HomeCommunity IssuesWhat antisemitism feels like for Asian Jews

What antisemitism feels like for Asian Jews

By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

Jenna Louie’s instinct after the terrorist attacks of Hamas on Oct. 7 was to light shabbat candles for both Jewish and Palestinian civilians. 

She placed the flames in the window of her home in San Francisco as a prayer for peace but suddenly felt uneasy and changed her mind. “I actually closed my windows, put them over on the table, and just was like, let me do this privately.” 

In a video conversation with AsAmNews, she said, “Half of it is that I just feel like I don’t know how it will be received. You just don’t know, right, who’s walking by your window.” 

As the war raged on, her feelings changed. “I realize how little I have to fear juxtaposed with what Palestinians in Gaza are facing,” she wrote, in an update to AsAmNews.

Louie was raised in the city by her Chinese father and Jewish mother. When hate crimes against Asian people jumped starting in 2020, she realized the privilege of being arguably white-passing. Presumably, this made her less of a target for violence but did not make her feel less disturbed.

Similarly, no one can tell that Louie is Jewish just by looking at her. Tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict and spiking antisemitism across the country have almost made her feel like keeping it that way and staying private about her Jewishness.

The loaded nature of being Jewish revealed itself in another way when, a couple of weeks after the Hamas attack, her oldest son, 9, randomly grabbed a Hanukkah tee to wear to school. The shirt featured a graphic of spinning dreidel tops, with the quip, “This is how I roll.” 

A family friend visiting from out of town asked Louie if the choice of clothing had been deliberate, prompting a conversation about the unintended signals the shirt might give out at this time. The boy was filled with instant remorse and wondered if he had been wrong to wear his shirt.

“The last thing I want him to feel is to not feel prideful – proud to be Jewish – and so that was a struggle,” Louie said. 

The feeling of being out of place because of who she is reminded Louie of when she was a freshman in college and walked into a diner with her family during a trip to Utah.

“The whole restaurant just stopped and stared at us,” she said. “When you look back, you’re like, oh, wow, those were microaggressions. You don’t realize it until you have a word for it. I didn’t have a word for what that was until more recently, like within the last 10 years.”

Being of mixed race with a diversity of friends, Louie grew up feeling welcomed everywhere and like an outsider everywhere. 

She had a Jewish community close by and felt good being part of it. But other than a passover seder with her maternal grandmother, her family did not practice Judaism. They did not attend synagogue. Louie never had the Bat Mitzvah rite of adulthood when she was 13. And she missed the window of opportunity for a free trip to Israel through the Birthright heritage travel program when she was between the ages of 18 and 26. 

Louie said she connected with her Jewish heritage through college friends. “They would find out I’m Jewish, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, come to my Persian Jewish Rosh Hashanah, come to my Israeli Jewish Passover,’” she remembered.

Just weeks ago, her father revealed for the first time that Louie’s parents had held back from observing formal Jewish traditions because they did not want to impose religious identity upon their children or make them feel more torn between all the different aspects of their identity.

“My whole world kind of flipped upside down,” Louie said. “I was kind of upset – I would have liked to have had a better understanding, because now I feel like I’m starting over. I have to start fresh and teach all my kids something that doesn’t feel as inherent in me as I want it to.”

There are elements of her Asian identity she is also just beginning to build up as well. “Now I’m learning Mandarin. Like in my forties,” she laughed. She has yet to visit Israel, or China.

  • LA LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by David Chiu and Scott Miles Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine
  • LA LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by David Chiu and Scott Miles Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine
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  • LA LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by David Chiu and Scott Miles Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine

Louie and her non-practicing Catholic husband have been thinking about having their sons go through Bar Mitzvahs so they can benefit from some of the traditions Louie feels she missed out on. At a minimum, self-consciousness and discomfort are likely to be on the list of what both parents and children will face if they move forward.

Louie was initially hesitant about giving her name to AsAmNews. Anyone could look her up by name, find out she’s Jewish, and place assumptions upon her – ones that cut both ways.

She worries that her Jewishness will invite negative judgments based on the assumption that she agrees with what is happening Israel’s retaliation against Hamas when she does not.

More politically conservative people seem to assume that she has the same perspective, but from a point of positive regard that makes Louie just as uncomfortable and misunderstood.

“I think they just assume, because I’m Jewish, that I’m pro Israel, so they’re saying things, and I’m like, ‘whoa, I don’t want to align with this.’” 

