Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Accommodation and Audacity

Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Accommodation and Audacity

Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Accommodation and Audacity

Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Accommodation and Audacity

Excerpt

Strong images come to mind when thinking about Arabs and Jews and their religions, ethnicities, and lands. Arabs, in particular, are in the public eye and under scrutiny in contemporary America. They are widely viewed as “foreign” and Muslim, an attitude that neglects the many Arabs who may be Christian or secular and those who are not foreign at all but whose families have been American for generations. Treating all Arab Americans as the same deletes not just the larger historical framework of repeated waves of Arab immigrants to America but their individual stories as well. A similar homogenization might apply to Jews, insofar as Americans understand them in relation to the Holocaust or to Israel. It is harder, however, to identify general cultural responses to Jews because, to a great extent, they have simply become Americans whose immigrant roots are, by and large, in the past; Russian Jews are the exception. Jews may also be viewed as the palatable counterpart to Muslim Arabs in the United States, a sentiment that can result in a mix of security and insecurity among Jews, since public sentiment is known to be fickle. Irrespective of how Jews and Arabs are viewed separately, they are inevitably construed as opposing forces engaged in a conflict of biblical and global proportions. Dichotomous renderings of Arabs and Jews overlook the many close and complicated relationships they have forged, both currently and historically. They also ignore the fact that a person can be both Jewish and Arab.

Kentucky is not normally a place that comes to mind when talking about Arabs and Jews. It’s not New York or Michigan, where Jews and Arabs abound. “There are Arabs and Jews in Kentucky?” is something I hear regularly—part statement, part question—when I mention my work to people inside or outside the state. Kentucky and Kentuckians are . . .

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