“JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews” by Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt— Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

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Kim, Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt. “JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews”, University of Nebraska Press,  2016.

Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

Amos Lassen

There was a time in this country that many Jews felt that intermarriage would hurt the religion but that thought has since changed. In 2010 approximately 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States were between spouses of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. These marriages raised questions dealing with the multicultural identities of new spouses and their offspring. The census gives us information about statistics but does not share the inner workings of day-to-day life for such couples and their children. I have noticed since I moved to Boston the seemingly large number of Jewish/Asian intermarriage and I believe that is because I had never lived in a place where there were both large Jewish and Asian populations.

“JewAsian” is a qualitative examination of the intersection of race, religion, and ethnicity in the increasing number of households that are Jewish American and Asian American. Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt’s book looks at the larger social dimensions of intermarriages to explain how these particular unions do not only reflect the identity of married individuals but also of the communities to which they belong. Through the use of in-depth interviews with couples and the children of Jewish American and Asian American marriages, the author’s research tells us about the everyday lives of these partnerships and how their children deal with their own identities in today’s world. A study like this has been needed for a long time and we find that the result actually challenges dominant racial, ethnic, and interfaith marriage discourses.

The authors use sociological research and statistics to give us their objective. We now see that interracial and interfaith marriage are both realities of American life and here Jewish Americans and Asian Americans become the example due to the high levels of intermarriage of these two ethnic groups. The authors do not attempt to justify nor condemn Jewish-Asian intermarriage— rather they simply explain the factors that perhaps lead to such comings together. We get a look at the self-identification of Jewish-Asian offspring and their attachment to Jewish identity and Judaism, as well as to which Asian culture is part of their heritage. The book’s analysis of intermarriage here can be used and applied to not just Jews and Asians but to all intermarriages where cultures and identity may not fit into recognized ideas and preconceived notions. The Jewish-Asian offspring are a wonderful example of people who do not fit exactly into such notions of race and ethnicity— we see that their Asian appearance and Jewish religion coexist peacefully and without contradiction. However, there will be those who see this a something of a problem by those who feel that people whose religion, ethnicity and race fit into mutually exclusive categories.

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