A Palestinian and a Jew Meet…

10 April, 2017
Jess Salomon & Eman El Husseini celebrate at their wedding party in Montreal.

Lauren Marcus

Born in Kuwait to Pales­tin­ian par­ents, come­di­an Eman El-Hus­sei­ni vis­it­ed Israel only once, to per­form at a com­e­dy fes­ti­val in the Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries. “In Israel, they loved me so much,” she said. “They loved me so much that they kept me at the air­port for three hours.”

Israel’s well-known pol­i­cy of detain­ing vis­it­ing activists and “sus­pi­cious tourists,” usu­al­ly of Arab or Mus­lim descent, is a seri­ous issue. But for El-Hus­sei­ni, pre­sent­ing the top­ic in a fun­ny way “makes it eas­i­er to digest.” In an inter­view she said, “Peo­ple are more recep­tive to com­e­dy than hav­ing some long polit­i­cal conversation.”

A self-pro­claimed “sec­ond-class cit­i­zen from birth,” much of El-Hus­seini’s com­e­dy dis­cuss­es her expe­ri­ence as a Pales­tin­ian Mus­lim woman grow­ing up in Cana­da, and Cana­di­an soci­ety’s per­cep­tion of her immi­grant fam­i­ly. “My par­ents’ wed­ding anniver­sary falls on Sep­tem­ber 11th,” she said. “Can you imag­ine how that seemed to the rest of the neigh­bor­hood?” The com­e­dy show audi­ence groaned. “Pic­ture this: Ara­bic music blar­ing, a whole lamb roast­ing on a spit, and a ton of Arabs cel­e­brat­ing. On Sep­tem­ber 11th. My father’s mak­ing a speech with his very scary, very heavy Ara­bic accent. ‘9/11 is a spe­cial day for us. It is the day that brought us togeth­er in uni­ty. Allahu Akbar.’ With­in min­utes, the heli­copters are hov­er­ing over my house.” The audi­ence roared with laughter.

Pri­vate­ly, El-Hus­sei­ni spoke of grow­ing up in an “open, mod­er­ate Mus­lim fam­i­ly.” Her par­ents approved of her Jew­ish child­hood best friend; the girl often slept over at the El-Hus­sei­ni home. Peo­ple remarked on the phys­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties between El-Hus­sei­ni and her friend, as often­times strangers thought they were sis­ters. She men­tioned going to her friend’s broth­er’s bar mitz­vah as a moment when she was struck by the over­lap between Jew­ish and Arab cul­ture. “On their father’s side, they were Lebanese Jew­ish, and on their mom’s side, Moroc­can Jew­ish.” El-Hus­sei­ni described “a room full of Jew­ish men in kip­pahs, speak­ing in per­fect Ara­bic. It tripped me out.”

But when El-Hus­sei­ni fell in love with Jess Salomon, a Jew­ish Cana­di­an, her par­ents weren’t as accept­ing. The two met on the small Mon­tre­al com­e­dy scene, in which there were only a hand­ful of women. Despite her par­ents’ gen­er­al­ly lib­er­al lean­ings, it was dif­fi­cult for them to accept that their daugh­ter was roman­ti­cal­ly involved with a woman. “My father’s solu­tion for this ‘prob­lem,’ ” said El-Hus­sei­ni, “was to sug­gest that me and Jess mar­ry broth­ers, so that we could stay close.”

Mus­lim broth­ers,” added Salomon, to whom El-Hus­sei­ni is now married.

Salomon, a for­mer UN war crimes lawyer turned come­di­an, spoke of her own fam­i­ly’s dif­fi­cul­ties accept­ing her decid­ed­ly non-main­stream choic­es. “It’s been a rocky road,” she said. Since her teenage days of being a major Phish and Grate­ful Dead fan, her fam­i­ly has always wor­ried about her choic­es. “Even when I fin­ished law school, they did­n’t want me to work for the U.N. They were wor­ried about me being sent some­where dan­ger­ous. They were like, ‘Jess, can’t you just go work for some nor­mal law firm?’ ”

Salomon’s deci­sion to share her life with El-Hus­sei­ni was yet anoth­er choice her par­ents would­n’t have made for her. “But, they’ve come around recent­ly,’ she said, as her moth­er threw the cou­ple a belat­ed wed­ding par­ty. Salomon said that on a per­son­al lev­el, her rela­tion­ship with El-Hus­sei­ni has been enlight­en­ing for some in her Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. “I’ve seen a few men­tal­i­ties shift,” she said. “Now that they know Eman, and they know an actu­al, real-life Pales­tin­ian, some of their views have changed.”

On stage, Salomon dis­cussed the anx­i­ety instilled in her Jew­ish child­hood. “Jew­ish kids aren’t afraid of the Boo­gie­man,” she said. “I mean, your par­ents tell you about the Nazis! The Boo­gie­man can’t com­pare to that.” She con­tin­ued, “Actu­al­ly, the Boo­gie­man is Jew­ish. I think his full name is Joshua Boo­gie­man, and he’s just made some poor life choices.”

Salomon and El-Hus­sei­ni, shar­ing the stage, spoke of their future chil­dren’s names. “I want to give them my last name,” said Salomon, “so that they have a chance.”

Allud­ing to the fear-induc­ing nature of Islam­ic names, El-Hus­sei­ni said, “I think Jihad El-Salomoni has a nice ring to it.”

“Osama is a name that Eman seri­ous­ly sug­gest­ed,” said Salomon.

“Jess gives me a baby name book,” said El-Hus­sei­ni. “I just hand her the no-fly list.”

Lau­ren Mar­cus is a writer in Los Angeles.