Do You Look Jewish?

IMG_0162The obvious first reply to this is, “What does a Jew look like?” Certainly, in the time that interfaith marriage has been a force in the Jewish world, the answer to this question has undergone some change. But is it really any different than any other mixing of heritages?

When we visited Ellis Island and walked through the exhibits, it struck me that the photos of the people from each individual country shared many similarities. You could say, with some degree of accuracy, “That person looks Italian.” Fast forward to today. I’m Italian. I’m also French-Canadian. I’m also Jewish, albeit by choice. So no. I don’t look Jewish. Then again, not all Jews are from Eastern Europe these days. 

My daughter calls herself Jasian. She is Korean, and joined us through adoption when she was an infant. I also have a son who is Korean. It wasn’t until this year that I learned that both of them have been quizzed by the kids at one of the bigger temples. The quiz? To prove they were Jewish by reciting a prayer. I was outraged. My kids took it in stride. My daughter recited the V’ahavta. My son said he was happy all they asked him for was the Shema.

My family belongs to a congregation with many families like ours. It’s a warm and welcoming place that has been terrific for my kids because for all three of them – Asian or not – you’re a Jew if you’re a Jew. The concept of looking like something to be a Jew is not part of their experience of being Jewish. For the wider Jewish world, this is not yet the case, but they can rest easy.

My family and congregation are living proof that to be Jewish, not only don’t you have to look like anything in particular, nothing needs to be lost in the process. When my daughter makes her Bat Mitzvah this year, she will be taking her place in Judaism and affirming her commitment to a Jewish future. She just happens to be Jasian.

What do you think?