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Posted on on June 19th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

This article was posted by us first nearly a year ago – July 27, 2010. I totally forgot about it and it came to my attention because of our website’s “stats” – somebody bothered reading it last night. Curious I checked for it and decided to re-post it as I think it deserves attention – specially as I posted the delightful article by Dr. Mai Yamani who though daughter of famous Former Saudi Oil Minister Sheik Yamani counts among her vast lists of knowledge of languages also Hebrew and Persian. Her father, Sheik Yamani himself, is also sort of a hero of ours. He is the person  that said that the Oil Age Will not End Because of Lack of Oil – Like the Stone Age Did Not End Because of Lack of Stones – how true that great people come in genetic successions. Let us remember this father/daughter team while going this week to the VIENNA ENERGY FORUM.


As we are in the habit of reading everything that was put in print or posted on the web, we are hit from time to time also with delicious stories of real lives – not just your pedestrian oil blowouts.

This Saturday I saw first the story of the Chinese woman that became Jewish to find out that whatever she does – she will always be Chinese – viewed as such and honestly proud of it just as well.

Then, fell in my hands the July 22-29, 2010, City Week of OUR TOWN of Manhattan that included a note about a Saturday afternoon “Identity Crisis” at The Midtown International Theatre Festival that seemed to me to be in the same genre of a real life story that involves Asians living in the United States and ending up, in spite of their efforts to fit in, being recognized rather for what they really are and getting to the heights of their achievements only after having made peace with themselves.

Dear reader, I hope you will not be surprised to find out that the propulsion that sent me off that afternoon to the Strelsin Theater was a thought to see if I can throw some light on the best potential for achieving an energy & climate bill for President Obama – if he were only to stand up and represent his real inner self. Will he decide to do this after November 2010, when it will become clear that there is no way for a future that mimics the present of the majority that surrounds him?


Asian Belle

VENUE:  Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

Location:        322 West 36th Street, South side of West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.

Directions:   Closest subway, A, C, E to 34th Street. Walk north to West 36th Street, then west to the theatre.

OPENED – July 15, 2010

Remaining Performance: Sunday – August 1, 2010, at 4:00 pm

CLOSES –  August 1, 2010

5 PERFORMANCES: Jul 15 at 6pm, Jul 17 at 3pm, Jul 23 at 8pm, Jul 24 at 5pm, Aug 1 at 4pm

TICKETS:  $12.00 – $18.00

Order tickets online


Christine Renee Miller

Written and Performed by Michelle Glick

This show is part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Here’s the official blurb: The daughter of a Vietnamese war bride spends her youth aspiring to be a Southern Belle….a funny, touching and true solo show.


Before the show started I happened to chat with another delightful lady, Annie Guetti – a mother to a daughter about 10 years old. Annie has a  show in the Short Subjects Series of this festival – this one about motherhood – “ONCE UPON A MAMA” – at the nearby Jewel Box Theater – that same evening at 8:30 pm – and was carrying with her a suitcase – I guess with the wardrobe.  About her –

From Annie Guetti I learned that she and Michelle Glick participated in the same class that Matt Hoverman is giving for Playwriting and acting – he is a prominent coach for New York City Theatre in that he develops solo programs that encourage actor/playwrights in bringing out what is best in themselves and eventually birthing good theater.

Annie thought very highly of Michelle and said while Michelle came to the class thinking about writing on all sort of issues, it was this wonderful coach that led her in bringing out what is really part of herself – because that is her truth. Now, if dear reader, you are still with me – right there I got convinced that Matt Hoverman should get an invitation – in public or in secret – to the White House private quarters!


Michelle Glick is  a Vietnam war product – American serviceman and Vietnamese mother. She grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and was friendly there with the local belles and black guys – she thought of herself as part of the environment until she was offered in a school play the role of an Oriental Chauffeur. But she did not want to wear yellow clothes she wanted the white clothes like the other girls. She was lucky to have a feisty mother who trooped to school to tell that much to the astonished teacher – she also wanted to make it clear that her younger son’s name was Kal – a honored name for five generations in her family, and not Carl as the school was calling him. Michelle got the role of a maid.

The mother was fully adjusted to America – eventually, years later she became independent after her children grew up and she moved to California.

Michelle Glick is a terrific actress capable to switch around three or four accents. She is tall gaunt like a model and from her Vietnamese genes she got terific Cheek bones – moving around her long hands, standing on her long legs, she at times invoked the impression of a praying mantid completely adjusted to get what she wants – even when the issue is just to get her belongings monogramed – because this is the way Southern Bells have to have it. At this stage she was the perfect Asian Belle in her own image.

When she eventually moves to New York at 25, and got her first roommate right there at the baggage claim at Greyhounds, she liked to hang around Chinatown – because there she saw people with black hair like hers. There one Chinese old store owner told her that instead of copying Chinese she should go and visit Vietnam and get in contact with her own roots.

Michelle convinced her Vietnamese uncle Harry, who after release from Communist jail came to live with them in Alabama, to go back and show her around.  She saw how people can be happy with simple things in life – like holding a cup of tea with both their hands and smile to her – even there was no good verbal communication.

She sat orientally with both her legs crossed on top of the chair and said she felt her Asian background and pronounced Aloha – Hawaii – here I come. She seemed to get her way in any environment she chose to do so!

