Funny, You Don't *Look* Jewish...

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Last week’s New York Times article “Journey from a Chinese Orphanage to a Jewish Rite of Passage” got me thinking more about the complexities of reconciling an adoptive Jewish identity with a non-Jewish biological heritage. The article follows the story of a Chinese girl named Cece adopted by a lesbian couple in the early 1990s when China first opened its doors to international adoption. About three weeks ago, Cece became a Bat Mitvah, one of the first Chinese adoptees of her cohort to do so. With yin-and-yang yarmulkes, Kosher Chinese food, and a focus on the Jewish obligation to welcome strangers, the article paints a rather rosy picture of how Judaism can welcome a Chinese adoptee with open arms, and how a Chinese girl can comfortably embrace her Jewish identity in a seemingly unconflicted way.

While the article is refreshing by drawing attention to the fact that the American Jewish community is not made up of only white faces, it left me wondering whether the integration of adoptees into Jewish life is really all that easy. In thinking about an adopted member of my own family, I was reminded of the tremendous challenges she faces in fitting into our family dynamic, fitting into the mainstream Jewish community, and just feeling Jewish, particularly because she is not white and “doesn’t look like us.” Race aside, I imagine it must be extremely difficult to be ascribed a religious or cultural identity that doesn’t match your biological heritage and still feel like you can call it yours. Judaism presents an especially complicated experience because of the tradition’s emphasis on transmission through a bloodline. While the NY Times article cites rabbis and community members who are exceptionally open to and supportive of Cece as a Chinese adoptee, is this an accurate representation of the Jewish community’s inclusivity of adopted children?

Organizations like Ayecha and Tapestry do important work on diversity in the Jewish community and suggest that there is a lot more work that needs to be done to nurture individuals and families whose identities don’t neatly fit the American Jewish community’s “norm.” And yet, the work of these organizations alone may only scratch the surface.

What other stories need to be shared?

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