Lessons from Our JewAsian Conversation
For a long time, there has been a deep-seated fear of intermarriage in the Jewish community. Many believed and some still believe that intermarriage = the end of the Jewish people. Academics and Korean-American and Jewish couple, Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt noticed the opposite was happening in their circle of friends: Many of their interfaith and interracial friends were raising very Jewish, even religiously Jewish, children.
They also noticed there was a lack of research about Jewish and Asian couples, in particular. This launched them into a 10-year qualitative research project where they spoke with Jewish-Asian couples and the children of Jewish-Asian couples. Their new book is called JewAsian, and we were lucky enough to host a conversation with them last week with support from Honeymoon Israel. Here are three things we learned:
- Recently, everyone from lifestyle bloggers to actress Meghan Markle have been talking about race. When I was growing up, no one talked about race. I thought it was polite to pretend not to notice race or claim to be "colorblind", but I've learning that this actually perpetuates racism. There is still so much racism in our country, and it's sadly a very relevant topic right now. Helen shared with us that she makes sure to name race with her children. It makes sense that if you talk about race openly and matter-of-factly with your children, they will become adults who have the tools to talk about race comfortably, with less baggage and shame around it.
- In their research, the adult Jewish and Asian children they interviewed were asked what advice they would give to other Jewish-Asian parents. The vast majority said the same thing: Give them everything from both cultures. When they are older, they will at least have the ability and options to choose what resonates most for them. This was so reassuring for me, because there are many Jewish and Japanese traditions that we didn't grow up with. It seemed inauthentic and "weird" to start celebrating holidays (for example) that I never grew up with. This is especially true for my Japanese traditions, since many were lost on their way to me. Hearing this gave me permission to try new things without being so afraid of messing it up. There's nothing wrong with introducing new-to-you cultural traditions- in fact, if you have children, it affords them the gift of choice.
- More than anything else, I felt and heard from others that the conversation was personally validating. I'm forever grateful to Helen (and to Noah) for paving the way and setting an example for other JewAsian couples like us. I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders- It's okay if don't have to have all the answers or know how to do everything correctly. What I am already doing is enough.
You can purchase JewAsian here. Bryan jokes that he's never seen me so moved or inspired by qualitative research findings :). I hope you find the book as meaningful and helpful as I did. Here's a recent New York Times article about interfaith marriage- Helen and Honeymoon Israel are interviewed in it!
Here are more photos from the event, if you'd like to see:
*Nourish provided small JewAsian-inspired bites like salmon and dill rice balls, nori and everything bagel furikake rice balls with horseradish fromage blanc and arugula, and crudités with ginger, miso and tahini dressing.