Friday, June 16, 2006

How can you be Jewish? You're Chinese!


Yep, that's the look I usually get when I tell people that we are Jewish. I don't know why it is such a surprise to people. Maybe it's because we don't look Jewish? (And what does Jewish look like anyway?) Isn't Judaism a religion and aren't we all free to chose what religion we want to be? Oh....I know - it's that whole race vs. religion thing right? Well, when they put a "J" for Jewish checkbox next to the W, B, H and A on all those silly forms we fill out in life, then you can talk to me about the race thing. (Oh, but if they do that, do I check the "J" box or the "A" box or am I allowed to check both?)

For whatever reason our Judaism is such a surprise, I tell the story quite often, so here it is out in the Blogosphere for all to see. I wish I could tell some great story like I traced my lineage to the Jews of Keifeng or explain it by saying that my neshama was at Mount Sinai and for whatever reason, G-d decided that my neshama should be in Chinese body this time around, but the story is less grandiose.

Remember the movie "The Jerk" with Steve Martin? It started with him saying, "I was born a poor black child..." It goes on to the point where he realizes that this was not really the case and he is something totally different. I feel like that sometimes.

Both of my parents are 100% Chinese. I was born in New York (isn't that where most Jews in the Diaspora are born?) My parents divorced when I was 2-years old and shortly thereafter my mother married a Jewish man. I didn't know until I was around 13 or so that this man was not my father. (The fact that I looked nothing like him or his family apparently meant nothing to me.) Many of my childhood memories are that of a Jewish child in a Jewish household...Shabbats, holidays, typical Jewish Grandmother, typical Jewish Great-Grandmother (who made the BEST gefilite fish and latkes!), etc.

Fast forward a bunch of years to when I adopted LO in China. Since halakha does not consider adoption a blood relation, I knew that LO would need to be converted. And so I went to talk to our Rabbi about it. In the process we learned that my mother had never converted and that she had never converted me. So, not only did LO need to convert, I needed to convert! Since we keep kosher, we go to shul on every Shabbat, LO goes to Sunday school, and all of our non-work/non-school activities are shul related, my circle of friends has often dubbed me "the most Jewish of all". The irony of the fact that I was not "technically" Jewish became the brunt of much joking around. I was angry at first because I felt like a part of my identity that I had always known was actually a falsehood. The anger was short lived because the process of studying our beloved Torah and the several meetings with our Rabbi taught me so much and gave me an even greater love for Judaism than I already had. And so on the 6-year anniversary of the first day that I ever held LO in my arms, she and I did our tevillah and officially joined the people of Israel. Never has anything felt so "right".

Shabbat Shalom.

11 comments:

PsychoToddler said...

We have many similar stories in our shul. Often after the family conversion, a wedding ceremony follows.

orieyenta said...

Yikes! Well, thankfully (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) there are no weddings in our future.

PsychoToddler said...

Well, that's usually when the person converting is already married. They need to be remarried as Jews.

But I'll keep you in mind.

orieyenta said...

Oh PT! Husband, father, minyan man, musician, doctor, blogger, video game player, and now shadchan. Who would have thought!

Stacey said...

What a fascinating story. How lucky we are to have you and LO in our ranks!

Jack's Shack said...

I grew up with Jonathan Levy. Jonthan's mother is Chinese.

His father taught everyone in the family how to speak Yiddish. You should have seen the looks that he used to get from some people.

Anyway, not that any of this matters. When I came across your blog it reminded me of Jonathan.

Ayelet said...

What a story! Where did you grow up in New York? Did you go to a Jewish school? What was your Jewish family life like? What was mom's reaction to all this? None of this is my business (obviously) so ignore at will.

orieyenta said...

My few years in New York were in Brooklyn. But I really consider Miami to be where I grew up since I moved there when I was two. I didn't go to a Jewish school per se but all the children in my school were Jewish. My earlier years were quite secular and although we were not the most observant of Jews, I have always felt my Judaism deep within my heart. It became even stronger once I adopted LO because now I could share my love of Judaism with my child.

Now that we are "so Jewish" - it has been a challenge with my gentile family. But a few of them are gradually coming around and this year we even got a Chanukah card from one of them.

Jerusalem Joe said...

what a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it.

Yehudi Hilchati said...

You might want to check out this blog: jewpanese.blogspot.com. It's by a Japanese Jew (her mother is Jewish) who grew up in Tokyo and has lived in several places since then mostly in North America.

No, I'm not one of those ignorant people who doesn't know the difference between Chinese & Japanese, : -) but thought you might find it interesting - she talks a lot about being singled out as not "looking" Jewish.

modest clothing said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Wishing you and your daughter harbe bracha ve hatzlaha!