Raising Asian Jewish kids in U.S. has never been scarier

Guest Columnist
Melody Muhlrad

(This article that first appeared on Kveller.)

The horrifying shootings in Atlanta, in which six women of Asian descent were killed, came at a time of alarming xenophobia and bigotry against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Since the start of COVID-19, anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by 1,900 percent in the United States, with women reporting 2.3 times more hate incidents than men.
I am an Asian-American Jewish woman living in Los Angeles. My parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1970s, and my twin sister and I were born in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I converted to Judaism three years ago, before my second child was born, a decision that was many years in the making. My husband and I are raising our two Asian-American Jewish preschool-aged children in Los Angeles.
Even if this tragedy does not end up being classified as a hate crime, it is undoubtedly a hate-filled, violent attack aimed squarely at Asian women. The media’s couched and carefully chosen statements do a disservice to how horrific the crime is.
When I first heard of the shootings, I had just finished putting my two energetic young children to bed. As parents of young children know, my day had been jammed with preschool drop-off and pickup, meals, bath, bedtime and so on. The moments of quiet after my kids fall asleep each day are precious to me – a reprieve from the chaos that riddles my days.
I finally sat down to rest when I noticed I had missed a text message from my husband, who was finishing up his work. He had sent me a Twitter link accompanied by the comment, “So scary, 8 Asian women murdered in ATL.”
In complete disbelief, I had to read his description twice. I forwarded the link to my sister, who wrote back to share my shock and horror.
As a mother of half-Asian Jewish children, the tragedy in Atlanta led me to fear for the safety of my kids. My children will grow up in a society where some people may hate them because of the color of their skin and others may hate them for their faith (and, of course, there are plenty who would hate them for both reasons). I had two big questions: How do I keep my children safe from the hate that Asians and Jews experience daily in the United States? And how do I best educate my children about a society where people are hated or victimized for their race and/or religion?
Embarrassingly, my first reaction was to flee. Following my initial shock over the Atlanta shootings, I dramatically proclaimed to my husband that I no longer thought the United States was a safe place for our family anymore. Sure, it was an extreme reaction, but perhaps it was the “fight or flight” reaction to fear that made me choose “flight.”
My husband and I have talked about moving to a different country – particularly to China or Taiwan, given that I still have extended family there. It’s an idea we’ve addressed seriously since COVID-19 has created more remote work environments. Since anti-Semitism was hitting an all-time high and Asian hate crimes were increasing here, perhaps it was time to make this move?
Upon further reflection, however, I recognized that fleeing is not the answer. In this dark time, I am reminded of the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world), that although the world is a good place, God left us room to make improvements. I realized that the way to keep my children safe is to make the world a safer place for them. I’m still figuring out what this means for me, and I know this will be a lifelong process. But some of my ideas are giving tzedakah to charities that work to fight anti-Semitism and Asian hate, bringing awareness to these issues and standing up against hateful rhetoric.
For my children, I know how important it is to educate them on their dual Asian and Jewish identities, allowing them to fully embrace their multifaceted identities. Our family has discussed the importance of visiting China and Israel (when it is safe to travel again), teaching them the histories of both cultures, meeting others who are both similar and different from them, and raising them to be open-minded and to love who they are. I only hope that this continual lifelong education will help them stand against the Asian and Jewish hate that they may encounter.
When reflecting on raising my children amid this tragedy of rising hate crimes, I found myself thinking about the names that my husband and I chose for them, and the hopes that we had for them. Our 4-year-old daughter, Ruth, is named after her great-grandmother. In the Bible, Ruth was a widow who loyally remained with her husband’s mother, even after his death, choosing a life of poverty among people she admired, and becoming famous as the first woman in the Bible to convert to Judaism.
Our 2-year-old son, Micah, was named after his great-grandfather, Martin. In the Bible, Micah fearlessly denounced the evils that befell his land, teaching, “God requires of thee: only to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Micah is an example of humility, kindness and standing against evil.
These are qualities that we aim to impart on our children. We hope to teach them to be loyal to each part of their mixed identities, to be kind and humble toward others, to enjoy friendship with those who are different from them, and to have courage to stand up against any evil that they may encounter.

(Melody Muhlrad is a freelance writer and stay-at home mom living in Los Angeles.)

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