Louie’s hyper awareness about living everyday life as a Jewish person in the U.S. is an effect of the antisemitism that has been spiking along with Islamophobia after the Israel-Hamas conflict, which began with the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 and resumed on Nov. 30 after temporary six-day cease-fire. 

What is Antisemitism? What is it really?

The U.S. State Department’s working definition of antisemitism is as follows:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

From Oct. 7-23, the Anti-Defamation League reported that incidents of antisemitism quadrupled from the point of time in 2022. 190 of the 312 incidents were directly provoked by the Israel-Hamas conflict. By contrast only four of the 64 incidents of antisemitism that had occurred a year earlier were related to Israel and Gaza. 

On Oct. 8, a car with Palestinian flags hanging out of it swerved out of its lane, nearly hitting a visibly Jewish family. 

On Oct. 15,  Christopher D’Aguiar  punched a woman at Grand Central Terminal in New York City, telling her he had done so because she was Jewish. 

On Oct. 31, the FBI arrested 21-year-old Chinese American Cornell University student Patrick Dai, after he made multiple posts on the school’s network, announcing his explicit intentions to enact violence against Jewish people.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) counted 1,283 reports of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents within one month of Oct. 7 and a 216% increase in overall reports and requests for help from 2022.

One of the most unspeakable of these incidents was the slaughter of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Chicago, on Oct. 14. Joseph Czuba, indicted for stabbing the child 26 times, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder, battery, and hate crime charges.

The Gaza health ministry has counted 18,000 Palestinian deaths since Hamas killed 1,200 people in its attack (a reduction from the Israeli government’s original report of 1,400 deaths).

The toll to humanity has inflamed outrage among hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian and/or anti-war protesters across the U.S. and millions around the world who have been vocalizing the belief that the U.S.-backed Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are carrying out a genocide against the stateless minority of Palestinians in the region.

Palestinians are among the 21% of the Israeli population that is Arab and not Jewish, according to the state’s central statistics bureau. As civilians or journalists on the ground in the region, they have directly filled the Internet with photo and video documentation of the devastation surrounding them.

The same masses of Pro-Palestinian and/or anti-war protestors have also alleged that this killing of innocent civilians is being done in the name of countering extremist group Hamas, but with the supreme objective of clearing the way for imperialist corporate interests of the West. Fueling these convictions were licenses awarded awarded Israel amid the warfare to U.K.-based BP and Italian company Eni for the exploration of gas fields offshore the conflict zone.

And most recently, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the U.N. convention against genocide, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that had agreement from 13 of the 15 member countries and an abstention by the U.K. for a cease-fire in Gaza. 

A video on the “brief, simple,” complicated history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Some people in the Jewish community feel like the rage over world events has led to increased hate and decreased compassion toward Jewish people regardless of what views they hold, what their relationship is to Israel, or what actions they have been taking or not taking in regard to the conflict.

Liz Kleinrock, 36, an award-winning anti-bias educator, published author, and Asian Jew based in Washington, D.C., distinguished antisemitism from other types of hate like racism or homophobia by its ability to camouflage itself to blend into whatever the social climate is at any given time.

“It evolves, it morphs in such different ways, depending on place and time, what’s happening in the world, whatever the issues are, and the community that’s talking about it, too,” she told AsAmNews in a video interview.

Today’s iterations of antisemitism have ripened off of a tree rooted in actual historical events but watered by conspiracy theories that have indisputably been used in the systemic persecution of Jews for millennia. 

The state of Israel became reality in 1922 when a colonial Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations gave Britain control over Palestine and Transjordan – territories surrendered by the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I. British control ended in 1948, when the United Nations created Israel to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

The people who populated Israel were persecuted Jewish refugees out of Europe and also Zionists, drivers of the political movement for a Jewish state begun in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland by Austro-Hungarian journalist and activist Theodore Herzl.

That the far-right Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advances openly expansionist Zionist intentions through its policies and resources is heating up global conversations about Israel and Gaza. But this power system and its supporters are not synonymous to Judaism or Jewish people.

Antisemitism layered onto Asian Hate and the model minority myth

Kleinrock said that conspiracy theories underlying antisemitism have some of the same effects for Jewish people that the model minority myths does for Asian communities – they breed assumptions, deepen misunderstandings, and enable blanket apathy toward a diverse community with different needs. 

She said she sees this in how reluctant people are to believe in antisemitism – the extent of the “mental gymnastics” that they engage in to justify, downplay, or write it off.

