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 thirteen, Amjad Superstar.
The season two finale opens with Amjad embarrassing his family, as usual, when he and Meir stumble out of a bar after celebrating Meir's upcoming nuptials to Amal. While walking down the street and holding each other up out of drunkenness, a TV camera crew stops them to ask a few questions.
Amjad, thinking that this is just a TV crew interviewing people on the streets, proceeds to complain about how boring Jerusalem is and how they have to go to Cypress for a wedding. Unbeknownst to them, the TV crew is actually interviewing them, after mistaking them for a gay couple, about the upcoming gay pride parade. In true Arab Labor fashion, this simple misunderstanding is the force that gets the episode moving.
A TV executive, annoyed that the network is being fined for not representing Arabs, decides to hire an Arab to meet the quota. In an amazing inside joke, he mentions Sayed Kashua, the creator of Arab Labor, as a candidate before ruling him out as a drunk. He then sees the clip of Amjad and Meir on TV and thinks Amjad is a gay Arab, which is a perfect way to avoid a fine and essentially kill two birds with one stone. He arranges a meeting with Amjad and sweet talks him into signing a contract to host a talk show. Amjad thinks it's a huge opportunity and justification for skipping Meir's wedding.
Abu Amjad is also going places. He gets nominated as the leader of the village council and is swayed when he hears of all the perks. The current council leader is accused of embezzling money to buy luxury cars. Abu Amjad decides to use the extra cash to add a room to the house. He addresses the council with an impassioned speech about his son being the first Arab to host a TV show in Israel.
The episode then cuts to what's really going on with the groundbreaking TV show Amjad has agreed to host. The revolutionary program is a children's show. And to further add insult to injury, Amjad has to host it wearing a pink bunny costume.
One of the most rewarding moments in this episode comes when Amjad and the children are talking about values. One child describes values as "things that people believe in and shouldn't give up on." Realizing that he's only being used to fill a quota, Amjad storms off the set. This was satisfying for me because Amjad constantly tried to please those that thought less of him throughout the season. He finally stands up for his values.
The central plot in this episode revolves around Amal and Meir's wedding and the consequences of interfaith marriage in Israel. Besides having to convince their immediate families to accept their relationship, they also have to deal with public scrutiny and prejudice.
Israel only recognizes marriages officiated by Orthodox rabbi during religious ceremonies. If either Amal or Meir converted to the other's religion, this would not be a problem, but Interfaith marriage is treated like same-sex marriage and simply not recognized.
As Amal prepares for the wedding, she starts to become nervous. She is pregnant and about to get married so she starts to stress about the life she has chosen with Meir. She starts to envision her new life and realizes that she is about to embark on a difficult journey. She realizes that Meir and their child will be treated differently from her because of her ethnicity. This actually happens later in the episode during the airport scene, but Meir doesn't fail her. He heads to the back of the Arab line with her instead of going on ahead with the other Jewish Israelis.
For Muslims, religion is patrilineal. I don't consider myself Muslim, but my father's relatives would assure you that I'm Muslim by birth. Interestingly enough, Judaism uses matrilineal descent. Technically, Meir and Amal's child will be neither Muslim nor Jewish and will have a choice in what religion to practice.
This season touched on serious issues and made them easy to discuss by utilizing wit and humor. Some topics were exclusive to Israelis and Palestinians, but others were universal human lessons that made the show relatable to viewers all over the world. Season two explored taboos around sex, modern relationships, sexism, women having careers, abortion, war, racism, and segregation, but in the end, this sitcom still left us laughing.
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.
In this episode, Meir and Amal have to fly to Cypress to get married because there is no separation of religion and state in Israel. It's not possible to have a civil ceremony, only a religious one. Even couples of the same religion cannot opt out of a religious wedding.
Similarly, Jewish couples can only be married by an Orthodox rabbi. If they choose to be married by a rabbi who's not Orthodox, they must leave the country to obtain a civil marriage certificate. Only then will their marriage be recognized by the state.
In a country where a civil wedding is impossible, you can only imagine the issues that same-sex couples have to deal with. Tel Aviv -- a progressive city on the coast of Israel -- has managed to fight for gay rights and has turned into a hot vacation spot for gay people from all over the world.
Then there's Jerusalem, which is considered the holy of holies for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The Jerusalem municipality won't even allow a gay pride parade.
Ironically, the eve before Meir and Amal are forced to head to Cypress in order to get married due to a lack of civil rights in Jerusalem, a local TV news show is covering the issue of the parade not being allowed in the city due to a different lack of civil rights. And that's Israel in a nut shell. There are layers and layers of complications between Jews and Arabs, different sects of the same religion, and segregation in a space that's smaller than New Jersey.
In this season we got a deeper understanding of conflicts and obstacles the Alayan family has to face to be part of Israeli society. We saw blatant racism, yet also the possibility of co-existence. We had the chance to laugh at many stereotypes. But most of all, we saw that love can blossom in the most difficult of places.
Amal is worried throughout this entire episode about Meir leaving her not at the aisle, but at the gate. But in the end, Meir doesn't leave her alone. He does the right thing because he truly loves her and love is color blind.
But will it last? Will Amal and Meir be able to swim through a sea of obstacles? Will Amjad learn to love himself and where he came from? Will he be given an equal opportunity at the TV station based on his talent, not his ethnicity? Season three will tackle these issues head-on.
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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