It’s been a while, but I won’t be bullied

It’s been a while since I blogged at the Times of Israel. I started writing here after writing for several years at the Jerusalem Post and, before that, at I enjoy writing for an Israeli audience.

Although I get a lot of negative feedback from Israelis, it’s not really much different from the Arab side. Although on the Arab side the anger is driven by different reasons: they think writing for an Israeli publication is “normalization” and in their eyes “normalization” is a bigger sin than drawing a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed.

So there was a lot of grief that went along with the column. And it’s not easy. But, I decided, so what. What’s life without grief?

Next May is my son’s Bar Mitzvah and I’m more concerned about that. What role will I have, as a Palestinian Christian standing at his side at the Bimah as he reads the Torah?

He’ll do good. His Hebrew is phenomenal. I’m learning it just listening to him.

That will upset a lot of Arabs but so what?

You don’t know how many times Arab friends ask me “How is it that you married a Jew?” Or, when they get past that question, “Why doesn’t she convert?” And the one that really surprised me but that I hear often, “Why are you raising your son Jewish? You could raise him as a Muslim.”

That last one comes from Muslim Arabs. The Christian Arabs ask the same questions but it ends with “You could raise him Orthodox.”

No, I tell them. His mother’s Jewish and I believe a child should be raised the religion of the mother. That’s the way I am.

That’s when all the “Well, you’re not really an Arab.” Well, maybe I am more Arab than you, I think, rather than say because what’s the point of fighting over it.

Aaron is a Jew. That’s his religion.

We’re planning the Bar Mitzvah and I expect it will be a lot like our wedding in 1997. A lot of Jews and a lot of Arabs sitting across from each other staring as much at each other as they are paying attention to the ceremony of the event.

Yes, a lot of my relatives have surprisingly said they have never been to a Jewish wedding. I doubt many have been to a Bar Mitzvah.

What does an Arab buy as a present for a boy who is Bar Mitzvahed? Why not ask me that instead of why we got married. Why does anyone get married? They’re in love. We didn’t marry to solve the Middle East crisis, although it does make for a great topic when the two sides come together, as they rarely do.

My first Bat Miztvah was in 1967. It was for Laura. My mom took me out to Goldblatts Bargain basement where she bought me a shirt and pants I picked out — multi-colored plaid shirt, blue thin tie and orange corduroy pants. With a thick white belt. Remember, Lucy was wearing diamonds in the sky back then and Jimi was in a Purple Haze.

After the Synagogue service, and before the party at her home, her father came up to me and suggested that I at least lose the tie, even though it took me with some help from my friend Bruce to tie the Half Windsor Knot, which I was really proud of, more than the black heeled rock shoes with the playing card symbols emblazoned on the outer side of each shoe.

Hey. I had long hair, too, although it was always so curly and I couldn’t get it straight.

It’s kind of interesting for me that Aaron has several Palestinian friends in his school, but I am not sure he plans to invite them to his Bar Mitzvah. Mohammed and Mahmoud. They hang together. Talk about baseball. Play int he school playground. And complain about the same homework assignments. When they cuss in Arabic, Aaron knows what they are saying, thanks to his dad — those were the first words I learned in Arabic when I was a kid, too.

But 2013 is a lot more difficult than 1967 for the different generations of families. I’m not sure their kids would be encouraged to go, while my mom didn’t care at all that Laura was Jewish. Back in 1967, Arabs and Jews lived in the same neighborhoods in Chicago, despite the war that took place that summer.

It’s funny how so much has changed, and yet so much remains the same.

Anyway, as my wife and I prepare for our son’s Bar Mitzvah, you’re all invited.

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.