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  • NYC LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato) Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine

Adopted from Korea into a Jewish family in the U.S. and identifying as queer, Kleinrock is used to defending all angles of her identity.

Kleinrock said that she cannot separate her Jewish identity from her Asian identity and has no desire to. “I have been through a lot of therapy to develop a pretty stable sense of self,” she said.

She said that the most of racism she experienced as a child occurred in Jewish spaces. 

“That was a really big source of pain. And that really made me think deeply about, do I actually belong here,” she said.

In her family’s synagogue, only one other person, another transracial adoptee, did not present as White. Kleinrock felt that she had to overcompensate by showing how Jewish she was because she did not look like how people seemed to expect an authentic Jewish person to look.

Meanwhile, she received comments from people throughout her life about how she was ditching her Asian roots for her adoptive ones. And during the pandemic, when she was living in Los Angeles, people occasionally harassed her at the grocery story, suspecting that she was Chinese. 

Now, conversations about the Middle East are becoming more racialized in popular American discourse. People are generalizing Jews as White, wealthy, and in power. The upshot is that those displaying concern about Israeli civilians or Jewish communities are subject to being tagged a racist or colonialist.

The possibility of this happening is higher because of the very real and fundamental context of rampant racism, Islamophobia, and the vast intersection between the two forms of hateful discrimination plaguing America.

But Kleinrock said that transposing 2023 U.S. racial constructs directly onto the Middle East is flawed because over half of the Jewish population of Israel is Arab Jews or Sephardic Jews were expelled in 1492 from the Iberian Peninsula by the Catholic rulers of the Spanish kingdom.

“By U.S. racial categories, they would be Brown people. I actually think that if you held up images of Israelis and Palestinians and showed them to like your average person in the U.S., they would not be able to tell who is Israeli and who is Palestinian,” she said.

Kleinrock said that casting Jewish people or those showing empathy for them into the American framework of White supremacy is in itself a type of bias and bigotry, which can also manifest as antisemitism. 

“I find that people are a lot more willing to listen to me talk about antisemitism compared to White-presenting Jewish peers,” she said. She is using this positioning to try to improve understanding by calling out antisemitism when she sees it, where she sees it.

However, she receives regular death threats for doing this. A recent email told her that the world would be better if she were dead. 

She is more concerned about microaggressions that are harder to prove or swat away. She notices subtle antisemitism is leaking into progressive dialogues, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discussions, and the field of anti-racism, anti-bias education, which means that it can be propagated by people who genuinely prioritize equity and inclusion work.

Kleinrock said that she supports pro-Palestinian protests and her friends marching in them, some of whom have been seeking justice for years. She is less supportive of the proliferation of social media posts she has seen by people claiming that it is not hard to choose between Israel and Jews versus the Palestinian fight for liberation and statehood. 

Kleinrock said that preservation of life is a Jewish value that neither the state and military of Israel nor the U.S. is exactly living up to right now. She made clear that she in no way supports or endorses Netanyahu, Israel’s defense minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, or the IDF’s killing of innocent Palestinian civilians or their forced removal from their homes in Gaza or, less in the spotlight, the West Bank.

“I also think that it is very much possible to critique the Israeli government, geopolitical issues and the military without erasing or redefining who Jewish people are, and our history,” she added.

She supports a cease-fire in no uncertain terms. She also wants to know what a cease-fire would entail, and for whom. She worries over what a cease-fire could mean for the ability of terrorist group Hamas to regenerate. 

“I would also hope for people to understand that Israeli civilians are also not their governments. I would hope to see more empathy for innocent civilians, the ones who are kidnapped, who are assaulted, who are killed, who are still missing,” Kleinrock said.

She cited the people who have been tearing down posters of missing children thought to be held by Hamas.

“To me, that doesn’t make sense. That makes me feel like you inherently don’t have an understanding of what’s happening, if you think that you are somehow being complicit with the Israeli government or being only pro-Israel if you’re just showing a shred of empathy and compassion for people who are really hurting,” she said. 

  • NYC LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato) Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine
  • NYC LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato) Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine
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  • NYC LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato) Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine

At the independent school where she teaches students from pre-K through eighth grades, she has maintained a harmonious classroom during the Israel-Hamas war. However, her consulting clients come to her for help with conflict among high schoolers and student parent groups at their respective institutions.

