Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dayenu

You know how lots of Upper West Side Jews adopted baby girls from China a while back? Well, it might be a lot--apparently there are no numbers, but doesn't it feel like a lot? Anyway, there's an article in the Times about how many Jewish girls adopted from China are having bat mitzvahs. Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro's took place, coincidentally, at the same synagogue as my own, yet, unlike mine, included "yin-and-yang yarmulkes, kiddush cups disguised as papier-mâché dragons, kosher lo mein and veal ribs at the buffet." This strikes me as cheesy and unnecessarily multicultural--would a bat mitzvah for a girl adopted from rural America have a country music theme?--but I don't have any adopted Chinese children, so I don't know how I'd approach such a situation if I did.

I cannot think of anything that says "Upper West Side" more than a young ethnically Chinese girl, the adopted daughter of a lesbian couple, who "would burst into the Passover standard 'Dayenu'" on (where else?) the crosstown bus. This has Metropolitan Diary written all over it.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is funny you should start looking for a publisher for that play, I smell Tony.

Anonymous said...

Except for the lesbian part. I don't think the Times goes there.

Ling said...

Takeover, the breaks over.

SiliDaddy said...

You wrote:
*****
This strikes me as cheesy and unnecessarily multicultural--would a bat mitzvah for a girl adopted from rural America have a country music theme?--
*****
I read the NYT article with great interest because of my own circumstances.

My own perspective on this story is informed by my being a (native-NYC) Jew with a half-Japanese daughter. My connection to Japan predates my daughter (and her mother/my wife): I lived in Tokyo for a number of years, and speak/read Japanese at the level of a university-educated adult from that country.

Having said that, my primary ethnic identity is that of a(practicing Conservative) Jew from New York. But Japan/Japanese is also an undeniable part of who I've become...perhaps a "subidentity."

I feel richer for having a whole other side of me--an alternative prism through which I can view the world--everything from the English language, to norms for interpersonal relationships.

So, coming from from this background, I'd disagree with your rhetorical question which I've excerpted above. I disagree specifically on the grounds of:

1) Pragmatism: The upcoming century is all about China and its neighbors, not Arkanas or Alabama. Savvy kids in the 21st century will be better served by knowing how to find Beijing on a map than Little Rock.

2) Realism: Although it has elements of its own distinctive culture, the South is still a part of this country. As such, one hardly need go out of his or her way to imbibe some of its culture. I've spent precious little time south of the Mason-Dixon line. But I know who "Stonewall" Jackson was...I know the "Stars and Bars" flag...I know what "Strange Fruit" refers to. And I didn't have to go real out of my way to learn these facts. Everything I know about my "subculture," on the other hand, is hard- and deliberately won.

3) Principle: You'd surely agree with me that every American (indeed, every human) should know something of other cultures. If one has a biological tie to another culture, so much the better!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Phoebe, of all people, would agree that knowledge of another culture is important. France isn't China but it's not the U.S.,either, and she's in grad school in French Studies.
I think a distinction should be made between educating Americans about foreign cultures and using Chinatown souvenirs at a bat mitzvah. Dragon candles and Chinese lanterns suggest very little in this setting beyond an American/Jewish-defined affection and a sense of fun. As wonderful as these are, they are educational only about a small segment of New York, not China.
--EH

SiliDaddy said...

EH:

I agree with you entirely. But I would note that:

*****
Dragon candles and Chinese lanterns suggest very little in this setting beyond an American/Jewish-defined affection and a sense of fun
*****

is valuable because the "sense of fun" still plants the seeds for a deeper interest somewhere in the future.

Lots of people say that this is one of the big problems with Judaism as opposed to Christianity, with respect to stanching the flow of Jews into complete assimilation.

Christians have fun holidays--to wit, Easter and Christmas--that make people want to be on the team. (Especially little kids!)

What's our (e.g., Jews') Easter? Pesach? Great. Oh, what fun! They get marshmallow Peeps and chocolate bunnies, and we get matzah and macaroons. And don't even get me started on Xmas vs. Yom Kippur. :-)

A lot of it is in the marketing. So, let the young girls enjoy the yin-yang nonsense for now. It at least creates favorable soil for future exploration.

Anonymous said...

Silidaddy, I don't quite follow your comment.
Is the appealing part of Judaism what is being marketed by the Chinese theme of the bat mitzvah? Are the guests getting a xmas-rivalling view of Jewish or Chinese culture? Which is the foreign one?
--EH

SiliDaddy said...

*****
Is the appealing part of Judaism what is being marketed by the Chinese theme of the bat mitzvah? Are the guests getting a xmas-rivalling view of Jewish or Chinese culture? Which is the foreign one?
*****

No. I was speaking to the idea of getting someone intereested in another culture--in this case, that of China--by sugarcoating it.

I was responding to your suggestion that the yin-yang kippot and whatnot are more Chinatown kitsch than China.

I guess the point I left unsaid in my Judaism vs. Christianity comparison was that, without sugarcoating, it's that much harder to interest kids (or adults) in other cultures.

In short, I was simply saying that the Chinese theme encourages these Jews to learn about another culture: China's.