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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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 8 Explainer: Memorial Day

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 eight, Memorial Day.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 8 Explainer: Memorial Day

 


Aron Kader:

I defer to Naomi, who is from Israel, to explain Israel's Memorial and Independence Day traditions, and the "alternative ceremony" as I've never experienced the holidays in Israel for myself. What I can try to address is the Nakba and what it means to Palestinians.

The Nakba and Israel's Independence Day are effectively the same thing from differing sides. "Nakba" means "catastrophe" in Arabic. The Nakba describes the 711,000 Palestinians and others that became refugees following the war of 1948. Nakba Day, which is commemorated annually on May 15 by Palestinians around the globe, is a day of memorial for the displacement that preceded the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Nakba is a universally known word that describes historic events composed of several disasters. Palestinians use the Nakba to describe the events that caused the exodus of Palestinians from their homeland. Like "9/11," "Shoa," or "Holocaust," it is one word that encompasses a series of events. I'm not equating these events with each other, but simply illustrating the way in which societies have used single words to sum up and reference significant events in history. They describe days in which countries and their people have experienced disaster, persecutions, or permanent change.

The Nakba changed the trajectory of the Palestinian people in terms of where they lived, how they lived, and how they viewed themselves.

The "Right of Return" is also a sticking point in peace negotiations in this conflict and usually refers to the 1948 refugees. As a matter of fact, nearly 75 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza are 1948 refugees that were pushed south in the Nakba. Many others are no longer on the land -- not the West Bank, Gaza, or Israel -- but living around the region or around the world due to the annexing of Palestine. The issue is a non-starter in negotiations. The Israelis have said they will never allow them to return, but it still comes up almost every time the two sides talk about a compromise.

Many more Palestinians became refugees following the 1967 or Six-Day War. There are reportedly 5 million descendants from the 700,000-plus refugees from 1948 and 300,000 from 1967. Most of them were never able to return to the land their parents and grandparents came from. American passport holders can visit as tourists, but have no right to live in the land they lost.

This episode opens with Bushra and Amjad arguing about what Maya is being taught in school. Amjad is helping her with history homework using Israeli textbooks, which basically ignore the Palestinian narrative. Bushra thinks this is detrimental to her daughter's identity, heritage, and self-esteem. The Israeli government's funding of public schools is predicated on the condition that they use Israeli textbooks. Because Arab schools don't want to teach a history that ignores them, this can result in their schools being underdeveloped and poorly funded.

Although there are many successful Palestinian businesses and individuals in Israel and the Palestinian territories, it's not enough to support a demographic where nearly 40 percent of the population is under 18 and unemployment is high. Not to mention that Israel will regularly freeze assets during this ongoing conflict and monitor funds going into Arab areas to ensure that it doesn't fund anything threatening. The kids suffer the most.

Maya not being invited to sing with her school choir is sad; she clearly doesn't have a world view or a political position. She's just a kid. Going to a Jewish school makes her different and probably makes the contrast stark and clear.

Bushra says, "You send your daughter to a Jewish Zionist school and you don't think it will effect her identity?" Amjad has a tough time defending his position when Bushra says it's "selling out her identity and dignity so her friends will like her."

Amjad clumsily tries to explain to his daughter Maya why Israel's Independence day is so hard to deal with. "We're Arabs and these holidays have nothing to do with us. ... We don't exist in these ceremonies, we just don't exist." Nobody should ever have to explain to kids in a truly free society how they are not included.

Meanwhile, Amal and Meir's love story is heating up. Before Meir is cut off by the Memorial Day sirens, he was saying, "Is this a Jewish/Arab thing? I don't give a damn about that. ... I don't give a damn about Nakba and don't give a damn about 1948." If you expand on his train of thought and fill in the blanks, he's saying he doesn't care about politics or ethnicity or religion. He puts that all aside. I love that. As an American, I could never imagine my parents or my children not being able to love someone because of their culture.

In the end Maya gets a lesson from her grandmother during a very touching and sad moment. She opens an old photo album and begins to tell a story: "Once upon a time there was a village." Again, you will need to fill in the blanks when the scene fades out and can add any one of thousands of stories about a family living in a village being pushed out never to return.

Amjad says, "Fitting in doesn't mean betraying our values." That is the essence of the challenge for Arab Israelis. This episode personifies the social struggle of fitting in as a Palestinian living in Israel.

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:

Memorial Day is a sacred and somber holiday in Israel.

