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What's Cantonese for Mazel Tov?

     Chinese and Jewish Families Mashup in New Jersey

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Kosher Chinese Food: The Experience

 

           Many Jews love Chinese food and don’t keep kosher. Offer them “Kosher Chinese Food” and they think, “Death Row Cuisine in a Poorly Funded Prison”. I didn’t grow up in a kosher home, and while my wife’s family kept kosher, they also kept the workarounds. Cover the table with newspape…

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Jews and Chinese Masking Together

 

            It’s Christmas Eve, 2016. Two masked men enter a Chinese family gathering of about fifty people at a home in northern Jersey. Their masks are not ski, stocking, or Halloween. They’re blue surgical. No one else is wearing one or is concerned about the two men who are.

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Ethnic Day, Part One

           

 

The preschool’s announcement: “Wednesday is Ethnic Day! Come dressed to show the place you came from.”

            “Came from?” Okay, Julianna’s grandparents, father’s side, arrived in New York from China and Vietnam in the 1960s, encouraged by communism’s ris…

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Ethnic Day, Part Two

 

 

            Okay, kids, let’s line up and celebrate America’s diversity, if only to piss off the nativists.

            After Ethnic Day, the preschool sent pictures of the costumed kids, all with faces pixilated. here’s a sari on some girls, a turban on a Sikh (I g…

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Jewish and Chinese Numerology: Mishugas with Numbers

 

            Most people think eighteen is just a good uniform number for a quarterback. For Jews, the number eighteen (chai, pronounced with phlegm + eye) means “life.” Remember the song in Fiddler? “To life, to life, l’chaim!”

            Snap your fingers and dance in…

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The Hassid and the Girl from Shanghai

 

            In the spring of 2014, the third-year students at U of Virginia Law School looked forward to graduation. It was a busy time as they finished their academics and sought permanent jobs. The social highlight was Prom, law school edition.

            Tina Z, a third year,…

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Jewish Girl Dates Chinese Man. Why?

              As far as we knew, the boys in Sara’s life were all Jewish.

            There was a Jewish guy she dated during her vegetarian moment, senior year at Marlboro High. He challenged her to eat a hot dog and even offered money to do it. When he got up to two hundred bucks, she …

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Jews and Chinese Masking Together

 

            It’s Christmas Eve, 2016. Two masked men enter a Chinese family gathering of about fifty people at a home in northern Jersey. Their masks are not ski, stocking, or Halloween. They’re blue surgical. No one else is wearing one or is concerned about the two men who are.

            One man is Frederick Lee, my Chinese machuten (ma+phlegm+OO+ten). That’s Yiddish for my daughter’s father-in-law. (Our Sara married his son Geoff in 2014 and became Sara Lee.) He’s arrived with his own son-in-law, Ken. They’ve donned masks to protect the extended family from their common colds.

            In my sixty-plus years, it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone wear a mask to a social gathering. This is years before the Coronavirus pandemic made masking a social need and a political issue. And it’s damn considerate of them.

            Masking has long been a common practice among Asians. For them, it’s a logical and simple response to the spread of airborne illnesses like colds, flu, and occasional past epidemics like SARS. It’s an easy contribution to the public health of civilized people. Fred and Ken are not imposing on anyone’s freedoms, and they’re not taking away anyone’s guns.

            “Not much else you can do.” Fred says, “I take some extra vitamins. Cold will go away on its own.”

            He’s the patriarch of the Chinese family my daughter Sara married into. They gather every Christmas Eve, though they’re not Christian. They’re either Buddhist or follow no religion. It’s just a convenient date to get together; people have time off. And Christmas Eve 2016 was also the first night of Chanukah that year. So, for the first time, we Jews got invited to this otherwise all-Asian event. After all, we’re family.

            In 2022, Omicron, vaccinations and boosters are here. The decline of the pandemic was somewhere in sight until it wasn’t. I’m back to wearing my mask in stores and indoors among strangers. About half of Jersey does the same.

            After two years of isolation and caution, I’ve been lucky and haven’t caught a cold, the flu, or a Greek letter variant. Getting vaccinated and boosted was the gold standard of safety until it wasn’t.

            Someday, in a pandemic-less future, a bug will find me. I’ll attend a Thanksgiving dinner or New Year’s party or Bar Mitzvah reception and have a case of the sniffles. Should I follow Fred’s lead and blow the dust off my box of trusty N95 masks?

            Logic tells me yes; don’t sicken friends and relatives and avoid their cooties. But I never covered up in non-plague times, nor did my family as a kid. (Videotaped Passover movies show us exhaling who-knows-what as we climb onto each other to spear plattered potato latkes. A super spreader if there ever was one.) Any Chinese person present would understand if I masked, for sure. I hope most of my loved ones, having lived through the Covid pandemic, wouldn’t object, either.

            What about a Broadway theater full of general population strangers who paid big bucks to see the show? What to do if I’m sneezing in my expensive (and never refundable) orchestra seat? Should I leave, as a courtesy to the guy who shares the armrest? Say screw him, it’s my freedom as an American? Or will ushers pick me up and throw me out into the lap of a Times Square’s Naked Cowboy? Should they?

            Share your opinion at henrylevenstein.com.  And for more fun with Asians and Jews as they merge their families, read my new memoir, What’s Cantonese for Mazel Tov?

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Blog Posts

Kosher Chinese Food: The Experience

 

           Many Jews love Chinese food and don’t keep kosher. Offer them “Kosher Chinese Food” and they think, “Death Row Cuisine in a Poorly Funded Prison”. I didn’t grow up in a kosher home, and while my wife’s family kept kosher, they also kept the workarounds. Cover the table with newspape…

Read more

Jews and Chinese Masking Together

 

            It’s Christmas Eve, 2016. Two masked men enter a Chinese family gathering of about fifty people at a home in northern Jersey. Their masks are not ski, stocking, or Halloween. They’re blue surgical. No one else is wearing one or is concerned about the two men who are.

Read more

Ethnic Day, Part One

           

 

The preschool’s announcement: “Wednesday is Ethnic Day! Come dressed to show the place you came from.”

            “Came from?” Okay, Julianna’s grandparents, father’s side, arrived in New York from China and Vietnam in the 1960s, encouraged by communism’s ris…

Read more

Ethnic Day, Part Two

 

 

            Okay, kids, let’s line up and celebrate America’s diversity, if only to piss off the nativists.

            After Ethnic Day, the preschool sent pictures of the costumed kids, all with faces pixilated. here’s a sari on some girls, a turban on a Sikh (I g…

Read more

Jewish and Chinese Numerology: Mishugas with Numbers

 

            Most people think eighteen is just a good uniform number for a quarterback. For Jews, the number eighteen (chai, pronounced with phlegm + eye) means “life.” Remember the song in Fiddler? “To life, to life, l’chaim!”

            Snap your fingers and dance in…

Read more

The Hassid and the Girl from Shanghai

 

            In the spring of 2014, the third-year students at U of Virginia Law School looked forward to graduation. It was a busy time as they finished their academics and sought permanent jobs. The social highlight was Prom, law school edition.

            Tina Z, a third year,…

Read more

Jewish Girl Dates Chinese Man. Why?

              As far as we knew, the boys in Sara’s life were all Jewish.

            There was a Jewish guy she dated during her vegetarian moment, senior year at Marlboro High. He challenged her to eat a hot dog and even offered money to do it. When he got up to two hundred bucks, she …

Read more

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