Chutzpah! Festival: El-Salomons’ Palestinian-Jewish love triumphs with humour

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Jess Salomon likes to say, in jest, that there were only three people at her wedding.

Here’s the real background. The Montreal-born comic is of Jewish heritage. In 2015, she married fellow stand-up Eman El-Husseini, a Muslim woman.

Salomon’s spouse came to Canada as a little girl when the First Gulf War erupted in 1990. El-Husseini’s Palestinian family fled Kuwait, where she was born.

And so the gag goes that at their nuptials, it was just Salomon, El-Husseini, and a United Nations peacekeeper.

Together, Salomon and El-Husseini form the comedy duo El-Salomons. They’re a married Jewish-Palestinian lesbian couple.

Now based in New York, the two will close the 20th annual Chutzpah! Festival. The Vancouver event, also known as the Lisa Nemetz International Jewish Performing Arts Festival, runs from November 21 to November 28.

Reached by phone at their home in Brooklyn, Salomon and El-Husseini spoke about the deep affection they have for each other.

“There are a million reasons she and I shouldn’t be together, but our love is that strong,” El-Husseini told the Straight.

One of those reasons, Salomon quickly interposed, is the fact that El-Husseini is a Leo and she is a Taurus.

“Not a good combination,” quipped Salomon, a former UN war-crimes lawyer.

Video: The El-Salomons appeared on Your Morning earlier this year to discuss their Crave special, Marriage of Convenience.

According to El-Husseini, she and Salomon hope that their love story will “unite people”.

“We’re basically enemies,” El-Husseini said. “It’s really like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.”

Salomon noted that some people mistakenly think that it’s all a joke. They suppose it’s like a comedy sketch, wherein the spouses are simply playing roles.

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“Sometimes unbelievably so—I mean, these people overestimate my commitment to comedy,” Salomon said. “I have to explain that it’s a real relationship. So we do love each other, and it’s not some setup to a punchline.”

Salomon noted that the hardest time they have is usually with the couple’s respective peoples. Sometimes she gets called a “traitor”.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is one of the most contentious in the world.

“Jewish people don’t seem to have an issue with the homosexuality,” Salomon said. “It’s really the Israel-Palestine material that they get very nervous about.”

El-Husseini once joked on-stage that she had to go through checkpoints at Salomon’s apartment.

However, the positive reaction they get from others proves what their union represents: that love surmounts barriers of race, culture, religion, class, and sexual orientation.

They find support, especially from couples who are familiar with the difficulties of falling in love with a person of a different background.

“They see themselves in us, and they relate and they’re so happy they hear comedy that speaks about them,” Salomon said.

Salomon once related on-stage a real story about going to an LGBT rally in New York with her spouse. She carried a sign that read “Jihad Me at Hello”.

The sign was a riff on a romantic line in the Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger movie Jerry McGuire. It’s a sample of the humour she and El-Husseini create from the rich and complex circumstances of their personal story.

Salomon said the sign was not a play on how they really got together in real life in Canada.

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“She did not actually have me at hello,” Salomon said.

According to her, she and El-Husseini had known each other for two years before anything romantic happened.

On-stage, El-Husseini relates that she married her first kiss. The real story is that El-Husseini had never been with a woman until she and Salomon fell in love.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the El-Salomons’ act will be digitally transmitted online on November 28 into the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre (950 West 41st Avenue).

El-Husseini has performed in Vancouver as a solo act. This year’s Chutzpah! Festival will be the first performance by the El-Salomons seen in the city.

Salomon noted: “We’ve been told at many points that we have a lot of chutzpah, which is Yiddish for ‘so brave’ ”.

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