Israel has known many wars in its short existence and there has been a tremendous loss of young life. Because the country is so small, everyone has been touched by tragedy and everyone knows someone who had died in war so the collective mourning is sincere and profound.

There are two sirens that ring on Memorial Day: one at 8 p.m. the night before and the other at 11 a.m. the day of when many people are paying respect at fallen soldiers' graves.

When the siren goes off, everyone must stop and take a moment of silence. There's no talking or moving and heads are bowed down in memory of the dead. Cars stop, even if they're on the highway, and people exit to mourn.

Memorial Day is correlated directly with Israel's Independence Day. Memorial Day starts at 8 p.m. the night before and Israelis go straight from bereavement to celebration at 8 p.m. the following day. The rationale behind this is that we can't celebrate without commemorating and remembering those who made the biggest sacrifice off all.

Obviously, all of this is extremely complicated and difficult for Palestinians. This holiday is dedicated to remembering soldiers, who most Palestinians consider the enemy. Israeli Independence Day is Nakba Day, "Day of the Catastrophe" for Palestinians. It's an annual day of commemoration for the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

So while Israelis are celebrating the independence of their land, Palestinians are mourning the loss of theirs. This episode shows the complexity, thorniness, and problematic existence of people on this land.

Every year, Memorial Day ends with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl (Herzl formed the World Zionist Organization and promoted Jewish migration to Israel in an effort to form a Jewish state). This ceremony applauds and rejoices the Jewish State. Twelve torches are lit that symbolize Israeli accomplishments.

There has been an alternative ceremony to the one on Mount Herzl in the last few years. The controversial event includes Arabs and takes into consideration their loss. Amjad is invited to light a torch at what he thinks is the alternative Independence Day celebration, only to find out that it's the national one, which he clearly cannot be part of.

This episode is really about belonging. How do we belong in a place that doesn't accept us? How can we celebrate an independence that displaced our people? Do we just pretend and try to blend in? Do we speak a different language? (Amjad's mother surprises him when she suddenly speaks German). Amjad wants to just be, but this is an almost impossible task for an Arab in Israel, especially on Independence Day.

There is such controversy over the land because both sides love it. When lighting the torch for Amjad, Meir talks about love in his speech. And although he's directing it to Amal, this is a speech Arabs and Jews alike could say. "I love the country, you are my home, and I'll do everything for our land."

Amjad's mom explains to Amjad's daughter Maya what happened to the Palestinian people on Israel's independence. As the episode ends, you see and hear Maya singing a popular song that is sung for fallen soldiers. She sings in Hebrew with a heavy Arab accent in a particularly chilling moment. The words relate to both the Jewish and Arab experience. There is a sense of the unreasonableness of the conflict, displacement, and pain.

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 6 Explainer: Purim

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 six, Purim.


Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 6 Explainer: Purim



Aron Kader:

Amjad decides to go to a Halloween party with Meir and ends up being kidnapped by Palestinian radicals. Bushra is upset from the get-go that Amjad is going out to a Purim celebration since he returned home drunk late last weekend. She tells him to stay home, but he doesn't listen.

Keep in mind Amjad is Muslim and drinking is forbidden, but they are a modern, secular, non-religious family so drinking is not as huge of a deal.

Meir dressed up as a Native American for Purim and Amjad as an Israeli soldier. I wonder if that is a statement about Palestinians being the natives and Jewish Israelis being the cowboys. Amjad should have dressed up as an Arab, which is something I did as a kid since we had that kind of gear around the house. Amjad says he feels powerful in the Israeli uniform and Meir responds, "You've been pretending to be Jewish your entire life."

Some really incompetent Arab kidnappers find Amjad outside the nightclub smoking and attempt to hold him for ransom. They think they can trade him in exchange for Palestinian political prisoners and make a name for themselves in the resistance to liberate Palestine. The two men aren't even sure what they'll gain from it, but they're not doing it for the money. When they find out he isn't a soldier, but a Muslim Arab-Israeli, it ruins their plans.

Poor Amjad thinks that the authorities will take action to save him, but they don't. In this situation, Israeli authorities won't use any resources for a civilian Muslim Arab even though he is an Israeli citizen. The police even tell TV reporters that "it may be a prank" and that calling Amjad a "citizen is stretching it." This is a statement about the second class citizenship that exists in Israel for non-Jewish people. Maybe they would negotiate for a Jewish civilian, but not a Muslim.

