Kashua to Speak about Life as a Palestinian Living in Israel

As part of the Louisville Jewish/Israeli Author Series, Palestinian-Israeli author Sayed Kashua will present “The Foreign Mother Tongue: Living and Writing as a Palestinian in Israel” and sign books at the Chao Auditorium in the Ekstrom Library at the University of Louisville. The program will be on Thursday, February 12, at 3 p.m.

Kashua will also speak on “Living with Dual Identity” on Friday, February 13, at 7 p.m. at The Temple.

At a time when the relations between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are more fraught then ever, and the very condition of being an Arab in the Jewish state has become excruciatingly complex and tense, the life and work of Sayed Kashua serve as a moral barometer of the fate of tolerance and coexistence.

He is one of Israel’s most important contemporary writers and the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature (2004). In much of his work, he skillfully draws on images of the oppressed Diaspora Jew in works by Sholem Aleichem and other Yiddish writers.

Since the early 2000s, Kashua’s novels and satirical weekend columns for the newspaper Ha’aretz have entertained and also challenged Jewish Israeli readers, helping them to better grasp the daily prejudice, cultural misunderstandings and hostility that Israel’s minority citizens have to negotiate on a daily basis.

Kashua’s highly popular Arab Labor (Avodah Aravit) also addresses these issues but with a warm heart, empathy, and generous servings of exuberant humor. This comic series, justifiably widely proclaimed a groundbreaking series, focuses on Amjad Alian, a Palestinian journalist and Israeli citizen in search of his identity.

Acerbically poking fun at cultural tensions, Kashua and his characters play on religious, cultural and political differences to daringly portray Israel’s culturally complex and divided society.

This show marked an important milestone on Israeli television as the very first program to present Palestinian characters speaking Arabic to primetime audiences. Moreover, over four seasons, it has helped Jewish Israelis to better empathize with the position of the Arab minority too often viewed by their society as “a fifth column or a demographic problem” as Kashua says.

Kashua’s critically praised and award-winning novels are wildly popular in both Israel and abroad. Written in Hebrew, the language in which he feels most comfortable writing, his three books reflect a distinctly Jewish sensibility through biting satire that explores the country’s racism and exclusions of Arab identity through the Jewish character of the state, its flag, anthem, and Jewish holidays.

His autobiographic Dancing Arabs draws on Kashua’s experiences as the only Arab attending a prestigious Jerusalem boarding school. In Let it Be Morning the narrator is a journalist for a Hebrew newspaper in Tel Aviv, who resolves to return with his wife and baby to his Arab village in Israel’s borderlands with the West Bank, after a 10-year absence. As an Arab, he can reach the parts other Israeli reporters cannot, yet his editors view him with suspicion, and he longs for a place of safety and belonging.

His latest novel, Second Person Singular triumphs as a tragicomedy composed of two intertwined stories tracing the lives of two Arab protagonists, illuminating their fraught condition as insiders and outsiders, the temptation to “pass” and hide one’s identity, and the painful struggle to create a life of meaning.

Here Kashua examines life as a struggle against the destructive forces within all individuals, even as they grope with their society’s iniquities. Ultimately, Kashua’s entire oeuvre (books, television, and journalism) is distinguished by its unflinching critical portraits of both Arab and Jewish societies.

This past summer the film adaptation of Kashua’s first novel, Dancing Arabs, was chosen to open the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film will also be shown in the Louisville Jewish Film Festival on February 14. He is currently teaching at the University of Illinois and his recent columns in Haaretz have explored his anguish about whether or not to return to Israel with his family after his sabbatical.

Although both talks are free, reservations are requested. Register for the UofL talk at http://sayed-kashua.eventbrite.com, and The Temple talk at https://jewishlouisville.org/event/louisville-jewishisraeli-author-series-sayed-kashua-2/. For reserved parking information, email Ranen Omer-Sherman, the Jewish Heritage Foundation for Excellence endowed chair in Judaic studies, at ranen.omersherman@louisville.edu.

For more information, contact Omer-Sherman at 502-852-6842 or ranen.omersherman@louisville.edu.

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