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July 10, 2016 2:55 pm

Intermarried Asian Americans Enthusiastic About Raising Kids Jewish, New Study Finds

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

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"JewAsian" explores Jewish-Asian couples and their children. Photo: Screenshot.

“JewAsian” explores Jewish-Asian couples and their children. Photo: Screenshot.

A new study revealed that Asian Americans are eager to raise their kids according to the Jewish faith, Religious News Service reported on Friday.

“What we saw was a very high level of enthusiasm and acceptance from the non-Jewish partner or spouse for a Jewish household, usually created by both parents,” said Noah Leavitt, a professor at Washington’s Whitman College who published the study, JewAsian, with his wife, fellow professor Helen Kiyong Kim.

“That really surprised us, because most of what we hear about is a loss or diminishment of Jewish practice. What we found was the opposite, even when there weren’t two Jewish parents in the household. We had been anticipating a bit more of mixing of religions or syncretism.”

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JewAsian is the first book-length study of Jewish-Asian couples and their offspring, according to RNS. It examines  the intersection of race, religion and ethnicity in the increasing number of households in the US that are Jewish American and Asian American. The study explains how these intermarriages reflect the identity of the married individuals, but also of their offspring and communities.

JewAsian noted that in 2010, approximately 15 percent of all new marriages in the US were between people from different racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Leavitt and Kim, a “JewAsian” couple with two children, interviewed Jewish-Asian couples and their children for the study and discovered that Asians are zealous about raising their children as Jewish, because “they see Judaism as aligning with their own values.”

“We have a Korean friend, educated in Korea, and one of her texts was the Talmud (the book of Jewish commentary on the Bible),” said Kim, who converted to Judaism in December. “For a people who, like the Jews, have experienced disenfranchisement, there’s a lot of looking to the Jews as potentially having the answers.”

Kim said the common narrative among the Jewish community when someone marries a woman outside the faith ranges from apathy to dismissal. She said Jews often make up their minds about the couple “without knowing who they are or what their intentions are with regard to incorporating Judaism into the marriage or family life.”

According to the studychildren of Jewish-Asian couples are not, for the most part, looking to give up Judaism for a different religion. Kim said if they do, they usually turn toward Buddhism to “tap into a side of them that may not be reinforced by Judaism. [But] they’re still Jewish and they say that being Jewish is central to them.”

To answer the question of why Jews and Asians marry each other, Leavitt explained that a number of couples they spoke with said they realized that they have the same mindset on many topics, including a strong commitment to a work ethic, respect for family and the desire to prioritize education and kids. Another reason Kim specified was that Jews and Asians tend to live in the same areas and go to the same schools. There are also individual factors, such as people’s attraction to one another.

Leavitt and Kim said although there are only about 30 Jewish families, and no rabbi, where they live in Walla Walla, Wash., the “tiny little” Jewish community organizes many programs and events. They said their children, now ages 5 and 8, have shown a clear identity with the Jewish faith and are aware that they come from a Jewish household.

Kim, whose parents were atheists, said Judaism is a religion she has “always been drawn to.”

“I felt comfortable converting in 2015 because I saw myself reflected not only in the demographics of the American Jewish population, but because I saw how Jewish Americans were paying attention to issues of ethnic and racial diversity within the Jewish community,” she told RNS , adding that her children played a role in her decision to convert.

“Our son, Ari, basically from the time he could speak, didn’t see me as Jewish — even if I was doing all the Jewish practice in the home and talking to his preschool class about Jewish holidays. I was still not Jewish in his eyes because my parents were not Jewish and I was not raised Jewish. When the kids were old enough to witness my conversion ceremony, that sealed the deal.”

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  • Karl

    700 professors of sociology, are worth less than one welder out on the natural gas platforms, or one cop who walks a beat in Hevron

  • David Hoffman

    The author will be doing her children a disservice by raising them to think of themselves as Jewish, if she doesn’t also explain to them that the Orthodox community, and the Israeli Rabbinate, have a different view. If she truly wants them to be Jews, and to be one herself, the family should move from Walla Walla to Seattle or some other place big enough to support an Orthodox community, and regularise their status with proper conversions. Better yet, make aliya and convert in Israel. True, converting through the Israeli Rabbinate can be a real pain in the neck. But the richer Jewish life in Israel is worth the effort.

  • Jay Lavine

    This article talks about Jews and Asians as if the two are mutually exclusive. Jews are followers of Judaism. “Asian” simply refers to people who came from or whose ancestors came from Asia. To presume that an Asian-American is not Jewish is a kind of prejudice that must be identified as such and eliminated.

    Since Judaism as a religion originated in the Middle East and in Eretz Yisrael in particular, the whole Jewish people can be considered to be of Asian origin. There is a wonderful episode related in Rabbi Marvin Tokayer’s excellent book, The Fugu Plan (1979), in which he talks of an exchange between two Jewish scholars and the Japanese admiral, who had summoned them and before whom they appeared with trepidation. This was during the Holocaust era when a large contingent of Jews fled to Japan — Germany’s ally during the war, we should remember.

    The admiral asked them why it was that the Nazis hated the Jews so much. The younger rabbi was tongue-tied.

    But, without missing a beat, the older scholar, the Amshenover rebbe, replied, “The Nazis hate the Jews because the Nazis know that we Jews are Asians.” Whoooa.

    “What does this mean — you are Asians. We are Asians!”

    “Yes,” the rebbe agreed, “And you are also on the list.”

    “What list?”

    As for Buddhism, there is the precept in Judaism that we can learn from all peoples. But, generally, when people of Jewish background turn to another religion like Buddhism, it is because they’re ignorant of many facets of the Jewish religion, not because those religions really offer something that Judaism doesn’t.

    For example, Jewish meditation, as described in the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s excellent books, is an aspect of Judaism not widely appreciated. In fact, if one is davening with the proper kavanah, then tefilah itself assumes the status of a meditation.

    There is also a tremendous respect for all life in Judaism. Some Jews, like many Buddhists, are vegetarian for that reason. This subject is nicely discussed in The Emergence of Ethical Man (2005), a posthumously published collection of the writings of the Rav, Joseph Ber Soloveitchik z”l.

    In summary, Jews are a people, yes, but a people defined by the faith and way of life they follow. They are people of all races, colors, and nationalities. The idea that “Jewish” refers to a race, an ethnicity, a tribe, or a culture has to go. Similarly, Jewish identity is naturally an intrinsic part of those who cling to this way of life; identity by itself is meaningless and a dead end, no matter how much money anyone tries to throw at it, which, it must be said, is not a Jewish way of doing things.

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