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Battle Hymn of the Asian-Jewish Power Couple

Battle Hymn of the Asian-Jewish Power Couple

This summer novelist Gary Shteyngart told New York Magazine that he is engaged to a Korean-American woman. (Sadly, when I e-mailed him, playing up our shared alma mater Oberlin and hoping to feature him in a column, he declined to be interviewed, writing “I’m totally down with intermarriage and would love to talk about it, but my fiancee is very publicity-shy and I swore not to bring her into any media light.”)

Soon after, the New Yorker reported that Facebook Emperor Mark Zuckerberg is expected to marry Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American medical student.
And then Tiger Mom Amy Chua jumped into the media spotlight, with Jewish hubby Jed Rubenfeld and their bat mitzvahed, sleepover-deprived daughters Sophia and Lulu in tow.

As The New York Times (yes, I apparently only read publications with “New York” in the title) observed, Chua is “one half of the kind of Asian-Jewish academic power couple that, as she notes, populates many university towns.”

On the off chance that you didn’t yet know this, both Chua and Rubenfeld are Yale law professors when they’re not writing best-sellers, appearing on TV or forcing their children to revise birthday cards.

I clearly have not written enough about Asian-Jewish power couples, perhaps because I encounter so few of them, living as I do in a neighborhood populated by teachers, journalists, architects, artists, graphic designers and other low-lifes who occasionally got grades below A’s.

I am eager to learn more about this important intermarried demographic (including whether there are a sizable amount of couples in which the woman is Jewish and the man is Asian, and whether any of them have only mediocre careers) and am excited about a forthcoming book authored by husband-and-wife team Helen Kim and Noah Leavitt, two Whitman College sociologists who have conducted in-depth interviews with 37 Asian-Jewish couples.

According to preliminary findings they presented in 2009 at the Association for Jewish Studies (summarized on the Whitman College website), all the couples they interviewed who have children are raising them as Jews; there is little tension among extended families and one of the main factors they identify as bringing them together is a similar value system rooted in education, hard work and strong family ties.

I’m not sure if the couples are supposed to be a representative sample or not, and when I get an opportunity to interview Kim (who is Korean) and Leavitt (who is Jewish), I’ll provide more details.

But in case you are worried that all Asian-Jewish couples impose three-hour piano-practicing regimens on their children and call them “garbage,” Kim told JTA reporter Sue Fishkoff that, “We talked to a lot of different kinds of families — Chinese and other Asian, straight and gay, East Coast and West Coast — and we found nothing close to the way Amy portrayed the way she mothered. We met a number of their kids, and they didn’t complain about anything like that.”

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