April 17, 2003
Asians: The New Shiksas?
I was at a party in Sunset Plaza recently where a woman walked over to me and accused: "Could you leave some for the rest of us?"
I didn't know this woman, and she left as quickly as she came, saying something about her empty martini glass, so I didn't have an opportunity to ask her what she was muttering about.
A mutual friend was kind enough to be indiscreet and fill me in. Apparently, the woman was left waiting by the phone for several days and nights by a man who was later discovered to be pursuing a woman of the Asian persuasion.
Was the woman right? Are we Asian women indeed the new shiksas? And are we stealing all the men?
Anecdotal evidence abounds. Take a look around your temple, family bar mitzvahs, even Hollywood parties: That nice, successful Jewish boy has a willowy Asian woman on his arm.
In order to get a better perspective on the subject, I visit Rabbi Neal Weinberg's Introduction to Judaism class at the University of Judaism (UJ) for answers, expecting to find comedienne Margaret Cho's Asian version of the childhood game, duck-duck-goose. You know, white guy, Asian girl, white guy, Asian girl.
I was disappointed. Cho would have to play a few miles south of the UJ at the University of California of Lots of Asians (UCLA).
I was also surprised. Weinberg told me that of the non-Jewish students who take his courses, the largest number are those of Latin American descent, with those of European descent a close second, and Asians and African Americans pulling up the rear. Weinberg reasons that because of the large garment district in Los Angeles, that many of the Latin women-Jewish men couples he teaches find love in the workplace.
So, even though an increasing number of Asian women may be spotted in shul these days, it would appear that, at least in Los Angeles, the shortage of marriageable Jewish men cannot be solely blamed on us.
I Googled "Asian shiksa" and came up with a tofu recipe site (Shiksa is Korean for food or meal). So I realized that I needed to go straight to the source. A few phone calls later, I had a list of Jewish-Asian intermarried couples and blunt questions: How did you meet? What made you defy parental disapproval and get together? Or was there any opposition at all?
First, the question of racial stereotypes. All of my interviewees laugh their heads off when I mention the oft-heard theory that some men -- Jewish or otherwise -- are attracted to Asian women because they are deemed more submissive.
Annie Tien, 34, Web producer, wipes tears from her eyes as she laughs hysterically. "The ones that come to me with the expectation that I would be docile and submissive are quickly disappointed."
Aryeh Richmond, 33, head of studios for Equinoxe Digital Entertainment, said his wife, Somyung Sohn, a 36-year-old advertising executive, is opinionated, passionate and very interesting -- the polar opposite of docile.
Geoff Graber, a 32-year-old business consultant, said that he grew up with a strong mother, and that his wife, Ellen Shing, 34, continues the strong-woman tradition in his life.
By the way, I've met Ellen. She's fun, energetic, smart, warm and cute as a button, so it makes me feel stupid asking why Geoff would want to be married to her. The more apt question is why wouldn't anyone want to be married to her. But I ask, hoping for gross generalizations to use in an article whose working title is "Asian Epidemic -- Truth or Fiction."
Similarities, they say. All the couples list similarities between Jewish culture and Asian culture -- both Jews and Asians place great importance on education, family, respect for elders, they said.
Richmond said that he and Sohn value higher education and conscious childrearing. He says that while the question of whether future kids will be raised Jewish has never come up; he is confident that there will be no fractious standoffs when it comes time to make such decisions because Sohn is Buddhist.
Attorney Adam Heller, 33, also mentions that because his wife, Tami Cho, 32, did not grow up with a religion, that her conversion to Judaism was less of an issue. "It's easier when Jesus is not a part of the equation."
Could it be then that in these modern times of unprecedented freedoms -- freedom of religion, freedom from being forced to date parentally preapproved candidates -- that men and women meet at school, at work or through mutual friends and simply fall in love without participating in a cultural phenomenon? Maybe there is more intermarriage because we as a people have grown more aware of each others' similarities.
But, Weinberg said, conversion after intermarriage also brings new blood into a community and enlarges the number of especially knowledgeable Jews.
To these new Jews -- Asian or otherwise -- Weinberg says, "Shalom haverim" ("Welcome, friends").
Song Oh is a freelance journalist and comedian. She will perform at Gotham Hall, 1431Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica on May 8. For more information, call (310) 394-8865. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.