Amjad's parents and his wife Bushra are so mad at him for going out drinking and partying that they decide to punish him by not paying a single shekel for his ransom. Even the kidnappers feel bad for him and eventually tell him to go home. Feeling worthless, Amjad tells the kidnappers that he has nowhere to go and tries to stay. In a comically ironic moment, the kidnappers literally have to put a gun to his head to get him to leave.

This episode stresses that Jews and Arabs are not physically different. They have a similar appearance and complexion, and can easily be mistaken for each other. At the end of the day, they're all sons of Abraham, cousins that descended from the same history.

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:

Meir invites Amjad to a Purim party. Purim is kind of a Jewish Halloween where people dress up in costume and party. Amjad is overjoyed to have the opportunity to go to a Jewish event so he leaves his wife and kids behind without a moment's thought.

He decides to attend the party wearing Meir's army reserve uniform. A soldier is a common costume for small children on Purim, but adults who have served in the army and do reserves will seldom, if at all, dress up as a pretend solder. Wearing the army uniform makes Amjad feel invincible. After all, he's always looking for an opportunity to fit in. Meir tells him he's "dressed up as a Jew" his entire life. "This is different," Amjad responds. "This is real and it gives me power!"

Ironically, that source of power later puts him in an extremely vulnerable situation. He's mistaken for a real soldier and kidnapped by two Palestinians and held for ransom. When the kidnappers realize he isn't Jewish, they try to guess his ethnicity.

In Israel there are some minorities that do serve in the army:

•    The Bedouins: A traditionally pastoral nomadic Arab tribe.
•    The Druze: A monotheistic religious and social community. Their religion is a branch of Shia Islam. The Druze's social customs differ markedly from those of Muslims or Christians. They're known for their close-knit social community, but also for being able to integrate fully in their adopted homelands.
•    The Circassians: A group native to Circassia, who were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. The term "Circassian" includes the Adyghe and Kabardian people. The Adyghe mainly speak the Adyghe language and Arabic.


It's very rare for Muslims to serve in the Israeli Army, even if they are Israeli citizens. In a country where joining the army is mandatory, there has been a long unsolved debate regarding civil service for non-Jewish citizens.

In the end, Amjad is not only regarded as a second class citizen by his country, but his wife and father, who aren't willing to even give a shekel for him. (A shekel is Israeli currency equivalent to a U.S. quarter.)

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 5 Explainer: Building Committee

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 five, Building Committee.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 5 Explainer: Building Committee



Aron Kader:

This episode mocks democracy, tackles the negative stereotypes of Arabs, and makes a poignant statement on peace in both a subtle and straightforward manner. As usual, it confronts issues surrounding classism and racism in Israel and the stigmas associated with it.

The meaning of the title of the show is challenged and dispelled in this episode. Abu Amjad becomes the gardener for his son's building and does such an amazing job that it destroys the stereotype that Arab labor is poor, cheap, and inadequate. If you've seen the movie The Help, you might recognize a similar statement about how views on class in a society where race is a central concern are revealed when dealing with the laborer or the "help."

Amjad's father Abu Amjad takes a job as the building's new gardener just to be closer to his family. It embarrasses Amjad to be the son of a gardener, which, in turn, offends his father. He doesn't acknowledge their relationship in front of the neighbors until the very end of the episode. When talking to neighbors Timna and Natan, Abu Amjad hides his identity and introduces himself as "Abu Zibel" which means "fertilizer" or "manure," another way of saying s**t. Abu Amjad is so offended by his son that he'd rather refer to himself as Mr. S**t.

Abu Amjad has a need to be around his family and grandchildren, which is very common in Palestinian culture. If you spend enough time around Arabs, you'll see how strong of a role the fathers play in the family. Having a lot of kids and being a parent is a source of pride for many Arab fathers. They take it seriously, sometimes to a fault. Their role of raising and mentoring their kids, and teaching and leading their families is all part of the culture. Men are expected to be strong, active, caring, protective fathers. Anything else would bring embarrassment to the family.

There is social and cultural pressure on Arab men not only to provide for the family financially, but to also be involved in every aspect of their lives up until they get married. When Arab men become fathers, they are incredibly affectionate with the babies and kids.

The building's committee chairman, Yoske, decides to step down, leaving his post up for grabs. Amjad ends up being the only candidate, but still loses the election. Amjad is embarrassed that his father is doing menial tasks for money. It starts our with gardening then turns into cleaning the stairs and walking dogs. He ends up being so well liked by the tenants that he's chosen to be building manager.

