Intermarried Asian Americans Enthusiastic About Raising Kids Jewish, New Study Finds
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.”
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 study, children 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.”