Sisterhood Blog

Najla Said: Palestinian American Princess

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

Najla Said, daughter of famed literary scholar and Palestine advocate Edward Said, has a new one-woman show about growing up in-between cultures. “Palestine,” the play’s title, explores the tension between her growing up as a Christian Arab on Manhattan’s heavily Jewish Upper West Side.

“Until September 11, 2001, if you asked anyone to spend five minutes with me and try to guess my background, they’d tell you I was a Jew,” she begins the play. “This may sound rather bizarre coming from a Palestinian-Lebanese-American Christian woman, but in the standard, stereotypical, cultural sense of the word, I grew up as a Jew in New York City.”

In the show, Said, 35, discusses her oscillating feelings of displacement and belonging: She recalls her horrifying visit to Gaza Strip, her eye-opening journey to her to father’s childhood house in Jerusalem (which had become the headquarters for a right-wing Christian organization), and her glamorous vacations in Lebanon. Said jests about her essentially Jewish American Princess upbringing, and her inclination to sprinkle her language with Yiddish. It wasn’t until after September 11 that she began to contemplate her identity as as an Arab American.

A leitmotif in the show is Said’s indifference to politics, and, specifically, Palestine, which repeatedly interrupts her young womanly concerns (boys, clothes and — the more destructive — staying thin). During most of her upbringing, she wanted nothing more than to shed the burden of belonging to a politicized family, something underscored by her use of “daddy” throughout the play; this was a clear desire to, if only through words, corner the man whose public identity is a tough act to follow.

Ms. Said’s main problem, the one that seems to carry on today, is her problem identifying with anyone; she is a bit adrift in all her hyphens. But the flipside of this, one that her play manifests even if she doesn’t, is that she can identify with everyone.

Being a girl, she was allowed to delight in lightweight things like kissing Jewish boys and shopping on Madison Avenue —without having the burden of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict thrust on her shoulders. While she later felt guilty about this, and slightly resentful of the elements of sexism she came to see in her family — her brother was presented as an extremely politicized foil to her callousness and naiveté — the girly island she was placed on was in some ways a gift.

While I am not in the habit of quoting Torah, this did remind me of a recent passage I read.

But every woman shall borrow of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:22 )

In Robert Alter’s footnote to this section in his new translation, he explains that it was common for women to “constitute the porous boundary between adjacent ethnic communities; borrowers of the proverbial cup of sugar, sharers of gossip and women’s lore.”

The power of Najla Said’s play is in the way it is a bit gossipy, filled with lore. While her father was particularly adept at constructing the other, she has proved adept at deconstructing it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Najla Said, JAP, Edward Said, Palestine

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Uri Succot Sat. Feb 20, 2010

A great column. You seem to be as adept as Najla Said in deconstructing the other.

Sephardiman Mon. Feb 22, 2010

She has her Dad's(z'l) face!

Palestiniansareamyth Mon. Feb 22, 2010

Neither "Palestine" nor "Palestinians" exist. It's all a myth created by the KGB and Arab countries to steal the Jewish homeland. Her play should be called "Arabia" because she's an Arab whose homeland is in Arabia.

Karen Malpede Mon. Feb 22, 2010

We are all "a myth". We are all only the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves. We imagine the world in which we live. Sometimes the stories we tell are terribly destructive of an imagined other. "Jews" are as much a myth as are "Palestinians" and as was "the master race". Myth can be degenerative but, equally, regenerative. This is why it so terribly important to tell stories of inclusion, stories that transgress boundaries, stories of compassion--as,indeed, Najla Said does. As, indeed, the Judaism to which I adhere does.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.