I am lucky to experience something I wish more could

I am lucky to experience something I wish more could

By Ray Hanania

I’m lucky. Or maybe some might call it blessed. Others may just say fortunate. A few say plagued. I have and will again experience something that many Jews and Palestinians may never really experience. Something where we all come together and celebrate without animosity, hatred, anger, jealousies, vengeance or disdain all the words that have come to define Palestinian-Israeli relations over the years.

Not everyone likes that I am in that position, that my beautiful wife, Alison, is a Jew. Or that I am a Palestinian. Or that in a few weeks my son, Aaron, will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.

The Bar Mitzvah is basically a religious event when a young boy of 13 becomes a man and takes responsibility, under Jewish Law, the Torah, for his actions. It’s no different than a Confirmation, one that I did at my Protestant Church when I was 13, or that my daughter, Carolyn Haifa experienced in her Catholic Church so many  years ago.

the Temple Mount -- Nov 13, 2011 / 16 Cheshvan...

Nothing has changed. It’s really all the same, from what we put on our heads to the words we recite. A Yamulke or a Kiffeyeh. A Hijab of a scarf. Hallelujahs in English, Arabic or Hebrew. Baruch Hashem. Hallelujah. Al-ḥamdu lillāh. Different and similar. But the difference is what we put into the words that in truth are the same.

It’s not what is on our heads. It is not the words that come from our mouths. It is what is in our hearts.

It will be a small Bar Mitzvah. Just 140 people. Some relatives. Some friends. I wish I could afford to invite everyone to experience the joy not only of seeing my son become a Man, but also to see Palestinians and Jews sitting together and celebrating.

But I can afford sharing it. It doesn’t cost much to be proud, other than the price of some anger or love.

Imagine, if Israelis and Palestinians could spend their time sharing instead of hating? Dancing instead of hating? Reaching out with their hands with compassion to give to each other rather than to strike ones face or take away?

That’s what I have always gotten from this marriage. At our wedding, the first time I experienced Jews and Arabs coming together to celebrate something, I saw for the first time that Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs could live together in a genuine, real peace. Everyone who attended the wedding left their fears and animosity and differences at the door. For a brief moment of one day, it was a neutral spot where our humanity made us equal, not different or separate. Not better and not worse.

It’s more than just love. Love brought us together. But an inner humanity that allows us to understand and listen to the other keeps us together. We don’t agree on a lot that goes on in the Middle East, but we do believe there needs to be fairness. Justice. Peace. For both sides, not just one. We both know we lack leaders who can bring us together, who have the courage to wed across valleys of anger, hatred and conflict, or to raise children to love rather than to handle Kalashnikovs or Uzis.

Peace isn’t about agreement. It is about respect, whether it is the Holocaust or the Nakba. Palestine or Israel. Or both. Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and Christians.

But the greatest lesson is to know when not to say something to provoke someone who is in a pain or a suffering. When not to push someone to be worse than ourselves just so we can feel better. Not to use your own needs to motivate someone else in the wrong way.

I wish everyone could be there at my son’s Bar Mitzvah to experience what I will experience, a brief moment when there will be not only a peace between Arabs and Jews, but when there will be a moment when we see each other as human beings with the right to fairness. Justice. Peace. Safety. Respect.

My son Aaron has done much and may one day find a road that allows his uniqueness, the child of a Palestinian and a Jew, to use that to bring people together. Surely Aaron is “Hanania” a Hebrew word that means “God has been gracious.”

Maybe people can be gracious, too.


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About the Author
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and former Chicago political City Hall reporter. His father is from Jerusalem and mother from Bethlehem. A Christian, Hanania's wife, Alison, is Jewish. He has two children, Carolyn Haifa, from a previous marriage, and Aaron, who is Russian Jewish. Hanania writes regularly for Creators Syndicate on Middle East issues and for the Saudi Gazette every Sunday. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News online ( During more than 35 years in journalism, he has also hosted several live radio talk shows. He performed standup comedy with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, lampooning his Arab-Jewish marriage, and is the author of several books including "Arabs of Chicagoland" (2005), a historical look at Arab settlement in Chicago, and “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America” (1996, 2006), which humorously explores his experience growing up Arab in America.
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