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Jewish Journal

Arab-Israeli penetrates mainstream media

by Danielle Berrin

January 7, 2008 | 4:19 pm

Sayed Kashua is shining new light on Arab life in Israel, but whether it’s the content of his writing or his own unique experience that is most revealing is up for debate.

Born in an Arab town in central Israel, Sayed Kashua was raised in a moderate Muslim family and educated in Hebrew at a Jerusalem boarding school. His unusual journey became artistic fodder for his successful career as an author, journalist and recently, television show creator. His new series “Avoda Aravit,” which airs on an Israeli commercial station is considered hip and clever by its predominantly Jewish audience, and insulting by many Arab and Palestinian critics.

Isabel Kershner writes in The New York Times:

“I wanted to bring likable Arabs into the average Israeli living room,” Mr. Kashua said.

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In a refreshing departure, “Avoda Aravit” focuses on a young professional Arab couple, Amjad and Bushra, and their way-too-smart, eye-rolling, preschool-age daughter, who live in an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Amjad is a journalist working for a Hebrew newspaper. His best friend, Meir, is a Jewish photographer there.

Mr. Kashua resorts to some unflattering stereotypes on both sides for the sake of comedy, but he is also a master of subtle nuance in dealing with both Arab and Jewish society, and is self-deprecating enough for the borscht belt.

Mr. Kashua’s alter ego, Amjad, sometimes goes to ridiculous lengths to fit in with what he views as Israel’s Ashkenazi elite. He sends his daughter to a Reform synagogue kindergarten after lampooning the local religious Islamic Movement one.

For Passover, Amjad and his family are invited to participate in a Seder, when Jewish families traditionally gather to read the story of the Children of Israel’s exodus from ancient Egypt. Amjad joins in with gusto, having memorized the classical Hebrew text, and gobbles down his gefilte fish, after which Bushra refuses to go near him.

By an accident of fortune, Amjad’s father has been given the annual Passover responsibility of buying the Jewish state’s leftover chametz, or leavened bread, from the chief rabbinate for the duration of the holiday, when Jews are meant to clear their homes of it, for the symbolic price of one shekel. He promptly sells it on eBay.

 

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