“We’re not here to debate people’s humanity. We’re not here to argue to win. We’re not here to prove how much we know, compared to other people. We’re here to process, we’re here to come together, we’re here to support and to hold space for each other,” she said.

Kleinrock is also giving full voice and attention to her Asian identity. Next year, she and New York Times bestselling children’s author Joanna Ho and illustrator Dung HoHarper will release Eyes That Weave The World’s Wonders, a children’s book about the transracial adoptee experience. She is also coordinating a trip in the summer to Korea for adoptees and working on her birth family search. 

Up in Boston, Massachusetts, Sarah Senkfor has refrained from engaging in activism. Having no solution to personally propose for peace in the Middle East, she is just trying to think critically about her news sources and learn more about the long history of the conflict. 

Senkfor has already been updating her worldview on Israel and Palestine for her whole life.

She grew up in Ohio to a Korean mother and a Jewish father, a third-generation Clevelander descended from a Polish Jewish family, alternating between the strong Jewish community of Cleveland and Christmases at Korean church in Atlanta, Georgia with her mother’s side of the family. 

In 2006, she began attending Jewish Camp Wise in Ohio as a small child. The counselors were from Israel and shared stories about their lives as Senkfor returned every summer.

In 2009, when she was about 11, she went with her grandfather, her parents, and her brothers to Israel for the first time. In summer 2014, her second trip was canceled because of the breakout of the 50-day Gaza War, the last time Israel invaded Gaza before this year.

In college, she began hearing the gamut of perspectives about Israel and Palestine. Many of the friends she made, including Israelis, were progressive and are against the Netanyahu government today.

“I think a lot of people assume that all Israelis are pro Netanyahu and pro, I don’t know, cutting off the water supply pro every single thing that the IDF does, but it’s similar to the U.S. where there’s never been any decision that’s been made by the government that every single person here has agreed to,” Senkfor said.

After the breakout of the war, she has noticed people speaking negatively toward Jewish people in ways they might not have before. “And it’s kind of empowered the people who are already antisemitic,” she said, thinking back to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during COVID. 

“I think it’s similar to what’s happening now when someone sees someone who’s openly Jewish – they are more likely to get attacked or blamed for things going on across the world,” she said.

She said that she has felt supported by friends and colleagues who have checked in on her throughout the conflict but echoed Kleinrock’s and Louie’s experience of the problem being in seemingly little changes in the general atmosphere.

NYC LUNAR Hanukkah 2023 Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato) Asian Jews and antisemitism story, Israel, Palestine
Maryam Chishti, center, co-executive director of The LUNAR Collective.
Photo by Marcio Honorato (@photohonorato)

As a result of these changes, Senkfor feels leery nowadays at the thought of going to Jewish gatherings publicly because of the feeling that the events “could easily be a target of something bad going on.” She said she and her friends have made other small adjustments to their daily lives, such as not wearing their Star of David necklaces as much.

She emphasized that she does not think that everyone criticizing the Israeli government is antisemitic. Likewise, she concluded, “I think it’s important to understand that human beings are not representative of their governments, and it’s okay for people to have dissenting views.”

But said it is hard to scroll past numerous posts amounting to “The Israelis all deserve it if Hamas is striking civilians, just because they all serve in the IDF and they all believe this.”

Senkfor believes that her experience differs from that of her two older brothers, who happen to look more Asian than she does, whereas she figures that she could pass both non-Asian and non-Jewish. This does not mean she does not feel the effects of Asian hate or antisemitism.

“I mean, like my parents are walking down the street – they’re going to be a target of antisemitism and anti-Asian hate because my mother’s Korean and my dad’s Jewish,” she said.

The Asian Jewish community, finding itself

Of over a thousand Jewish people of color from 47 of 50 states who responded to the Beyond the Count study commissioned by the Jews of Color Initiative in 2021, 10% identified as Asian and 0.2% identified as Pacific Islander. 36% identified with two races and another 9% identified with three races or more.

This community is beginning to find each other and came together to support each other in the middle Hanukkah with wishes of joy and peace.

Also known as “Festival of Lights,” the eight-night celebration commemorates the liberation and restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem in 164 BCE after the Jews of Judah broke free of oppression by the Syrian Greeks of the Seleucid Empire.  

This past weekend, approximately 50 members each from the Asian Jewish communities New York City, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area of California gathered for the LUNAR Collective’s  “Let Your Light Shine” holiday event. They came from near and far to fry up hot, crispy potato latkes and consume them with savory pan-Asian toppings.

