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Beyond Any Label

Jew of Color is a phrase I often use to define myself and my community. But the phrase inherently names me as a Jew first and a person of color second. I weave my Chinese identity on top of Jewish ritual.

I created a special Havdalah for Jews of Color in which I invite people to reimagine the Havdalah besamim, the spices that usher out the Sabbath. I invite them to transport themselves to their childhood kitchens, to invoke the smells of their grandparents’ cooking, to recall the ingredients, to remember the staples that lined the pantry shelves. Often to the familiar tune of Debbie Friedman’s Havdalah, we lift these non-traditional smells of Havdalah to our noses, and something transforms. We are able to bring the parts of us that are of color, that are not usually represented or often fully welcomed into Jewish space, into Jewish ritual. Even though this work is powerful and meaningful, it centers my Judaism more and treats my Chinese identity as secondary, which Jewish communities already seek to do.

I want more. I want to step away from the label of Jew of Color and re-meet the little girl who wrote letters to her mother and proudly signed “your Chinese-American daughter.” I want to connect with what it means for myself to be Chinese-American and part of a larger Asian-American community in the United States. I want my Chinese identity to shine as brightly and as boldly as I have let my Jewish identity shine since I have been in rabbinical school.

MAY YE on the Lilith Blog, May 2021.