The greatest scene of the season is in this episode. Amjad is playing backgammon with Yoske when they realize they fought on opposing sides in the 1967 war. They show their scars to each other and describe how they got them. Coincidentally, Yoske was shot by a sniper that turns out to have been Abu Amjad. This one scene seamlessly demonstrates what peace and reconciliation could look like: Compare scars and move on with humor and humility. Let the past remain in the past. That is peace.

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:

The term "Arab labor" means cheap labor. It doesn't just refer to the amount you pay for someone to work, but also the quality of work. Arab labor is considered shoddy, poorly executed, and without precision.

In this episode, Amjad's new building needs a gardener and his father takes the job, embarrassing Amjad in the process. Amjad then decides to run for building manager so he can fire his father. In his gardening work, Amjad's dad completely turns the idea of Arab labor around, proving that it could be the best labor available. So much so that the people in the building want to hire him to do other jobs.

This causes a dispute between Timna and Natan because Timna feels that Natan is abusing the Arab labor in a racist way. They reinforce and break stereotypes at the same time during their dispute. Timna jokes that Natan should ask the Arab "hand" to make food for them; exactly then Amjad calls and invites them to a barbecue that ends up being the best they've ever had.

Between many of the Jewish and Arab characters, there is always a fine line of the Jewish oppressor and the Arab oppressed. Neither side wants to be stereotyped, they want to prove that they are diffident, better. But by trying so hard, they end up being exactly who they don't want to be time and time again.

Amjad's father compares gardening to serving in the reserves, insinuating that this is the work he was meant to do, work he is used to doing. Before the 1948 War of Independence, the majority of Palestinians worked the land. After serving the mandatory three-year Army Service, Israeli men must continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday.

The scene where Amjad's father and the 1967 vet are playing backgammon shows us what reconciliation can and should look like -- no fear or anger, just shared memories and humor. Both men are basically saying we do not begrudge.

We can joke about our scars from the past and look to the future, accept reality, and move on. The day people can put hate aside, look their enemy in the eye, and sit and reminisce together about the past is when peace will begin.

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 3 Explainer: Dog

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 three, Dog.


Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 3 Explainer: Dog



Aron Kader:

Everything about this episode is classic to me. It uses dogs to point out that humans are trained to behave and conditioned to think in a certain way. It also plays on a stereotype that Arabs don't like dogs, which actually rings true.

In my experience, the disdain for dogs comes from the belief that they are dirty animals often referred to as "najis," meaning unclean or impure. As a matter of fact, most Arabs consider dogs to be just above pigs. To compare anything or anyone to a pig or a dog is a huge insult in Arabic. A typical Arabic curse might use the word dog ("kalb"). You will hear Amjad's father say that word a lot, especially in this episode.

All the dogs in Amjad's building seem to recognize that he's Arab and bark at him every time he walks into the apartment complex. When he asks a Jewish pet store worker whether dogs can recognize Arabs, he acknowledges this as a well-known fact. This seems to confirm Amjad's irrational fear of dogs, and he resorts to donning a yarmulke -- a small round cap traditionally worn by Jewish men -- to fool the dog into thinking he's Jewish.

This episode is also the beginning of Bushra's character arc as a professional therapist. She starts to observe Amjad and ends up using him as a case study in her class. It's hard to miss the Pavlov's dog metaphor in this episode, which is meant to be a statement on Jews and Arabs living together. Everyone knows that dogs can be trained to do anything, including attack or guard something. It's also true that Arabs and Jews have been conditioned to fear or have prejudice toward each other. This gets to the root of the entire conflict in one metaphor.

The culture among Arab and Jewish people in Israel has a long history of conditioning that needs to be untrained. Cultures are formed over generations and can take generations to undo. It's a long process. But is there an effort to fix it? Being blind to the culture around you can stop you from moving forward in the right direction.

For example, ultra religious Muslims and Jewish people will fight about something that happened so long ago that it's impossible to settle the differences. Cultures nurture or debunk positive or negative stereotypes and in Israel/Palestine, there is a fight between those that want to be part of a global future and those who want to step backward.

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:

Many biases, generalizations, and racist remarks are based on a small truth that has been taken out of context and exaggerated to a ridiculous extreme. This episode is a clear example of that. It's commonly known that Arabs (and I am generalizing here) are not big fans of dogs. They are not a pet culture. And the conclusion in this episode, that dogs can smell Arabs or bark only at Arabs, is an example of a ridiculous extreme.

There is always great irony in the fact that Amjad himself seems to believe stereotypes about his people, and then tries to do everything in his power to disillusion them. His desire to disprove this assumption makes the situation worse. Bushra, on the other hand, never gives in to what people seem to think of Arabs in general or her in particular. She is confident and proud so dogs are playful with her and lets her pet them.

