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Interfaith Parents, Chinese Children

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2006 issue of Lilith Magazine. To read more or to subscribe, go to www.lilith.com.

Sidebar to Jewish Moms, Chinese Daughters.

The usual tug of war that occurs in intermarried families about how to raise the children can take on an additional dimension when race is involved, whether the child in question is an adopted Chinese girl, or when one partner is Jewish and the other an Asian non-Jew.

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, a Chinese-American woman married to a Jewish man, jokes that her children, 15 and 18 years old, are "idol-worshiping heathen" and "non-discriminatory party animals." Although Krakauer was raised in the Episcopalian church, which had sponsored her Buddhist parents' emigration from China in the late 1930s, religion hasn't exerted much of a pull in her household.

"Identity has never been explored through the lens of religion," she says. "We preserved the spirit of the holidays, like my mother making Harvest Moon cakes with phyllo dough and Skippy peanut butter. Now my daughter, who's in college, is exploring an identity beyond 'my mother's Chinese and my father's Jewish.'"

Stacey Shub, an Atlanta Jew, and her husband, who is Catholic, have adopted a daughter, Sky, from China. "I was moved a few years ago hearing about the girls being left. Feminism was a piece of it." So far, Sky is at the Jewish nursery school, but Shub concedes that her husband "wants her to be part of him, and part of me." She expects that this difference of opinion over Sky's religious upbringing is not an issue that will be resolved quickly.

For Heidi Gralla, a freelance journalist in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, her marriage to a Chinese-American man has not complicated their children's upbringing as Reform Jews.

"On my end it's religious, and for my husband, it's more cultural," Gralla explains. Ironically, Gralla is the one who researched Chinese New Year to make the presentations at the children's schools. Their three children, an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, five and one, "have a clear sense of being Jewish and Chinese," she says. ("Okay, maybe not the baby.") "They had their baby namings at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains and they will be bar and bat mitzvah at Woodlands. My parents still belong to Woodlands." It's her family temple, and her community, and a place where her children know they belong.

"So far, we have not blended the two," says Gralla.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Merri Rosenberg

Merri Rosenberg is a freelance writer based in Westchester County, N.Y., and was a regular contributor to Education Update, Lilith, Jewish Week and Westchester magazine.

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