The LUNAR Collective, an Asian Jewish community network, was conceived in early 2020 when Chinese and Jewish policy researcher Gen Xia Ye Slosberg reached out to musician and multimedia editor Jenni Rudolph. Slosberg had seen Rudolph talking about her mixed Cantonese and Russian Ashkenazi Jewish descent on a video and wanted to connect.

The young women hatched the LUNAR: The Jewish-Asian Film Project, a video series of 23 participants discussing intersectional Asian and Jewish identity through the themes of food, impostor syndrome, traditions, cultural trauma, the Model Minority myth, and liberation.

An introduction to 23 cast members of The Jewish-Asian Film Project

Maryam Chishti, whose Indian Muslim father and Jewish American mother raised her in an interfaith household, joined the LUNAR team in summer 2021 to manage the overwhelming response from the Asian Jewish community. That fall, the organization re-branded as the LUNAR Collective with Rudolph and Chishti as Co-Executive Directors. 

The turmoil after Oct. 7 disrupted network’s operations. The organizers felt newly challenged to represent and serve their community and nobody felt ready to revel in cultural activities given the gravity of what was going on.

A statement that the organization ultimately released left room for one of its founding values of honoring nuance. 

“It felt really important that we do not dictate what people think and feel, or make a broad statement about how Asian Jewish people should feel about Israel and Palestine,” Chishti told AsAmNews over the phone.

She said, “There’s no road map for how to proceed in times like these for an organization that never existed before and serving a community that’s never gotten to coalesce,” Chishti said.

Furthermore, some members of the community had mentioned a need to visibly or purposely distance themselves from Judaism, such as by opting not to wear their kippah (yarmulke) cap or Star of David necklaces, just as Senkfor mentioned was happening with her and her friends.

“We really wanted to give people a chance to Let Your Light Shine for just one sacred night of Hanukkah. Our existence is worth celebrating, despite everything,” Chishti said, of the inspiration for the latke event.

LUNAR’s co-executive director Rudolph said, “In times of such trauma, fear, and division, it feels crucial to center empathy, compassion and even joy. Some might wonder, ‘how can you celebrate at a time like this?’ To us, joy is not a shallow distraction – it is a meaningful catalyst for connection and unity.”

The LUNAR Collective is continuing to build its framework, and hopes to open a hub in Boston, Massachusetts next spring, in time for Passover.

Formal statement by The Lunar Collective addressing tensions provoked by the Israel-Hamas war and Israel-Palestine conflict  Asian Jews, Asian Jewish, antisemitism, Oct. 7
Formal statement by The Lunar Collective about the Israel-Hamas war and Israel-Palestine conflict.
Courtesy of The LUNAR Collective

Rabbi Mira Rivera, who formally became LUNAR’s rabbi-in-residence in November 2022, video chatted with AsAmNews just before sunset, before leading the congregation of Jewish Community Center (JCC) Harlem where she is also a rabbi-in-residence. 

With a warm smile on her face and a dog-eared copy of the Torah in her hand, she recalled the first latke parties at her apartment. Dozens of pairs of shoes lay in the foyer, knowingly removed by guests before stepping inside – a hallmark of Asian culture and hospitality.

“The idea of welcoming guests and slippers, of your shoes where they belong. And, in some homes, you have to come in without shoes, or there’s particular ones for home. It was so part of our sensibilities, whichever country we might trace our origins to,” she said, going on to describe the Asianness and Jewishness she saw in how the group prepared foods, encouraged elders to eat first, and took leftovers home.

Born in Michigan to Filipino parents, Rivera was raised in the Philippines and educated in Catholic schools before joining the world of the arts as a dancer at New York University. She converted to Judaism by marriage to her Jewish husband, a music director she met by way of their common activities in the arts.

But her journey to being the first Filipina rabbi ever ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary is complex and included the discovery of Judaism in her material Filipina grandmother, descended Spanish migrants.

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Rivera began reading the Torah in 2006 to cope after her mother died and began observing her daughter’s preparation for her Bat Mitzvah.

“Frankly, I was jealous. It was so beautiful!” Rivera exclaimed, of the chants she heard her child practicing.

Inspired, Rivera began reading Torah for her congregation. The first reading she did in front of the congregation was a description of a tabernacle from the book Exodus.

“It’s almost like an IKEA list,” she said. “And I remember I just chuckled because we were all like the plank and the bolts and the tent coverings. And there were the elders. It really felt like exactly what I was reading, and I just remember just having such a hoot, just such a laugh. And I just saw that these are all the little pieces that come together to make a community.”

