Israeli Arab Author Navigates Three Worlds


Sayed Kashua will discuss his new book, Native, at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Feb. 16. 


Sayed Kashua misses home. 
He misses the land, his friends, familiarity.  
Kashua is an Israeli Arab who lived in Jerusalem for most of his life. In 2014, he made the decision to leave Israel for good — well, at least for now — and move his family to Champaign, Ill. where he took a position as a clinical professor of Hebrew and creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. 
The move is indefinite, and comes at a time of reflection on his life in Israel that he explains in his new book, Native, which he will talk about at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Feb. 16. 
Kashua is the author of three other novels — Dancing Arabs (which was turned into the critically acclaimed Eran Riklis film, A Borrowed Identity), Let It Be Morning and Second Person Singular. He is also known for his weekly satirical columns in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz
Native is a collection of Kashua’s columns and short stories over the past eight years living in Jerusalem. It documents life with his family and the social and cultural dynamics involved with being a minority dealing with religion, language barriers and assimilation in a divided country — all embedded with humor and satire.  
The last column published in the book discusses his reasons and decision to move to the United States, and his belief that he could no longer live in a place without coexistence.  
However, he still cares about the place he called home for so many years.  
“I miss home very much — I’m still not sure what we’re going to do next year,” he said. “I know that we’re supposed to stay here in Illinois for the coming year, but sometimes it’s so homesick and lonely. But on the other hand, I’m reading the news every day from Israel and it gives me a lot of reasons to think that maybe it’s not a good place for my kids.” 
He hopes there will be some positive change for Palestinians in the future. 
Andy Kahan, director of author events at the Free Library of Philadelphia, said Kashua’s self-deprecating humor helps share his perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  
“He sees himself as a bit of a schlemiel, an everyman,” Kahan added, “but he’s also satirically savvy about politics and the ironies attendant to being a Hebrew-speaking [Israeli Arab] — that is, a minority within a minority.” 
Kahan hopes Philadelphians take advantage of the opportunity to meet Kashua and hear what he has to say.  
“What I hope people take away from his talk is the idea and the feeling that ‘the other’ might be a lot like me — different, sure — but not that different,” he said. “That, and a bit of laughter at the human condition.” 
For now, Kashua said he and his family are making the most of their new city, taking advantage of the simpler things.  
“So I’m still politically and emotionally involved with home,” he explained. “But life is so much easier in Champaign. The fact that you can choose a school for your kids and the fact that no one asks you where are you from when you want to rent a house. Something here, maybe that’s obvious, but back there it’s [not].” 
Regardless of political or cultural issues, Kashua remembers the good qualities of life in Jerusalem and thinks of them often.  
“The opposite of Jerusalem is Champaign, Ill.,” he laughed. “I need to see a mountain soon. Otherwise, I don’t know — it’s just so flat here. 
“But maybe, because I’m just a visitor, maybe because I do care more about what’s going on in Jerusalem and Palestine/Israel more than what’s going on in the States,” he continued. “But in Champaign, because again, I’m a visitor, the first news that I read in the morning is the news from Israel, not the news from Champaign or the States.” 
Kashua wants people who come to see him at the Free Library to learn from his columns and stories. 
“I’ll bring a very personal point of view of the conflict,” he said. “If I can make them laugh a little bit and then make them also think differently from a different angle about the situation, that would be great. I hope it’s going to be not just entertaining, but something that will make them think differently about Israel, Palestine and, maybe, about themselves.” 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737


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