web analytics
January 26, 2015 / 6 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Reading Emma Lazarus In Hong Kong

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

It started as my daughter’s third grade assignment: choose a person to write about, preferably an American, preferably a Jew. We were going to do just that. I intended to help my daughter choose the topic and then to back away yet, Emma Lazarus ended up drawing me in.

It was through a Google search late night that I found her and knew this was the one. I completely connected with her. She was a woman, a Jew, a strong Zionist and an American and, to top it all off, a poet and social justice advocate, though she is perhaps best known for her poem The New Colossus that appears on the base of the Statue of Liberty. After convincing my third grader that our search was over was fairly easy and would cost me very little – just an offer to let her wear her lipstick (Chapstick) to school. And so we both end up reading Emma Lazarus while living in Hong Kong.

For Lazarus, I found out, this too was an entirely new journey. No one here had heard of her. Some vaguely knew that there was a poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Others knew the most famous lines of the poem but didn’t know the author’s name.

Having grown up being fed stories of Lady Liberty greeting my immigrant grandparents as they crossed into the harbor, I grew up in her shadow. I lived twenty minutes from the Statue of Liberty. I had walked the familiar streets of the Lower East Side, where even as late as the early ‘80s faint echoes of the turn of the century could still be heard. I could connect with her story. I studied the history of immigrants in America and could understand the world they arrived in.

For my daughter though, growing up in Hong Kong in the 21st century, the stories for her were the stuff of myths and legends. They lived in another century, in a time period she and no one she knew could have a collective memory of. These were people who risked their lives to journey to a country we willingly left behind and to a city my daughter had been to only a couple of times. To understand and to connect with her poetry, there needed to be some context.

Was Emma Lazarus someone my daughter could ever grow to love? Does she even translate into 21st century lingo and into expat life in the Far East?

Not surprisingly, the Hong Kong public library doesn’t have books on Emma Lazarus but neither did their Jewish day school’s library. The librarians have never heard of her. And not entirely unexpected, our bookstore brought us no closer. This was a search my daughter needed some help with. I was not prepared to let visions of a project on Lazarus fade away. Even with Internet resources, there needed to be an understanding of the framework from which this remarkable woman emerged.Lyons-032913-Lady-Liberty

The context Lazarus grew out of could best be colored by the tales my grandparents had told of a promise of streets of gold and the realities of a life of new challenges. My children’s clear favorite is the largely fictionalized one ending with my four foot ten Great-Grandma Schwartz beating a woman over the head with her well-traveled quilt and candlesticks when she arrived in America (though personally I feel that perhaps she should have been beating Great-Grandpa Schwartz instead). Countless times, I also tell them the story how my grandfather (Pop Pop) learned to play the violin from a master as an immigrant boy in the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side. And while I don’t think they will ever understand, nor will my husband, why the sound of a violin solo still brings me to tears, I want them to somehow understand that for me it seems to always carry with it the song of our past and the story of our family.

As the violin itself apparently doesn’t have quite the same effect on everyone, together as a family inevitably watched (over and over again) An American Tale, the ‘80s animated film about a young Jewish Russian mouse who is separated from his family while emigrating to America. In our own story, Fievel Mousekewitz is their Great-Great Uncle Morris Schwartz, Great-Great Aunt Minnie is Tanya, Great-Great Grandma Lena is Mama and Great-Great Grandpa Joseph is Papa. But as the details of our own family’s coming to America story are scant, our story quickly becomes muddled with the Mousekewitz’s in my children’s heads.

We read If Your Name was Changed at Ellis Island and look at pictures of us all at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from a summer visit several years ago. I pull my college copy of World of Our Fathers off the bookshelf. I so desperately want those pages to become like memory to them as I am not certain that Fievel is a strong enough character to link them to their past (plus my four year old has been relentlessly attacking our pet cats with toy swords and accusing them of being Cossacks.)

Clearly lost on my four year old, I still am not certain the older children can ever see themselves in these stories. I need them to understand that our story doesn’t begin a decade ago with the fully paid for business class flight from JFK to Hong Kong. I tell and retell the few family stories I know so many times that they are soon able to do this themselves.

