Arab-Israeli duo building bridges through yuks
Presidents, diplomats and assorted political and religious leaders have all failed to bring peace to the Mideast, but who’s to say a Hollywood publicist couldn’t help?P.R. maven Gia DelliGatti had the ingenious idea of forming a Jewish-Arab comedy double act. It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but this punch line’s for real. Rabbi Bob Alper and Arab-American standup Ahmed Ahmed teamed for a show that’s more Lower East Side than Middle East, taking on prejudice, hate crimes and the Arab-Israeli conflict with humor. Speaking in London following a recent perf, Alper recounted, “I hired Gia for a few months back in the fall of 2001. At one point she suggested I pair up with an Arab, to which I responded, ‘Do you have any other great ideas?’ ” “(But) she was persistent, located Ahmed and I was sold.” In bringing their act to London the duo have taken their peace initiative international, playing to packed houses equally split between Jews and Muslims. For Alper, the self-described “only Rabbi in the country who regularly addresses congregations that require a cover charge and two-drink minimum,” they represent an important bridge toward reconciling the often bitter differences between the two groups. “You can’t hate somebody when you’re laughing with them,” Alper observes. “I have also discovered an amazing fact that synagogues and mosques have in common: Specifically, the leaders of both organizations have absolutely no idea where the light switches in their buildings are or how to adjust the sound system.” Remembering the first time he met his new partner, Ahmed recalled, “He asked me to perform with him in a synagogue. I’m an Arab and you want me to stand in front of hundreds of Jews? I thought he was crazy. But afterward I had all these elderly Jewish women come up to me and tell me I reminded them of their sons. I was flattered.” The pair have since played more than 30 shows across the States, and will do a special performance for the Anti-Defamation League in Ventura, Calif., on March 13, followed by another gig March 15 in Ahmed’s hometown of Riverside. The show is sponsored by — count ’em! — the Islamic Centre of Riverside, the local synagogue and five churches.