage situation that ended in the deaths of more than 25 of the 115 hostages.

Later, the guards' focus shifted from counter-terror patrols to daily police work, such as fighting crime and neighborhood violence. As of today, the Civil Guard is a division in the police and community branch of the Israel Police.

The police department provides weapons, equipment, training, and officers who command local Civil Guard bases (each community has one or more bases). Although the Civil Guard is operated by the police, its manpower consists mainly of civilian volunteers. Members are trained to provide the initial response to a security situation until the police arrive.

It's turned into a local volunteer patrol in the last decade. There is something very comforting about knowing that a person from your neighborhood is watching out for you when you're out of town or coming home late. Being good neighbors is an important Jewish value and one of the beauties of Israeli life. Israelis place great focus on peoplehood and community. This manifests itself in open houses, neighbors feeding each other an abundance of food, and an unwritten law of taking care of one another.

You serve in the civil guard (usually when you have a family) -- in addition and with no connection to military reserve -- not because it's mandatory, but because it's the right thing to do.

Most Civil Guard volunteers are armed with M1 carbines and personal handguns (if the member has a civilian gun license). The carbine guns are old and frankly would cause more damage if used to hit someone on the head than if fired. It's ironic that in a country where everyone has served in the army and knows how to use an Uzi, M16, or other more modern weapon, you need to undergo training to use this gun. You must sign in to take it and sign it in to return it.

The fact that this inferior gun makes Amjad trigger-happy makes this episode even funnier. When given the weapon, Amjad gets drunk with power and acts like the sheriff in the Wild West. Or in this case, like the Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. Because Amjad is an Arab, him having a gun, albeit a useless one, frightens everyone.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 10 Explainer: Amjad Suspects

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode ten, Amjad Suspects.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 10 Explainer: Amjad Suspects



Aron Kader:

The central theme of this episode is the difference between the older and younger generation in Israel. Women from older generations usually don't work outside the home, instead tending to their families, while their husbands play the role of "breadwinner."

Marriage has evolved and has become a partnership more than ever before, with the roles of men and women progressively changing. Today, more women have careers outside of the home while more men are sharing the duties around the house. Sadly, this evolutionary role reversal has made some members of the older generations uncomfortable.

The episode starts with Amjad trying to take care of things at home while Bushra is dealing with an emergency at work. It's obvious that Amjad is overwhelmed and upset at the situation Bushra has left him in when Timna stops by to borrow vanilla. Having just come across it moments before, Amjad happens to know exactly where it is. Impressed that he knows his way around the kitchen and surprised that an Arab could be sensitive to women because of the sexism in Muslim culture, Timna commends Amjad on his progressiveness and "metrosexuality." While Amjad starts to embrace this idea of helping around the house, and in effect doing housewife duties, Abu Amjad is concerned that Bushra is working too hard and seeing patients alone until midnight -- both of which are inappropriate in his opinion.

Some viewers may be surprised to find out that Arab and Middle Eastern culture actually happens to have a lot of metrosexual men. They take pride in how they look by dressing trendily, trimming their beards, gelling their hair, going to the gym, and wearing tight shirts. They tend to be attracted to glamorous women who wear too much make-up. Of course, like in every culture, there is the other side of the spectrum with guys that couldn't care less about their looks or the shape of their beards and bellies.

The contradiction in Arab culture about what's masculine and feminine can be blurry. Men kiss on the cheeks when they greet each other and boys sometimes hold hands. In very conservative communities, single men and woman don't socialize together publicly and they are separated in school. It's a huge problem that gets passed down from generation to generation and only a few can break out of the socially accepted sexism.

Amjad's suspicions compel him to confront a man that he thinks is sleeping with his wife. The old-fashioned way is to fight for your honor and deal with it in a "masculine" manner. Of course, the affair is not happening and he's just a client of Bushra's. As usual, Abu Amjad delivers my favorite line, "It's not right for her to be alone with men in her clinic until midnight. With all due respect to Freud, we're not in Vienna." This means that the culture in Jerusalem is different and village people won't understand a private female practice therapist seeing patients alone late at night.

The more shocking part of this episode is that Amal, who is now living with Meir, finds out that she is pregnant and sees no choice but to get an abortion. The stigma and backlash for an unmarried, sexually active woman is horrible with Arabs. If people were to find out that she got pregnant out of wedlock, this would ruin her reputation, embarrassing her family and making her potential for marriage nearly impossible.

Of course, there is a historic misogyny in the Arab world that has been ingrained in the culture. It keeps woman down and the double standards are so transparent, it's hard to believe. The modern generation may be intelligent, but they don't necessarily have a receptive culture that allows women to become equals. If there is still inequality for American women in 2014, you could easily imagine what Arabs are like. I would say when it comes to sexism in the Middle East, some countries look like America in the 1950s, at best, and practice complete and total sexism and discrimination, at worst.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

hen you Google Middle Eastern men, what you get is unflattering and uninviting, to say the least. Yes, they're considered dark, sexy, and mysterious, but they're also described as overtly jealous and with a tendency to flaunt finances. They supposedly honor issues regarding women's conduct and are macho, controlling, and stubborn. Woman are told to beware and simply stay away.

This episode is amazing in its ability to break not only the stereotype of the Middle Eastern man, but the Muslim man. Bushra opens up a clinic in the village and is very busy. This in itself is breaking a stereotype that Middle Eastern men and woman don't go to therapy. Therapy is as popular in some places in the Middle East as it is in America, but there are still people who think it's useless and rubbish as Amjad's father himself says, "With all due respect to Freud, this isn't Vienna!"

