Jewish and Asian in San Francisco

A 2004 study of the bay area Jewish population found that 14% of families in our community include Jews of color. That means that at least every tenth Jew you see is a multiracial Jew or lives in a multiracial family. But that was nine years ago. That percentage can only have grown.

You would think that San Francisco is the ideal place to grow up Jewish and Asian. Certainly there are more Asian Jews here than in Chicago. But a slightly elevated number of Asian Jews has not stopped whites, Jewish or not, from saying, “Gee, you don’t look Jewish.” What is it like to live as a Jew whose identity is constantly questioned? There are advantages to growing up being told you are a Jew. But there are also advantages to being an adult, better able to put stupid comments into perspective. How does the experience of a Jew who converts as an adult differ from than of the child who grows up going to Hebrew school, has a bar or bat mitzvah and a trip to Israel?

In the 1960s a nice Jewish boy married a nice Chinese girl, bought a house in San Francisco and joined Sherith Israel. The deed to their new home stated that the property could not be sold to Jews or Chinese. In some ways that was a long time ago and things have certainly changed since then; but what challenges remain to being Jewish and Chinese?

On May 5th Building Jewish Bridges, a program of Lehrhaus Judaica, will partner with Sherith Israel to present a panel of Asian Jews telling their stories. Some of these individuals grew up at Sherith Israel and attended Hebrew school right here. How has their experience impacted their identity, their own decisions about raising children, and what would they ask us, their fellow Jews, to know and to do in order to better support their Jewish lives? How can we be better allies to our fellow Jews?

We hope through these community discussions to develop a more sensitive community, ready to care for each other, to help raise all our children, and to integrate those who come to our community and are seeking a connection.