Episode 33: JewAsian - Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt

Whitman College's Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt (Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of Students, respectively),  join Judaism Unbound for an episode on their book, entitled JewAsian. [1] The book discards the idea that provides an in-depth exploration of two important groups of people: couples made up of one Jewish partner and one Asian partner (the Asian individuals may or may not be Jewish themselves) and the children of such relationships. Kim and Leavitt discuss their findings with co-hosts Dan and Lex, along with a wide variety of related topics as they relate to the ever-shifting landscape of contemporary American Judaism.

Image Credit: TheJC.com

Image Credit: TheJC.com

(0:01 - 12:44): Kim and Leavitt begin the episode by providing an overview of their book. They discuss the two populations they studied -- couples with one Jewish and one Asian member and children of couples with one Jewish and one Asian member -- and briefly summarize some of their findings.

(12:45 - 24:46): Our two guests explore some of the ways that multi-racial Jewish families (or individual members of those families) have felt isolated or marginalized in Jewish spaces. They consider the ways in which we discuss Jewish authenticity or the idea of "looking Jewish," alongside other related issues. They also explore the positive impact that proudly Jewish and Asian public figures (like Rabbi and Cantor Angela Buchdahl) and couples (like Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan) can have as role models to JewAsian children and families. [2]

(24:47 - 36:30): Dan and Lex ask Kim and Leavitt about their findings as related to questions of religious and cultural syncretism. To what extent did they find examples of cultural "fusion" in these families? To what extent are their Jewish practices often indistinguishable from those of other American-Jewish households?

(36:31 - 46:28): Our two guests close by examining the lenses through which American-Jewish institutions (and American-Jewish demographers) understand themselves. [3] Specifically they elaborate on some reasons that quantitative, sociological studies have played a larger role in the past few decades of Jewish demography than studies like their own that are smaller and qualitative. They also consider ways that Jewish communal organizations could best connect with Jewish millennials, a cohort that often understands Jewishness as one identity among many others. [4]

[1] If you would like to purchase a copy of JewAsian you can do so at this link. You can learn more about the book and its authors by liking their Facebook page.

[2] Check out this article by past Judaism Unbound guest Paul Golin about the occasion of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl lighting the Menorah at the annual White House Chanukah party in 2014. For video of that occasion, click the video directly below.


[3] In analyzing Jewish demography, our guests refer to Gary Tobin. Click here for a provocative 2008 article he wrote on questions of race and intermarriage. He, along with his wife Diane Tobin, also helped to establish Be'chol Lashon, one of the leading Jewish organizations working on issues of relevance to Jews of color. Access their website by clicking here.

[4] In closing, Professor Leavitt mentions an earlier block of Judaism Unbound episodes on intermarriage. Listen to one or multiple of these episodes by clicking the following links: Episode 15: Men, Women, and Intermarriage - Keren McGinity   Episode 16: Intermarriage and the Future - Paul Golin   Episode 17: Intermarriage - A Fact of 21st Century Judaism