Amjad becomes a house husband. Up until now, we saw Amjad struggling between being an Arab and trying to be a Jew, the struggle is now about his manhood. He rises to the occasion and once Timna calls him a metrosexual man, he truly embraces his newfound identity. Timna's approval gives him "permission" to be the modern man he wants to be, whether that means smelling nice or using hand cream.

It's easier to change when you get approval, especially when the person you seek approval from is the one impressed by your change. But up against Timna's approval is Amjad's father and his expectations of manhood.

Once Bushra is suspected of being unfaithful, Amjad is expected to channel his Middle Eastern masculinity -- not to think rationally, but to simply act out of testosterone. He even pulls a knife on the man he thinks is having an affair with his wife, brilliantly falling into yet one more stereotype, which still lingers from a time when Arabs frequently stabbed Jews.

Amjad is both the stereotype and the breaker of the stereotype. He's stuck in an impossible bind of not only being an Arab in a Jewish country, but being a modern, evolved man in a traditional, masculine society.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 7 Explainer: Music

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode seven, Music.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 7 Explainer: Music



Aron Kader:

This episode opens with Amjad behaving almost Homer Simpson-ish. He's on the couch watching TV with his daughter Maya when their pretentious neighbor Timna drops by the apartment to invite them to her son's cello recital. She unintentionally sparks Amjad's feelings of cultural inferiority when she mentions that her family got rid of their TV in an effort to promote quality family time. Amjad predictably removes his TV from their household for the same reason.

Amjad has low expectations at the music recital, but is completely blown away by the boy's talent. This opens a wound that never healed for Amjad. He later tells Bushra a story of his father robbing him of the opportunity to pursue a life in music. He thinks his father ruined his musical aspirations and squandered his potential because he didn't want to pay the music teacher. It's later revealed that Amjad was so untalented that it was his music teacher that quit teaching, not his father who quit paying for lessons. Abu Amjad actually tried to protect Amjad's feelings by letting him believe that he had talent all these years.

So now the impressionable Amjad decides to be more cultured like Timna and the elite Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis who came from Europe. He decides to force his daughter Maya to learn to play the violin, even though she has no desire to do so and actually prefers playing the oud, a Mediterranean guitar. Amjad dismisses the value of the instrument by stating that "No one in Europe listens to the oud." This is actually inaccurate since the oud is a cousin of the European lute and both are still used today in Southern and Northern European music, respectively.

As usual, the sensible Bushra comes to her daughter's defense to point out Amjad's irrational reasoning to enroll Maya in violin classes. Although Amjad's thought process for doing so is absurd, it's also hilarious. During their argument Amjad says, "All the Ashkenazi that complain are successful." He goes on to explain that he believes that the Jewish people in Israel are successful because they suffered.

He explains that children who were forced to play classical instruments by their parents go on to thrive in life because they suffered. He makes an even more outrageous leap by explaining that all he wants in the future is for Maya to be a part of the conversation when her Jewish friends complain about their suffering as children forced by their parents to learn a classical instrument. The whole argument between Bushra and Amjad is hilarious, but it is also deeply rooted in his desire to give Maya a chance to be accepted as an equal by her Jewish peers.

When he is enrolling Maya in music lessons against her wishes, the teacher asks what kind of music Maya enjoys and she replies with Farid al-Atrash and Oum Kalthoum, both classical Arabic musicians. Amjad is quick to cut her off and add classical composers such as Beethoven and Mozart, whom Maya has never heard of.

While the West may be unaware of Oum Kalthoum's music and who she is, she is arguably the most famous singer in the history of Arabic music. She lived during the early 1900s and used traditional orchestras mixed with Arab percussion and stringed instruments, including the oud, and created an operatic sound that Arabs still love to this day. It's difficult to compare her to any musician in the western world, although her biographer Virginia Danielson told Harvard Magazine that she was "a singer with the virtuosity of Joan Sutherland or Ella Fitzgerald, the public persona of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvis."

Kalthoum passed away in 1975, but lives on today through her music and is considered a quintessential traditional Arabic musician.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

There is a Chinese proverb that says something around the lines of "Make sure to give your children strong roots and wings to fly."

Amjad Alian desperately wants his children to fly, but isn't interested in giving them roots. Actually, if he could uproot them from their past, he would. Being an Arab in Israel doesn't make flying easy. You must be strong and able to spread your wings wide against racism and bigotry.

Amjad thinks that his daughter must be like the Jews in order to be able to fly, and not just any Jew, but the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jew.

The late 1800s marked the second immigration of Jews to Palestine. This group of Jews from Europe brought classical music, literature, and an air of sophistication with them that shaped the country. Eastern European cultural traditions still carry an aura of elitism, even though there have been many other cultural influences in Israel.

Music, dance, and poetry from Arab countries, Spain, South America, India, Ethiopia, and other places in the world are celebrated, taught, and monumental in the cultural identity of Israel.

It's very old fashioned of Amjad to think that a classical violin will give his child an air of superiority. There is also something charming and funny about the fact that he wants her to have something to complain about from her childhood.

Amjad is trying to give his child an opportunity he thinks was taken away from him. In reality, the opportunity was given and his perception of the past is all wrong. How many of us rewrite our history? How many of us tell a story based on our dreams and not veracity?

In a country where there are two nations that have such a different narrative of history, examining the past to explore facts could be an important exercise.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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