Bushra seems to be the posterchild for believing in yourself and your values, as well as having a clear understanding of who the Alayin family needs to be as Palestinian Israelis. By being proud of her Arab heritage and not trying to be something she's not, she fits in on her own terms and finds a way to immerse herself in Israeli culture, even if that means being a bystander sometimes.

Amjad uses a Jewish skull cap to "trick" the dog into thinking he is Jewish. It is amusing that he chooses the most ostentatious kippa (head covering). Wearing a skull cap is a political statement in Israel, with each kind of of scull covering meaning a different thing. He chose a kippa that is usually used by nonobservant Jews at religious events; seldom do people walk around wearing these head coverings as he did.

Amjad is perpetuating a stereotype of his people regarding Arabs and dogs, while his neighbor Timna is yet one more extreme. Timna relates to her dog as if it's her child, she is mortified when the dog barks at an Arab, and calls the dog a "likudnik" (a member of Israel's right wing party). She wants to take the dog to see a psychologist for his problem.

At the end of the day, no psychologist is really needed. What is needed is for two diverse cultures to take the time and make the effort to get to know each other, understand their differences, and not let a dog be the one to prove the truth of a silly myth.

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 4 Explainer: Nightgown

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 four, Nightgown.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 4 Explainer: Nightgown



Aron Kader:

I believe this episode was written purposely to break the taboo Arabs have about sex. I don't think that a show has ever brought an audience this far into the bedroom of a Muslim couple. Of course, they're no different then any other TV couple that has been seen in a bedroom, but for Arabs and Muslims, this is a big first.

Sex is never openly talked about among Arabs and Muslims, and Arabs will never show public displays of affection. By using a very traditional old-fashioned nightgown inside the bedroom, which is only sexy to Amjad's father Abu Amjad and probably the older generation, this episode advances the discourse on intimacy. It's quite obvious that there is a comment here on what the modern generation likes versus the older one. Arousal and desire differ from culture to culture, but I think this episode could have been written for any TV show anywhere and should be universally understood since all humans have sex and have different habits around it.

As an Arab married to another Arab, I witnessed how differently our families talked about sex before and after our wedding. This is not limited to Arabs; most married people probably experience something similar. Sex is unspoken before marriage and almost never not insinuated after -- maybe not in specifics, but in general about having babies and starting a family.

Most Arabs assume you're a virgin before marriage so sex is a big no-no to talk about until you're married. Even then, it's only acceptable to talk about it around other married people and really just between your respective sex. Delving into the topic can offend easily, but the humor here should be enough to compensate.

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, we get a peek into the bedroom of the different couples on the show. Honestly, sex is sex, people and intimate relationships are truly universal. The problems this episode addresses are relatable and on display on every sitcom.

Classically, Bushra, a working mom with small children, doesn't want to have sex because she is tired. Timna is looking for ways to spice up the romance in the bedroom, and tries to roleplay with her husband Natan. Meanwhile, Amjad's parents are the older couple. They're empty nesters still in love and simply having a blast.

What's different here is the cultural context and the opportunity to peek into a Muslim bedroom. I do not think we have ever seen that before. And when we think of the Middle East, most people assume that the people there are very traditional, perhaps religious and old fashioned. Well, I would think again.They use their tradition as a tool of seduction, or not ...

Bushra wears a traditional nightgown to keep her husband away, while her mother-in-law uses it to seduce her husband. The Jew who they give the nightgown to as a gift uses it to try and tempt her husband to act out a playful role as an Arab. It could seem surreal that culture and race enter the bedroom, but doesn't everything we live and breathe follow us to our most intimate places?

Natan doesn't want to engage in the roleplaying game of Arabs on the eve of his reserve duty since he will be dealing with Arabs while in the army. In Israel, everyone over the age of 18 is required by law to join the army. Girls serve for two years, boys for three. Men continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday. Unfortunately, many reserve soldiers spend their month of reserve duty standing at checkpoints that separate the Arab areas from the Jews, checking identification documents.

On the morning Natan has to leave for reserve duty, Timna pretends to be an Arab woman trying to go through the checkpoint and her husband, who is already in his military uniform, cooperates and they have a playful little encounter. It might seem tasteless to someone watching this from the outside, but dealing with the realities of the Middle East requires some humor and lightheartedness. It's no different than someone in the US role playing as a doctor, policeman, or firefighter.

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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