web analytics
September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



The Whole World Is Jewish


Lyons-city-021712

I make my way through New York City’s busy diamond district with my children in tow. With only a few days in the city every two-years on a return visit from our home in Hong Kong, our days are packed with catching up with friends, taking in the sites and of course running errands.

My five-year-old tugs my arm as he pauses and breaks our brisk pace. “Mama, look that man is Jewish,” he yells out with genuine glee as he points to a bearded stranger in a black hat, long black coat and peyot. I glance back, a bit embarrassed and smile, trying to pick up our pace. Barely a second passes by and again he announces, “Mama, look that man is too!” again he points, stares and yells. “And there is another Jewish man. And another.”

Again I can only smile in sheer embarrassment.

I pull my small brood over to the side of the street in an attempt to avoid the sea of lunchtime foot-traffic rushing by. I bend down and whisper to my son, “Sweetie, look around and please don’t point. You don’t need to. Everyone here is Jewish.”

He surveys the passers-by skeptically but then looks up at me and concludes, “You are right. Just like in Hong Kong.”

I fight the urge to laugh and decide I will instead focus on the task at hand and clear up the misconception later. I am somewhat perplexed. He is an astute child and generally quite a keen observer of details for his age. Then I try to see his world from his viewpoint.

Erica and Her Family

Our synagogue in Hong Kong is a five-minute walk from our home. Our children attend an Orthodox Hebrew day school that is also minutes from our home. Our next-door neighbors and their four children go to our synagogue (though they always manage to make it there before us) and attend the same school.

On a typical Saturday, we pass by another synagogue on the way to ours and cross paths with various neighbors as they make their way to the synagogue of their choice. “Shabbat Shalom,” we greet one another in the streets.

Our Jewish world is small but from his five-year-old perspective it is large, perhaps all-encompassing. The fact that in a population of over 7 million people in Hong Kong (95% of whom are ethnically Chinese) we as Jews collectively account for only about 4,000 or 0.05% of the population can be seemingly irrelevant. Large numbers and statistics don’t play into his worldview.

Interestingly, neither does race. He sees divides between people in terms of linguistics and his ability to communicate with them, a very practical and real dividing line rather than the arbitrariness of racial classifications. When he labels somebody as Chinese, or in his words “a Chinese,” he explains it is because they don’t know English. Having lived his entire life in Hong Kong, he does not have a racial consciousness. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from this.

While (after the fact) I find his outbursts in the Diamond District of New York City endlessly entertaining, it is also an interesting insight to his view of the world. I recall a similar incident years ago when my now teenage cousin went to New York City’s Chinatown with her parents. Also Hebrew Day School educated, though in Upstate New York, she had but one Chinese child in her school, a girl that had been adopted as an infant. When my then five-year old cousin walked through the crowded and bustling Chinatown streets and surveyed the new and unfamiliar, seemingly exotic landscape, she exclaimed, “Look Mommy, everyone here is Jewish.” My aunt surveying the same scene was confused and saw only Chinese faces. She asked her daughter where she saw other Jews. Matter-of-factly, my cousin responded, “Everywhere. Everyone here is Jewish just like Leah in my class.”

While in Hong Kong expatriates often poke fun at one another for living in a bubble, this is not altogether a falsehood. Though we do thoroughly explore our adopted home and, almost on a daily basis, increase our understanding of local culture and mores, truth be told, just as my son did in New York City and my cousin in Chinatown, we do look out for and gravitate toward the familiar. We do this when forming our closest associations and we tend to always make sure we are closely tied to our own faith and traditions.

Viewing life in Asia, even always through our own Jewish lenses, does allow us adults the opportunity to expand our own perspectives. As for my son, there will be plenty of time for him to gain perspective on his place in the world. He will likely, inevitably, develop a racial consciousness that extends far beyond the practical boundary of language. He will one day grow to appreciate just how very small we as Jews are in terms of numbers in the world. He will understand what it means to be a minority. There is plenty of time for this. For now, I am warmed by the fact that we have managed to carve out a very safe space in a very big world for him to grow up in.

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.

One Response to “The Whole World Is Jewish”

  1. Samantha says:

    Really interesting story and analysis! What an interesting Jewish experience you and your family have! Your children are lucky to grow up in a multicultural environment.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party.
Lapid Won’t Let Defense Demands Turn Into ‘Turkish Bazaar’
Latest Sections Stories
Ganz-091214-Fifty

Today, fifty years and six million (!) people later, Israel is truly a different world.

Goldberg-091214

There will always be items that don’t freeze well – salads and some rice- or potato-based dishes – so you need to leave time to prepare or cook them closer to Yom Tov and ensure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store them.

Women's under-trousers, Uzbekistan, early 20th century

In Uzbekistan, in the early twentieth century, it was the women who wore the pants.

Schonfeld-logo1

This is an important one in raising a mentsch (and maybe even in marrying off a mentsch! listening skills are on the top of the list when I do shidduch coaching).

While multitasking is not ideal, it is often necessary and unavoidable.

Maybe now that your kids are back in school, you should start cleaning for Pesach.

The interpreter was expected to be a talmid chacham himself and be able to also offer explanations and clarifications to the students.

“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”

“On Sunday I was at the Kotel with the battalion and we said a prayer of thanks. In Gaza there were so many moments of death that I had to thank God that I’m alive. Only then did I realize how frightening it had been there.”

Neglect, indifference or criticism can break a person’s neshama.

It’s fair to say that we all know or have someone in our family who is divorced.

The assumption of a shared kinship is based on being part of the human race. Life is so much easier to figure out when everyone thinks the same way.

Various other learning opportunities will be offered to the community throughout the year.

The new group will also deliver kosher food to Jewish residents in non-kosher facilities, as well as to kosher facilities where the food is not up to par.

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/magazine/potpourri/the-whole-world-is-jewish/2012/02/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: