Eating with me
How to share a memory with strangers
This is a representation of me and my association with Asian and Jewish culture. One side contains Jewish foods, and the other holds Asian foods. There are only two knives that are placed in the middle, to encourage cross contamination of the two sides. I presented the platter, and saw if people were willing to combine foods and flavors from the two different sides.
As people ate, I read them a short story.
I was adopted from China at the age of 1 and was raised in a white Jewish family.
What you're Jewish? Yes, my last name is Schechter.
My grandparents lived in Queens, my mother and I lived in Manhattan, and my aunt and cousins lived in Toronto. When I was little and mom said we were going to Canada, I knew it was a high holiday. When my grandparents came along as well, I knew it was Passover. Passover meant a long service and me playing under the table, but it also meant gefilte fish and horseradish and matzah ball soup. Though seder dinner was good, nothing could beat breakfast the next morning. Cream cheese, lox and capers, onions, egg salad, tunafish salad, and white fish salad all smeared onto your bagel of choice. The only thing that could beat that was my local bagel shop; ran by a Chinese family for years.
My grandpa was in WWII, and when he left, my great aunt made a promise to God that she would marry an orthodox Jewish man if my grandpa came back in once piece. He came back, she married an orthodox Jewish man, and I now have 500 cousins. Those of whom I never saw, except for my second cousins, Shlomete and Avichi. Their mother made the most amazing hamantaschen and showered kosher food upon me.They were also the ones who tried to teach me the different prayers. It’s no coincidence that the only prayer I remember is the one you say before drinking wine.
As I got older, my grandparents pushed me to go to hebrew school and eventually have a bat mitzvah. I refused, and I believe as a result, my mother put me into Saturday Chinese school. This is where I was exposed to more than sesame chicken and fried rice. Yes, I looked different from my family, and yes, I didn’t look Jewish, but I didn’t know how to associate with a culture that my appearance automatically associated myself with. It didn’t feel very genuine to learn a foreign language that people assumed I knew. I was the only kid who came from a white family to attend the classes. And then I tried dried squid. This was a long and skinny piece of white dried squid with black sesame seeds along the inside. It was chewy, it was salty, it was umami, it was different. It became my way in to understanding a culture I hadn’t previously been a part of. I tried preserved plum, small dried fish and stinky tofu, and I learned more about the culture along the way. Though nothing stuck after seven years of Chinese classes, I still know how to say “eat” in Chinese. And I will continue to “chi” and nosh my way through these two parts of my identity.
As of today, the connections I have with both Chinese and Jewish culture are through my knowledge and consumption of their different foods.