Ray Hanania

Trying to bring Arab-Jewish marriages to the forefront

I didn’t say foreskin, I said forefront. But that’s where I want to bring Arab-Jewish marriages. They happen more than people want to admit.

One of my activist mentors, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, who was the political science department head at Northwestern University, was married to a Jewish wife. Meeting Abu-Lughod in the 1970s convinced me a long time ago that Arabs and Jews could not only live together, they could live in matrimony, too.

It wasn’t until many years later that I met Alison where I was working as a government consultant in a suburban community that had so few Jews that I wasn’t expecting to meet a Jewish girlfriend. But I met her and we hit it off right away. I always wonder if she had lived in a Jewish community like Skokie if we would have still connected. She’s my soul mate for sure, so it wouldn’t have been good had she grown up elsewhere.

But she grew up in a tough town where there were only a few Jews and where being Jewish was rough. It was kind of like being an Arab in almost any American community, today.

I wonder also if I had grown up someplace else, if my attitudes would have changed. I don’t think so, though I did grow up in a Jewish community that had many Arab families on the Southeast Side of Chicago –next to Pill Hill where all the rich doctors lived. They weren’t all Jewish doctors, either. Lots of goyim and many Arab doctors. Back int he 1950s and 1960s, Arabs and Jews lived together because Americans hated us equally. How that equality changed, I think happened because of the Jewish community focus on the mainstream media and the Arab community focus on haflis, partying and getting married.

I still think I would have met Alison, some how. (I’d been married twice before and while I always will respect both of my ex-wives as being nice people, we just were not made for each other.)

But Alison gets me. She understands my drive about Middle East peace. Some people say I’m wasting my time. My mom said that when I decided to go into journalism instead of be a doctor like uncles and cousins we had. Had I been a doctor, I’d be happier. You can’t say fighting for Middle East peace has been a happy endeavor. It’s terrible. You don;t make friends, just a lot of enemies and haters.

Arabs and Jews spend a lot of time looking at each other, but never crossing the line. We assume the worst about each other. We’re either afraid of the other or indignant and disrespectful. We see no hope in the Middle East, so why would we see hope in Middle East peace?

I do stupid things because of that hope. For example, I write columns thinking it will move people to find their heart in the darkness of the conflict. It doesn’t happen often.

I write columns thinking I am witty, offering detailed explanations for how I think, only to discover that many readers (most) get hung up over a word or a phrase and never see the bigger picture of the good intent of the column.

I remember when I wrote my first book, satire on growing up Arab in America. I called it, in 1996, “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America.” The subtitle is “humor and reality in the ethnic American experience.”

The Arabs didn’t like it and hammered me right away. Famed radio DJ Casey Kasem — who I never realized was Arab when I listened to him on the big WLS Radio in Chicago in the 1960s — sent me a note saying I should change the name to “I’m Glad I Don’t Look Like a Terrorist.”

Really? I wrote back. It’s called satire. Humor. Conflict in thought. Drama. The obvious gets no attention. If it bleeds, it leads. Shock is what grabs attention not the Boy Scout walking the little old lady across the street.

The Jews hated it, too, because I was “too moderate.” When I say “the Jews,” I mean the literatti that dominate the mainstream news media on Middle East topics. (For every one Arab in American journalism, there are at least 500 Jewish journalists. Those are odds you can’t ignore.) The media hammered my book.

Yet, it still sold. All 15,000 copies off my own web site, of course since every publisher I approached told me no one wants to read a story about an Arab growing up in America. How about an Arab put in jail? Or maybe who plans a terrorist bombing. Or who … well, you get the picture.

Hey, the book is on Amazon and Kindle as an eBook now. (Shameless self-promotion here.)

Yet one person saw through all this. Alison. She loves me. And I love her. And we have a beautiful young boy, Aaron, who is tough, precocious and smart, and a daughter from another marriage who I named Haifa after the Palestinian city.

For most readers, that last line will set them off, like saying “Eas Jerusalem” to distinguish it from Israeli Jerusalem.

But, my wife, Alison, knows what I mean.

— Ray Hanania

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.