The ProsenPeople

A JewAsian July 4th

Friday, July 22, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Leavitt determined the three takeaways on raising Jewish-Asian families worth sharing from their research for their coauthored book JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America's Newest Jews. They are blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

The publication of JewAsian, coming just prior to the 4th of July holiday, provides a unique lens through which to observe the United States and try to learn about the state of our nation in 2016. Indeed, the way that young mixed-race Jews think about themselves allows us to make larger observations about our society.

On one hand, we are in the hot season of a mean-spirited presidential campaign in which race and diversity are focal points for voters’ anger and activism. On the other, on this final Independence Day during the administration of America’s first mixed-race President, the multicultural cast of Hamilton is on magazine covers and red carpet runways, challenging us to think in new ways about our nation’s founding story and current identity. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the University of Texas affirmative action admission plan reminds us that we cannot avoid taking race into consideration when we attempt to describe America.

Writing JewAsian helped us confront the central role that race plays for the young people at the center of our investigation. Like our nation, our mixed-race Jewish interviewees feel both the stress and the optimism of their complex identities.

Demonstrating the depth of ingrained racial stereotypes and expectations, they told us that they often were challenged in Jewish spaces because they did not appear “Jewish” (by which they meant white and of Ashkenazi descent). Their racial presentation led people around them to make unwelcome and often incorrect assumptions about their religious beliefs and practices. Whether those comments were made out of racist motivations or a simple lack of racial awareness we will never know, but the impact of such comments does not change for people receiving those comments, whatever the speakers’ intent.

At the same time, our interviewees were proud of and reveled in their racial complexity. Many used terms like “special” and “kind of unique.” They delighted in the opportunity for openness to the world that their identities offered—“the availability of having more choice and opportunities to appreciate cultures,” as one of them told us.

They also felt connected to others in ways we did not expect. Interviewees described themselves as being both Asian and Jewish and also part of a larger biracial community that includes people with many different racial and ethnic traditions, not just Asian or Jewish. And our interviewees frequently felt included in that and wanting to contribute to the well-being of other biracial individuals.

Their pride in their racial identity often gave them a foundation for engaging in civic and political debates around them. They told us that their participation was rooted in their experiences making meaning from their own racial identities which led them to feel connected to other racial and ethnic minorities. Their racial position afforded them a platform for jumping into campaigns for equality, including racial as well as other markers of identity, like gender and sexual orientation.

Accordingly, as demographers predict a significant increase in the number of mixed-race households and individuals in America, and as the country’s population becomes more diverse, we draw the following insights from our JewAsian interviewees:

1) Race continues as the master category for social organization.

2) We must create more ways to learn to decouple our visual experience of people from our assumptions about them.

3) Biracial or multiracial identity can be both specific as well as general.

4) How one identifies racially cannot be isolated from one’s social interactions and larger context.

5) Confidence in one’s racial identity can be a platform for connection and activism and engagement.

So, this July 4th, we toast the optimism of the young people we’ve met over the past five years, who despite the challenges of their racial presentation nevertheless gain strength from who they understand themselves to be, using that strength in turn to both challenge and educate those around them as well as ally themselves with many other mixed young people around our increasingly mixed country.

We find it poignant and hopeful that our polyglot immigrant nation can derive wisdom from the experience of our interviewees.

Helen Kiyong Kim is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Whitman College. Noah Samuel Leavittis an associate dean of students at Whitman College and has served as the advocacy director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Both authors are currently touring for the 2016 – 2017 season through the JBC Network on their book JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews.

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Extra Diapers, Two Bottles, Four Cans of Evaporated Milk, Five $20 Bills

Thursday, July 21, 2016 | Permalink

Excerpted from Leaving Lucy Pear: A Novel by Anna Solomon

If they were coming, this was the night. The pears had stayed yellow and hard for so long that Bea had started to despair, but they were finally ready to pick. The moon was a quarter full. The afternoon’s wind had gone limp. Midnight came and went. Bea counted to five hundred for extra measure—silently, so she wouldn’t wake the nurse—then she took up the infant from its bassinet, wrapped it in her aunt Vera’s angora shawl, and crept down the cellar stairs in her bare feet.

