Nancy and Steven, also an interfaith couple, take a middle ground approach. Nancy and her Chinese adopted daughter Lia attend a Jewish worship that incorporates elements of Buddhism. For Nancy, Buddhism provides a spiritual depth she found lacking in mainstream American synagogues. Yet the meditative practice of Buddhism is fundamental to Judaism, especially Chassidism. “It’s about mindfulness and presence, how we treat each other and what’s important in life,” Nancy offers. At Lia’s school, interestingly, there are many Asian kids, but few Jewish ones, so Lia likes to highlight her Jewishness as something that makes her special.
The extent to which our Chinese daughters self-identify as Jewish is influenced by the amount of family involvement. June and Ariana strongly identify with being Jewish, more so, it seems, than Abby and Lucy. “Still, if asked,” their mom Karen says, “my daughters would say they are ‘Chinese’ first.”
Our Chinese-Jewish adopted daughters have a foot in both cultures, but how fully do they belong in either?
A friend, who is Orthodox, once suggested that Abby could “convert” to Judaism, but in the more liberalleaning Jewish communities, there is never any question that my adopted daughter is Jewish. At their Reform synagogue, Karen notes, “everyone’s very accepting.”
Integration into the Asian community seems a little trickier for our girls. Several of our playgroup families have at least one Asian parent, and there are connections through Mandarin teachers and friends they make at school. Still, when it comes to acceptance in the non-adoptive Asian community, there can be cultural and socio-economic differences to bridge.
Lauren Goldman Marshall is an
For example, Lia rides the bus to school with several girls from Chinese immigrant families who live in the predominantly Asian International District. They braid each other’s hair, and at recess, Lia bounces back and forth between separate circles of immigrant girls and white girls. Still, it took years of invitations, Nancy explains, before the immigrant girls finally came to Lia’s birthday party. Arranging playdates was even harder. Their parents work long hours, and the girls might stay after school with a grandparent who doesn’t speak English. One time, when an immigrant friend did come over for a play date, she came with several siblings and brought food.
My sister and her husband, who was born and raised in China, are both China historians, and their 3-year-old son is bilingual, so there was a compelling reason to learn Mandarin. I signed both the girls and myself up for Saturday Mandarin classes when they were little, although only Abby and I are continuing. She grumbles about it, and her sister takes her side, but she likes having a language that half the family can’t understand. The other day, she even tried to tell me in Chinese her idea for daddy’s birthday present.
Embracing our children’s multiple identities is about more than latkes and mooncakes. Comparing experiences reveals there’s no one way to raise a Chinese child in a Jewish home. But what we have in common is that we all do it thoughtfully. And while Abby and our friends’ children may find that they will never have all the questions about her earliest beginnings answered, they understand a great amount more about tolerance than most. Our children have the capacity to be spokespersons for a more tolerant world—a world in which we celebrate similarities, respect differences, and can see the beauty of every individual’s family flower garden
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