To, Michelle Glick said that she wants an international career spending part of the year in Asia, working “I am thinking about paving the way doing that.” In the meantime she intends to explore producing and writing.

Now, did I make myself clear about Obama?



By Debbie Burton, we saw this in the Jewish Sentinel, but it comes from an blog.

February 22, 2010…

Because it is clear from my appearance that I am ethnically Chinese, total strangers will tell me all about their various Asian acquaintances. I think these people are trying to prove that they do not harbor racial prejudices. Frankly, I consider these experiences to be mildly annoying. But I can’t change my face, so I’ve accepted that this kind of experience is just something I will always have to deal with.

Debbie Burton at Chinese New Year

Debbie Burton is wearing her late maternal grandmother’s Chinese jacket on a visit to her cousins for Chinese New Year, January 2009. She is looking at a book of photos of the school in rural China her family established in her grandmother’s memory. She sent the photo with the note: “I feel that my Chinese family’s values of social justice and education mean that those same Jewish values particularly resonate for me.”

I also stand out in a synagogue because I do not “look Jewish”. My husband however is half Ashkenazi and thus does look more typically Jewish. So people have often taken one look at the two of us and assumed that we were intermarried. For the first 22 years of our marriage, they were right. But since I finally converted to Judaism, it is no longer the case, and I even have a real Jewish ketubah to prove that we now have a legitimate “Jewish marriage.”

But I’m still Chinese, so I still don’t look Jewish even though I am now. And people still sometimes react strangely because of my appearance, although I should point out that the strange or rude reactions are not typical, just memorable. In fact, if many Jews think it is surprising to see someone Chinese at synagogue, they are too polite to mention it. A few people have even assumed that I am a Jew by birth.

A student at a university Hillel Kabbalat Shabbat service told me very earnestly that he had read about and was excited to meet a Kaifeng Jew–meaning me. (A small Jewish community has existed in Kaifeng, China for hundreds of years.) I was sorry to disappoint him and explained that most Chinese Jews that he would meet in this country would be converts. These days I would add that they might also be adoptees, such as the two Chinese girls from the Orthodox congregation that meets in the same building as my congregation.

Before I converted, when people treated me differently because I was Chinese, I didn’t like it, but felt like maybe I “deserved” it because by marrying me my husband had violated the strong Jewish prohibition on intermarriage. I felt guilty that for some people, meeting me would only reinforce the idea that an Asian person in a synagogue was likely to be a non-Jewish spouse. I felt that it would make it that much harder for Jews who were Asian, but were born or raised their whole lives as Jews, like the adopted girls mentioned above, the three Korean adoptees in my congregation, or even my own children who were converted when they were young and are half-Chinese.

But just as my formal conversion signified my own acceptance of who I am religiously and spiritually, I’m coming to see that maybe it is not such a bad thing that my Chinese appearance means that I can’t so easily leave behind the fact that I was previously intermarried. A recent interaction that stemmed from my being Chinese even ended up being a positive experience.

My minyan meets in a Reform synagogue that is the simultaneous home for congregations from each of the three major movements (which are unaffiliated with each other, unlike minyanim at a university Hillel). I am a member of the lay-led egalitarian Conservative congregation that meets there, but one Shabbat a man from the Orthodox minyan started to talk to me as we left the building at the same time. He asked me about my ethnic background. When I replied “Chinese,” he went on to ask “And you’re Jewish?” Although I told him no, which was the technically correct answer, I added, “But I’ve been going to shul for 24 years.” I didn’t tell him that I was also studying with a rabbi for the purpose of conversion.

Some weeks later, this same man accosted me in the coat room after services and asked me why I had not converted if I had been attending synagogue for so long. I was embarrassed to be asked such a personal question with other people from both congregations around. I told him simply that the main reason was that I was afraid that my parents would take my conversion as a rejection of them. I assumed his questions stemmed from mere curiosity.

Then many months later, I saw him again and told him that I had formally converted to Judaism since we had last spoken. He seemed genuinely delighted by my news, but showed real sensitivity in telling me carefully that he was happy for me because it was something that I had clearly chosen for myself and that I was happy about it. Then he mentioned that his wife is Japanese. I thought to myself that of course she probably converted before they got married. But I had scarcely formulated the above thought when he totally surprised me by adding that his wife is not Jewish.

This news gave me a very different perspective on his questions. It sounded like his own wife was not interested in Judaism, at least for herself, and I think he wanted to understand what it was that caused me, another Asian non-Jew, to feel so drawn to Judaism. We didn’t talk for very long, but I think that he felt better to learn about another intermarriage in which the Jewish spouse was active in and committed to Judaism. And I was glad to learn about someone who self-identifies as Orthodox who is intermarried. I know from my own experience that intermarriage does not have to reflect a failure in a person’s Jewish identity, but it is such a prevalent assumption and it causes many Jews to automatically react negatively to intermarried couples.

So my looking Chinese had enabled that connection to be made because that man would never have approached me if I looked European. The experience also reminded me I don’t have to be ashamed of having been intermarried. Being Chinese makes my ethnicity more visible while obscuring my religious identity, which oddly enough pushes me to accept myself for both who I am now and who I was.

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