The stairs to the cellar were granite, and cold. The original wooden ones had burned with the original wooden house in 1873. Bea did not know about the fire but she could smell it, because the cellar was the one part of the house that hadn’t needed rebuilding and its walls retained the flavor of ash. She moved toward the bulkhead door as fast as she could, feeling along the wall with her free hand, careful not to bump the handles of shovels and hoes, though the shovels and hoes had been through far worse. They had witnessed flood and fire. They had been variously cared for and abused by generations of gardeners, had been used to plant tulips and to dig graves. They had even, once upon a time, been in the presence of another unwed mother and her infant. Knowing this might have put Bea’s own suffering in perspective. But she did not know and she had not been taught perspective. She was eighteen, the daughter of ascendant Boston Jews who had sent her away to Eastern Point in a black, curtained limousine the day she started to show.

The bulkhead door was heavier than she expected, its diagonal slope demanding that it be lifted as much as pushed. She had unlocked it from the outside before going to bed but she hadn’t tested its weight and now the thing didn’t budge. She pressed harder. The cellar was her only way out—she had tested the doors on the first floor and every one either shrieked or squeaked or groaned. She pushed again. If she put the baby down, it would cry. Bea started to pant with panic. The cellar roof seemed to be dropping, the walls squeezing. She climbed the bulkhead steps until she was bent nearly in two, the infant squeezed into the small space between her thighs and chest, and tried to open the door with her back. Her legs shook. Sweat sprang at her neck. She was still soft and weak from the birth two weeks before, her right eye bloodshot though she had no memory of pushing, no memory of any of it, nothing until a baby was being handed to her, clean and silent, like a doll her mother had bought. She was lucky, Bea understood—Aunt Vera had hired a doctor who had studied in Germany with the father of twilight sleep. There had been morphine, there had been scopolamine—these, according to Aunt Vera, would do more to liberate women than the vote. Bea understood that she was supposed to understand herself to be lucky. She understood that she must have pushed, and that she should be glad not to remember. She pushed now, using her neck, her shoulders, every muscle in her body. At last the door gave an inch, then two, then lightened so quickly Bea was following it—she had to scramble to catch up before it slammed on the ground outside. She looked behind her, above. The hinge had given a sharp cry. She went stiff waiting for another sound, the nurse’s heavy footsteps, her heavy call: Beatrice? She waited until her breath came and quieted her heart. Then she stepped out into the night.

Through the near trees she could see the far ones in the orchard down below. Slowly, her eyes adjusted, and she saw the pears themselves, their waxy orbs glowing greenly in the three-quarter dark. Her mouth watered and Bea, embarrassed by this bodily secretion, turned her thoughts to her Plan.

Walk to orchard.
Wake infant.
Nurse infant.
Change infant.
Check inside paper sack: extra diapers, two bottles, four cans of Borden’s evaporated milk, five twenty-dollar bills.
Set infant under most plentiful tree.

From Leaving Lucy Pear: A Novel by Anna Solomon, published on July 26, 2016 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Anna Solomon, 2016.

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Book Cover of the Week: New Renderings of the Night Trilogy

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

While Sophie Segal, one of Jewish Book Council’s interns this summer, was researching her essay on the legacies of the late Novel laureates Imre Kertész and Elie Wiesel, I came across some striking representations of Wiesel’s Night trilogy, dreamed up by independent graphic designers:

Definitely a strong departure from the standard paperback edition. What do these aesthetics contribute to the books they cover, or does an artistic element somehow detract from the work as Wiesel intended? I’m curious to hear other readers’ thoughts on this—please chime in using the comments section below!

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Quiz: Which Up-and-Coming #JewLit Book Should You Read Next?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016 | Permalink

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Three Takeaways from Interviewing 110 "JewAsian" Couples and Kids

Monday, July 18, 2016 | Permalink

Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt are the coauthors of JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews. With the release of their book earlier this month, the couple is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

We have always acknowledged that what drew us to the research that would become the foundation of our book, JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America's Newest Jews, started from personal questions based on our own experiences and relationship. When we began our project in 2008, Helen was pregnant with our first child. We were in the throes of trying to figure out not only diapering, sleeping, and feeding a newborn but also how we would raise our child to navigate and contribute to a very complex world. We were curious how other couples— JewAsian because of racial, ethnic, and sometimes religious difference—were figuring out, in light of these types of differences, how to sustain and nurture a marriage and family.

Fast forward to the present: our son Ari (almost 8) and daughter Talia (almost 5) challenge us every day with their endless curiosity and argumentative demeanor. We often find ourselves at a loss for words in their midst, particularly when it comes to in-the-moment questions and statements about identity, whether racial, ethnic, religious, or all three. But then we remember that we talked to roughly one hundred and ten individuals whose own experiences have taught us a great deal about how to think about the challenges we experience every day in our own family.