When we read Emma Lazarus, we stop and focus on each line and we talk about where our family’s story connects with her words and her world. My daughter writes her Emma Lazarus speech and together we sort out an Emma Lazarus costume for her. I watch her transform, while not into Emma Lazarus herself (for to be honest we were the huddled masses) but into someone that is beginning to understand how she connects to history.

When we return this summer to New York and make our own visit to Lady Liberty, I can’t wait to watch my children’s faces as she appears or their looks when they see Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus. We return, for the summer, with a stronger connection to America and to our past.

We all now dream of crowded ships, heroic mice, a brilliant torch, traveled candlesticks, Cossacks (or cats) and maybe even the sounds of the violin.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Reading Emma Lazarus In Hong Kong”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Ilana Medar, 18, of Paris, made Aliyah last year.
Jewish Agency Planning for Massive Aliyah of 120,000 French Jews
Latest Sections Stories
Dr. Esther Rose Lowy

Dr. Lowy believed passionately in higher education for both men and women and would stop at nothing to assist young students in achieving their educational goals.

book-Lincoln

It’s almost pointless to try to summarize all of the fascinating information that Holzer’s research unearthed.

The special charm of these letters is their immediacy and authenticity of emotion and description.

Why is there such a steep learning curve for teachers? And what can we, as educators and community activists, do better in the educational system and keep first-year teachers in the job?

Teachers, as well as administrators, must be actively involved in the daily prayers that transpire at a school and must set the bar as dugmaot ishiot, role models, on how one must daven.

Often both girls and boys compare their date to their parents.

We love the food, the hotels, and even the wildlife. We love the Israelis.

Few traces remain of the glory days of Jewish life in the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, but the demise wasn’t due to the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Rather it was a manmade volcano called the Edict of Expulsion from Spain – and not even an invitation to return in Shevat of 1740 could […]

Garbage in your streets, my city
Wind-blown litter, lonely men

I love you in your blazing heat
my aching feet
dragging in your streets.

These monsters constantly attack
When we dare to try to fight back

With so many new cases of ADHD reported each year, it is important to help children learn how to sit still.

More Articles from Erica Lyons
Lyons-Nei-Hou-logo

There is seemingly great pressure to orchestrate a production worthy of the Hong Kong skyline that will serve as a backdrop.

Lyons-050214

I am vegetarian, kosher and have read Charlotte’s Web more than once.

If your hero is fictional you could be crazy. And if they happen to be real, they are likely human and, unfortunately, inevitably flawed.

I left my mother a message saying goodbye and pleading with her to make sure my son grew up knowing how much I loved him.

In the quaint and picturesque Hungarian town of Szentendre (Saint Andrew), just outside of Budapest, our group of five new friends who had gathered from throughout the Jewish world bask in the sunlight, seemingly frozen in time. We weave along the cobblestone streets browsing in and out of charming little shops offering handmade crafts, delicate latticework, whimsical wooden toys and intricately painted porcelain. We sit outside and feast on pastries that look more like art than edibles and ice coffee is reminiscent of ice cream floats.

It started as my daughter’s third grade assignment: choose a person to write about, preferably an American, preferably a Jew. We were going to do just that. I intended to help my daughter choose the topic and then to back away yet, Emma Lazarus ended up drawing me in.

I met Mr. E at a poetry reading. Hong Kong’s literary scene is small and two Americans reading in one evening was an unusual event. We became Facebook friends, generally “liking” the same local literary events and book launches.

A Hong Kong symphony of sounds fills the air as local laborers shout across the shul courtyard in Cantonese while tossing bamboo in a pile for the sukkah: Filipino maids chatter in Tagalog hovering over the children in their charge, the radio of the Nepalese gurkhas, the Synagogue security, crackles and jackhammers provide the background music. The thick air and humidity within the walls of the partially constructed bamboo sukkah sharply contrasts with the crisp fall air of Sukkot in the northeastern corridor of the United States, where the sukkahs of my childhood were laden with dried fruit and autumn color. Dozens of colorful miniature Chinese paper lanterns dangle from the sukkah and here replace the burnt orange and golden gourds of autumn.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/reading-emma-lazarus-in-hong-kong/2013/03/29/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: