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 â€” yin-and-yang yarmulkes, kiddush cups disguised as papier-mÃ¢chÃ© dragons, kosher lo mein and veal ribs at the buffet â€” 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.
â€œI knew that when I came to this age I was going to have to do it, so it was sort of natural,â€ 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, â€œMost of my Chinese friends are Jewish.â€
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.
â€œSo, Cece,â€ Rabbi Levine said, â€œwhat do you connect to most about your Judaism?â€
Cece had transformed into the archetypal opaque teenager.
â€œI think I like the holidays, and, um, yeah,â€ she said, looking down.
The rabbi asked her to recite for him. She did.
â€œI love it,â€ Rabbi Levine said. â€œYou have a beautiful voice. Your Hebrew is perfect. The only thing I need you to do, Cece, is project. Just give me a â€˜Baruch’ like you’re singing in the shower.â€
â€œBaruch,â€ Cece said, a bit louder.