What have we learned about our own family by writing a book about families like ours? Here are a few takeaways:

1. We talk, a lot, and the talking will probably pay off in the long run. Conversation topics run the gamut, but they often focus on issues of racial, ethnic, and religious identity. Sometimes these discussions are difficult and fraught with emotion, but they are a necessary starting point. Our interviewees told us of the importance of having these issues out on the table as part of regular family life that stresses intentionality and opportunity rather than limitation.

2. We don’t have all the answers, but we try to find them. Adult JewAsian children acknowledged that at multiple times in their lives when they were trying to figure out who they are and where they belonged, what mattered the most was having information and doors open to them that allowed for exploration. In turn they stressed the importance of encouraging children to seek out information on their own rather than resigning oneself to feeling constrained.

3. We are a full-fledged and proud Jewish, Asian American, Korean American, multiracial, multiethnic and multilingual family – but it’s complicated! The individuals we talked to emphasized shifts and evolutions in all aspects of their identity. Strong connections at some points in time, weaker bonds at other times. Yet they never shied away or denied these aspects of who they were, and carried this complex and changing way of thinking with them every day.

Perhaps, it is this last point that resonates the most with us and reminds us of what we have learned about our own family by studying families like ours. In “Transgressions of a Model Minority” (Shofar, Summer 2005), scholar Jonathan Freedman wrote of a new way of seeing the connections between Jewish Americans and Asian Americans, “…as peoples struggling at different times with different means to surmount processes larger than themselves; as fellow wanderers, fellow exiles, fellow swimmers barely braving the waves of history.” His suggestions remind us, as individuals and a family, of the importance of embracing possibilities unknown.

Helen Kiyong Kim is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Whitman College. Noah Samuel Leavitt is an associate dean of students at Whitman College and has served as the advocacy director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Both authors are currently touring for the 2016 – 2017 season through the JBC Network on their book JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews.

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New Reviews July 17, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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What Does Tisha B’ Av Hold for the Future of the Jewish People?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, David G. Daniel shared how an encounter with a moose, her calf, and a bear reminded him of the difficult questions following a tragic loss. He is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

This year, Tisha B’Av arrives in mid-August. Tisha B’Av commemorates a number of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on this date, including the destruction of the First Temple in 423 BCE, the Second Temple in 69 CE, the crushing of the bar Kochba Rebellion at the final battle of Betar, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Tisha B’ Av is sometimes used to commemorate the six million Jews lost in the Holocaust as well.

In my family, Tisha B’Av has a very personal meaning, beyond the broader mourning for disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. My son, David, who plays a major role in the novel, was killed in a freak accident very close to that time.

But when I taught my children the meaning of Tisha B’Av, I was caught off guard when they asked me what disasters our people should bring to mind from their own experiences.

I recalled that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, my parents had made plans to escape any attack on our home town of Jackson, Mississippi by sailing down the Pearl River in a houseboat. They stocked the craft with food, medical supplies and extra gasoline. Even to me, a five-year-old child at the time, this seemed like excessive concern from my ordinarily very level-headed parents.

Fifty years later, I walked my own children through a new National Archives exhibit in Washington, DC. It displayed secretly recorded White House discussions warning that tens of millions of American citizens in large- to medium-sized cities in the southeast United States might be killed by the medium-range Soviet nuclear missiles installed in Cuba.

In my own children’s lifetime, they had heard on the evening news of Al Quaeda attempts to obtain nuclear and biological weapons, and advisories to Washingtonians recommending that they create emergency kits including duct tape to seal windows against pathogens and toxins.

I advise my children that there is very little danger of weapons of mass destruction being deployed, but they continue to express concern for their aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends in Israel. They are quite avid readers of the news. Recently The Jerusalem Post reported that among the shouts of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” Hussein Salami, Deputy Commander of the Iranian IRGC, boasted that their “ability to destroy Israel is now better than ever,” citing 100,000 missiles in Lebanon at the ready to hit Israel.

This is the real-life background for the drama that unfolds in the latter section of my speculative fiction novel A Life Twice Given, as the Ninth of Av approaches in the year 2032. Nuclear weapons, nobody is sure how powerful, have been smuggled into DC and Tel Aviv. They will be detonated on Tisha B’Av unless Israel withdraws from Jerusalem and all occupied territories and the United States removes all troops from the Middle East and South Asia.

David G. Daniel is a psychiatrist and the author of numerous scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts in psychiatry. He is currently touring through the JBC Network for the 2016 – 2017 season on his recent novel A Life Twice Given.