Rabbi Mira Rivera Teaching - Photo Provided 2023.12.08 Filipina American Rabbi Mira Rivera, who feels like an "Auntie" to her Asian Jewish community. Antisemitism and Asian Jews, LUNAR Collective
Filipina American Rabbi Mira Rivera, who feels like an “Auntie” of the Asian Jewish community. Courtesy of Rabbi Mira Rivera

Being Filipina and having lived in Israel as well as many other places in the world, she mourns by name the Asian casualties of the Israel-Hamas war – so many caregivers from the Philippines or farmers from Thailand who began filling the vacuum in the Israeli after the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) from 1987 to 1990. 

The same Asian victims of the conflict’s crossfire have also fomented pro-Palestinian protests and demonstrations against the imperial structures and militarization that many people feel is responsible for the devastation in the Israel-Hamas conflict and the people caught up in it.

When the war began, Rivera was ready to see the polarized protests that happened in the streets. But when she read about a mob of approximately 100 pro-Palestine protestors pushing past security guards into the Cooper Union library and banging on the transparent windows while visibly Jewish, pro-Israel students studied inside, she had to catch her breath.

“I mean, that’s January 6th,” she said, referring to the insurrection at the Capitol in 2021 by rioters opposing peaceful democratic transition at the end of Trump’s presidential term. 

“I don’t see that as free speech,” she said, shuddering at the thought of how exposed the library is by virtue of its location at a triangulation of lower Manhattan streets. Rivera cautioned that her individual views do not speak for LUNAR Collective, Asian Jewish people, or the Jewish community overall. 

Cooper Union is one of seven schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegations of both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Rivera had been in protective crisis mode before – because of her community’s Asian heritage.

“Anti-Asian hate and crimes, you know, from coast to coast, actually brought us together,” she said, of the LUNAR community. 

During an online shabbat gathering of people from all over the U.S., Canada and different parts of the world during the early phases of the pandemic, she looked at the people tiled on her computer screen. 

“I saw page after page of our people, somehow who also identified Jewish, all these ethnicities, and I just cried,” she said. She cried from the joy of finding community but also the pain of knowing that people who looked like her kids were in danger because of their Asian ethnicity.

She has been urging Asian and Jewish protestors, regardless of their views, to know what they are getting into and to have a serious plan in place if they go out to protest in case of arrest or persecution, especially as people of color.

“I feel like Auntie,” Rivera said, vowing that the hat of being protector of her congregation will never come off.

“It took me my whole life until like a year ago to even find an Asian Jewish community,” said Louie, who did not attend the latke parties but recently became aware of the LUNAR Collective with the help of social media. 

She openly talks with her family about current events and is happy to have found new resources like LUNAR.

“Being half, there’s just like, I have always just, like, kind of seen two sides of every story,” said Louie. “Right after the attacks, I was like, oh my gosh, this can’t happen to Israel. And obviously, I still feel that way. But then things have shifted over the last few weeks, and the narrative has changed.”

She listened to a podcast about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement placing global pressure upon Israel to comply with international human rights laws and felt hopeful that this was the key to ending the violence abroad. Then, she read another source pegging BDS as an antisemitic project. 

She has tried to find voices of reason in other Asian and Jewish people, like self-declared 100% Chinese, 100% Jewish Amy Albertson of the Tel Aviv Institute nonprofit aiming to reduce antisemitism through social media campaigns. And she has found representation in entertainment through figures like Dylan Akira Adler, half-Japanese, half-Jewish comedian and writer for the Late Late Show With James Corden.

Shabbat candles that Asian Jewish American Jenna Louie and her family have been lighting every Friday night since Oct. 7, with an additional candle for Palestine. Photo by Jenna Louie

This year, she is celebrating Hanukkah with her family and the family of her brother, who has lately also started bringing more Jewish traditions to his family, like lighting candles on Hanukkah. 

For the first year, Louie’s oldest child, the one who felt bad about wearing his Hanukkah shirt out of season, led the prayers.

“It’s difficult to celebrate during a time like this, but I want my children to still feel proud to be Jewish while recognizing the injustices. I teach them to have capacity for both,” she said.

The family is donating to the eight charities of Jewish Voice For Peace, Save the Children, Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), Anera, Slow Factory, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and Palestine Red Crescent Society.

And they are lighting two sets of candles.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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