Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
But my mom is different.
My mom always made sure we did our homework. She let us know that “good enough” would never be good enough. Today, three of her four children are independent, dynamic individuals who command and give great respect. And I’m a law school graduate who became a comedian. Three out of four isn’t bad. She’s pretty awesome.
I love my mom because she taught me how to appreciate food. She didn’t boil hot dogs for dinner. When my mom complained that she was slaving all day in the kitchen, it was because she was actually slaving all day in the kitchen. And we ate like kings every night. She always made everything from scratch. Hamburger Helper was not welcome in our home. I think the list of things never allowed in our house went something like Ariel Sharon’s picture, the Israeli flag, and Hamburger Helper. Her cooking has become the stuff of legend in the Philadelphia Arab-American community. Sure, every now and then she took a little break and made us something a little less laborious, like spaghetti… with homemade meatballs, of course.
I love my mom because she taught me how to be resourceful. We always had more grocery bags than the rest of the neighborhood combined. White people throw away their bags. We didn’t. Ours were stuffed in that little space between the refrigerator and the wall. White moms asked their kids if they wanted turkey or roast beef for lunch. My mom asked me if I wanted paper or plastic.
In 1965, at the age of 11, my mother came to America from Palestine with her parents and three sisters. Her father ventured here with the intention of studying and returning to a job in Israel. My mom got here by taking a boat from Haifa to New York, then a bus from New York to California. That was a long trip. She survived. I love her.
Due to some horrible (but typical) actions by the Israel government, my grandfather was stripped of his job back in Israel and forced to stay in America to sustain a livelihood for his wife and four daughters. Of, course being forced to stay in America is not that bad. I guess I’m glad he didn’t decide to study in Russia. But, of course, America wasn’t home. I’m sure it was hard to adjust. As a teenage girl in California in the sixties, my mom must have gone through lots of growing pains. She didn’t freak out. I love her.
My mom fell in love with my dad while she and he were at the same university. He was Christian. She was Muslim. She knew that marrying him would not be an easy thing to do. But she saw a proud Palestinian man, and not simply a man of a faith different than hers. She had the courage and strength to marry my dad despite the odds. Only when I got a little older did I understand what that truly meant. I really love her.
I love my mom because she made me into the Palestinian I am today. Every now and then she would wake us up early on a Saturday morning, stuff us in the car, and take us somewhere fun like New York or Washington DC. When we arrived at our destination, we would be in the middle of a demonstration. Being Palestinian is only partly genetic. You get the important stuff when your mom tells you about it over and over and over again. And if there’s anything Arab moms are good at, it’s saying something over and over and over again.
I love my mom because she showed me what it means to be generous and gracious. My parents have always been very active in the community, and have always been overly giving and kind. The long line of Arab and Arab-American students who have come to study in Philadelphia and found a second home with the Zahrs could attest to this fact.
Today is my mom’s birthday. Yes, my mom. My loving, supportive, demanding, hard-working, resourceful, determined, strong, generous, gracious, and courageous mom. My Palestinian mom. I have tried to learn from her example. Mom, I’m doing my best.