Fascinating, if a little shallow, article in the NY Times today about Chinese orphans who were adopted by Jewish families and are now reaching the age where a greater sense of being Jewish is imparted to them.

But seldom is the juxtaposition of homeland and new home, of faith and background, so stark. And nothing brings out the contrasts like a bat mitzvah, as formal a declaration of identity as any 13-year-old can be called upon to make. The contradictions show up in ways both playful — yin-and-yang yarmulkes, kiddush cups disguised as papier-mâché dragons, kosher lo mein and veal ribs at the buffet — and profound.

Yet for Cece, as everyone calls Cecelia, and for many of the girls like her, the odd thing about the whole experience is that it’s not much odder than it is for any 13-year-old.

“I knew that when I came to this age I was going to have to do it, so it was sort of natural,” she said a few days before the ceremony at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a Reform synagogue on West 83rd Street where she has been a familiar face since her days in the Little Twos program. Besides, she said with a shrug, “Most of my Chinese friends are Jewish.”

Cecilia Shapiro-Nealon is also Fu Qian. Her mother – Shapiro – is Jewish, her father other mother – Nealon – is Roman Catholic but “drawn to Judaism” and she is Chinese born. Her parents raised her “relatively traditional” Jewish.

“So, Cece,” Rabbi Levine said, “what do you connect to most about your Judaism?”

Cece had transformed into the archetypal opaque teenager.

“I think I like the holidays, and, um, yeah,” she said, looking down.

The rabbi asked her to recite for him. She did.

“I love it,” Rabbi Levine said. “You have a beautiful voice. Your Hebrew is perfect. The only thing I need you to do, Cece, is project. Just give me a ‘Baruch’ like you’re singing in the shower.”

“Baruch,” Cece said, a bit louder.

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5 Comments

  • One thing that really bugs me about this article: the use of the term “orphan.” After someone has been adopted, he or she is no longer an orphan.

    I know it seems like a small point, but really, the term undermines the whole concept of adoption!

  • “Her mother is Jewish, her father is Roman Catholic”

    no, you didn’t read carefully enough … it’s her other mother who is Roman Catholic

  • Point… Sharon.

    Side note – last year my cousin, single Jewish, in her 40’s, adopted a beautiful girl from China. Months later she wouldn’t able to, as China recently barred single parent adoptions. (Also if one or both parents have a body mass over 40 they’re not eligible either. My cousin’s issue is with the former, however.)

    It’s estimated that, until this change, 25% of all Jewish parents, single or otherwise, adopted from the China/Southeast Asia region. Domestically it’s almost impossible for single parents to adopt. Until now China not only allowed for single parent adoptions but encouraged older singles (over 35) to adopt.

    With single parent adoption steadily rising the past few years it’s hard to say how much China’s new requirements will change the number of Jewish adoptions. But it’s possible my new cousin may not be able to say “most of my Jewish friends are Chinese”.

  • I think that the above is a wonderful trend, because it shows that we can be a universal religion and not a tribalistic religion.
    As far as China’s new requirements, I understand that they are subject to change, according to Chinese friends. Sure enough about a month after the month in which the much-touted new regulations were announced, I saw something in English translation of a Chinese website saying that the Chinese adoption authorities said that they were willing to be flexible with the new regulations or that they might consider re-assessing them at a later date, or words to that effect.

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