Events to feature conversations with Israeli Palestinian writer of popular sitcom

Sayed Kashua posing next to a blue door.
Sayed Kashua, best known for his sitcom “Arab Labor,” a regular column in Haaretz, and novels like “Second Person Singular,” will appear at Yale on Thursday, Feb. 8 and Friday, Feb. 9.

Yale students and members of the wider community will have the opportunity to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a different lens Feb. 8-9, when Israeli-Palestinian columnist, author, and television writer Sayed Kashua visits the campus.

Kashua will give a talk following a screening of an episode of his television series “Arab Labor” on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. in Luce Hall Auditorium, 34 Hillhouse Ave. The event, which is free and open to the public, is organized and co-hosted by the Modern Hebrew and Arabic programs at Yale and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC). The film is in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

The following day, Kashua will take part in a more intimate conversation (in Hebrew, Arabic, and English) with students and other guests at 10 a.m. in Rm. 116 of William L. Harkness Hall, 100 Wall St. Following this event, he will be the guest during a lunchtime Hebrew Table at noon at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life, 80 Wall St. The public is also invited to attend these events.

Kashua currently lives in Illinois, where he is teaching Hebrew at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the creator of the television auto-fictional series “The Writer” and writes a satirical weekly column that is published in Haaretz. He is the author of four novels and one collection of essays. His book “Native: Dispatches from a Palestinian-Israeli Life” was published in English in 2016.

Kashua, who grew up in an Arab village in central Israel, is best known for his hit sitcom ‘Arab Labor,’ which focuses on the family and work situations of Amjad, an Arab-Israeli journalist,” says Jonas Elbousty, director of undergraduate studies in NELC and a senior lector in Arabic. “His tendency to poke fun at himself and his own culture can be seen in his choice of the title ‘Arab Labor,’ which carries the connotation of second-rate, or shoddy work among Israeli citizens. In this heated political climate, humor can bring laughter and humility. Kashua’s comedy centers around his love-hate relationship with his Arab identity and his simultaneous wish to integrate comfortably into Israeli society. Through Kashua’s willingness to explore his conflicting feelings about identity and the political and social implications certain identities carry, we find things that resonate with us and force us to become self-reflective about our own culture and identity.

This event,” he adds, “will help to foster a willingness to come together to share stories, laugh, and reflect on the things that make us unique, but also the things that we share with our fellow citizens. At times, when conversations become so loaded with polarized narratives, we need spaces that create an environment where people feel comfortable to share, and models who can boldly display their experiences and bring levity to conversations that are often politically overheated.”

Shiri Goren, a faculty member in NELC and director of the Hebrew Program, uses “Arab Labor” in her language classes and has written scholarly articles about Kashua’s literary and film works. She notes the sitcom is the first Arabic-language show — other than the news — to be broadcast during prime time in Israel. “Part of teaching a language is teaching culture as well,” says Goren. “‘Arab Labor’ really showcases some of the issues and conflicts that characterize Israel in a way that is much deeper than newspaper headlines.”

Goren says Kashua’s visit is a significant one for Yale, as it is one of the first occasions that the Hebrew and Arabic programs have jointly organized a major event.

Given the current hostile atmosphere on campuses around the nation between advocates of the different sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict (in particular if we look at some of our peer institutions), it is very uncommon to have such events jointly hosted by the programs of Hebrew and Arabic. It’s even more uncommon to see students of these languages come together in a series of academic events. Our hope is to serve as a model not only for academic but also for cultural tolerance for other programs and higher education institutions. When we bring our Hebrew and Arabic programs together for events like this, we really model for our students a way of co-existence.”

Adds NELC chair Shawkut Toorawa, “The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations is delighted that its Arabic and Hebrew programs have jointly organized this event.  Sayed Kashua's efforts as a writer, journalist, and cultural critic exemplify how an integration of both Hebrew and Arabic can lead to thoughtful analyses of identity, belonging, and citizenship.”

To learn more about Kashua, read this New Yorker profile.

Co-sponsors of the event include the Barbara & Morris Levinson Fund of the Program in Judaic Studies, the deputy dean for diversity and faculty development, the Council on Middle East Studies at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, and by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center Grant.

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