The Chosen People

Why the Jews? Of all the world’s peoples, why were the Jews chosen? This is a question Jews often ask themselves, usually either in moments of self-pity or self-congratulation.

This issue of New Voices will probably leave readers asking a different question: Why the Chinese? Why of all the world’s peoples did New Voices choose to devote an entire issue to the Chinese? The answer: Because it is good for the Jews.

Jews have expended much time, energy, and angst on relations with African-Americans, Germans, Arabs, and other groups. Meanwhile, Jewish-Chinese relations have been largely neglected by Jewish leaders and organizations. Never mind that there are far more Chinese in the world than there are members of any of these other groups. Imagine how secure Jews would be if we could reliably count on well over a billion Chinese as our friends and allies. (I personally might go so far as to support a full-scale merger between our two peoples so long as Yiddish can be the lingua franca of the resulting Judeo-Chinese mega-tribe and, when determining our collective destiny, Jews could have the last word–not the final say mind you, just the last word.)

Nor should forging strong relations between Jews and Chinese be too difficult, since the two peoples already have much in common. Like the Jews, the Chinese have an extensive diaspora. Both groups’ diasporas have been notably successful in business. Both the Chinese and the Jews have faced resentment and violence at the hands of the majority populations of the countries in which they have resided. And in America both the Jewish and Chinese populations have placed a strong emphasis on higher education and displayed remarkable upward mobility.

The two groups share so much in common that the Chinese are often called “the Jews of the East” and Chinese-Americans are sometimes referred to as “the New Jews.” (Of course, it’s only because of Western bias at its worst that a people as large as the Chinese is named with reference to a people as small as the Jews. In a more just world, Jews might be called “the Chinese of the West” and Americans Jews “the Old Chinese.”)

But the commonalities between the Jews and the Chinese go much deeper. Their grandmothers play mah-jongg; our grandmothers play mah-jongg. Many Chinese are Buddhists; many Jews are Buddhists. Many Chinese enjoy eating Chinese food; many Jews enjoy eating Chinese food. (Although the Chinese don’t reciprocate. I’ve never heard of masses of Chinese-Americans descending on Jewish delis for pastrami on rye with a bowl of matzoh ball soup on the Western New Year.) We even share the same pan-ethnicity. We are all Asian-Americans. (Remember, Israel is in Asia.)

It’s clear that the Jews and the Chinese have much in common, and it’s about time we start exploring these commonalities. To butcher the words of the great Jewish sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself and not for the Chinese, then what am I? Chopped liver?”

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