Asian and Jewish Like Me

May 24, 2023

By Is Perlman

As a transgender Asian Jew, I often joke about how lucky I am to have multiple internationally-recognized, month-long opportunities to celebrate my identities: Pride Month takes place in June, and both Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month take place in May. While I find it fairly easy to celebrate Pride Month – I attend some marches and parades, participate in festivities, and begrudgingly patronize the Target Pride section – I find struggle to participate in month-long celebrations of my Asian and Jewish identities, resorting instead to jokes about their simultaneity that typically end in a punchline referencing Lactaid. 

While my seeming indifference to these celebrations could be read as overall indifference about my being Asian and Jewish, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I spend a lot of time thinking about being Asian and Jewish, especially now that I have the privilege of being in community with so many people who share my experiences. That being said, any stoicism I have now doesn’t reflect the intense reaction I first felt upon realizing that Asian and Jewish American history months both fall in May.

Even though their simultaneity is an absolute coincidence, the realization of May as an Asian Jewish month was absolutely thrilling. It reminded me that, despite viscerally positioning my Asian and Jewish identities as incongruent and fragmented, there still exists a point in time where Asian and Jewish Americans share space, even if just on the calendar. Looking back, my excitement feels disproportionately huge for such a mundane coincidence, but of course, I was delighted by the knowledge that there was something – even if it was just the month of May – that is Asian and Jewish like me. 

My understanding of being Asian and Jewish has developed significantly over the past couple of years, shaped most significantly by meeting other Asian Jews, especially those who are queer and trans. It was in a Keshet youth program that I first connected with Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife, whose very existence encouraged me to approach my Asian, Jewish, and queer identities with the framework of joy and liberation rather than with a sole focus on moments of difficulty and struggle. Of course, like many other queer Jews of Color, I have experienced many moments where the intersections of my identities were painful, but I also feel the joy of my multiplicity and the gifts of holding several identities at once.

There is so much I love about being a queer Asian Jew. I love belonging to communities that have long histories of advocacy work, especially in the United States. I love belonging to communities that embrace food and sacred meals as methods of building connections and upholding tradition. I love belonging to communities that remind me that my existence is miraculous – that my being here is the direct result of centuries of people advocating just for the right to exist.

As May makes way for the more flashy celebrations of June, I hope to really embrace the sanctity of existence, the sacred gift of just being in a world that has deemed us impossible.

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