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Book Cover of the Week: Revolutionary Yiddishland

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Following up on last week's simple artworkon a biography of Karl Marx, let's expand the design and discourse to all of "Yiddishland":

Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism by Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg is a journey across the Jewish socio-political movements arising out of a population of roughly 11 million in the dense archipelago of communities stretching from the Baltic Sea to Russia's western borders. Tempered by an unusual muted pink, the stylized book cover captures the energy of the history it examines: socialists, Communists, Bundists, Zionists, Trotskyists, proletariats, and intellectuals steeped in the religious traditions of their families and swept up in "the great current of revolutionary utopian thinking" of their time. An attempt to recover the rich radical history of a lost realm and working class, Revolutionary Yiddishland will be on the shelves September 2016 from Verso Books.

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How Far Would You Go to Give a Loved One Back Their Life?

Monday, July 11, 2016 | Permalink

David G. Daniel is the author of the novel A Life Twice Given. He is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

Rafting on the Nenana River last week, my sixteen-year-old twins and I saw a grizzly bear chase a moose and her calf out of the woods. The mother and calf took refuge midstream near us (not cool to be that close to a moose) before clamoring up the other bank and escaping, while the bear paced on the other side.

If cornered, a moose cow will defend its calf against a bear. It sounds like poor odds, but a moose weighing a thousand pounds plus can bring its hooves down on a bear with tremendous force.

Seeing the grizzly bear pace on the opposite bank, I thought about what I would do if necessary to defend my sons from the moose or bear. Certainly I would have tried to hold off with the paddles while the twins swam to the other shore. That was a no-brainer.

But it reminded me of a more difficult question: How far would you go to give a loved or dear one back their life?

We know what our Jewish tradition tells us about grieving and honoring their memory. All losses are egregious, but faced with a particularly difficult loss, if you had the chance to bring him or her back, would you?

These were the questions my wife and I were forced to contend with when we unexpectedly lost our seven-year-old son, David, in 2004. At that time I spoke with a scientist who claimed he had taken human cloning to a multi-cell stage.

I wracked my brain over the question at the time: Should we take the risk to try to bring back our son? We assessed the odds. How credible was the scientist. Would he do it? If he did what were the chances it would work?

Tissue would have to have been preserved under very strict conditions. There were no published or credible anecdotal precedents for successfully—or unsuccessfully—cloning a human. Mammalian cloning had been done successfully but was fraught with complications. What unexpected consequences might occur? Would there be time bombs—remember Dolly the sheep? The cells would have to be washed of all the natural substances that tell it how old it is. What if the reprogramming process was imperfect? Might the cloned David age prematurely? If the fetus grew too big it could endanger Lisa. Were there other unknown dangers to the mother?

Even if the cloning process were successful David would no longer be our first born, the leader of his brothers and sister. He would be the youngest sibling of four. Lisa and I were at a very different place in our lives when David was born. Would that change him? Would he emanate the same infectious joie de vivre? Would he have memories of his past life? In some respects a memory is an electronic circuit among brain cells. Could memory be coded by genes in some respect and passed on by cloning? There are basic experiments to support this. If a flatworm is subjected to shock each time a light comes on, it will recoil to light. If you cut that worm in half, the part that grows a new head will remember to curl up to light even without ever having been shocked. This is consistent with the notion that memory can be stored outside the brain.

There was also the ethical dilemma, especially from a Jewish perspective. A few decades ago the process of in vitro fertilization was considered sketchy and the products of it referred to as “test tube” babies. Now the process is mainstream, socially acceptable and has made a difference in countless couples’ lives under the rubric of “assisted fertilization.” Maybe human cloning to bring back a loved one follow the same path to social acceptance: when twins are made, the fertilized egg, the zygote, divides, producing a genetically identical duplicate—one could argue that the process by which clones were is not so different from the process of making an identical twin.

We can rationalize the ethics of it. The real risk is medical—and perhaps moral, too: we just don’t know whether we would be doing David a favor or not. But it’s the only shot to give him his life back.

I thought of David’s laughter, the sound of his voice, I remembered him holding his sister’s hand, pointing at the moon. I recalled he had once said we should have our offices together when he grew up so we would never have to be apart.

“Lisa, what was that scientist’s name again?”

David G. Daniel is a psychiatrist and the author of numerous scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts in psychiatry. He is currently touring through the JBC Network for the 2016 – 2017 season on his recent novel A Life Twice Given.

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New Reviews July 8, 2016

Friday, July 08, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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