Thursday, September 3, 2009

Q & A with Belinda Cheung

Belinda Cheung is a Chinese Jew who went through an Orthodox conversion in 1998. Her husband Jack Botwinik wrote about their relationship in his book, “Chicken Soup with Chopsticks: A Jew’s Struggle For Truth in an Interfaith Relationship.”
She lives in Ottawa, Canada with her family.

Q: What are some of the key challenges you face as someone who is both Chinese and Jewish?

A: Keeping kosher while attending family gatherings with my Chinese family is a challenge. The Chinese, in general, know very little about the Jews, and it makes things (Jewish practices) look very strange at times. Thank G-d, my Chinese family is very respectful of other religions, so in my case, although it is a challenge, there has been no family conflict raised from it.


Q: Do you ever struggle with finding a balance between both cultures? Do you have children? If so, what traditions do you value the most from each culture?

A: I have some but not huge struggle with finding a balance. To me, Judaism is prime. Chinese custom comes second. The challenge is not in what to choose, but how to do what we choose that is acceptable by our Jewish and Chinese parents/relatives.


I have, thank G-d, four kids, ages 8, 6, 3 and 9-month. They are all being raised Orthodox Jewish in terms of ethical living, academy education, life style, etc. They are given both Chinese and Yiddish names. I speak to them in Cantonese, while my husband speak to them in Yiddish. We cook Chinese, Italian (my mother-in-law is Italian from Rome, so my husband cooks Italian) as well as Jewish foods. We have books, games, videos and songs in Chinese, Hebrew and Yiddish.


Q: When did you convert to Judaism and how was the process? Is it typical for one person in an interfaith relationship to switch over? 

A: I converted in 1998 in Toronto. In 1994, I started learning about Judaism and the Jewish people informally from dating Jack (now my husband), as we were learning about each others' culture. We also explored other religions, as well as different branches of Judaism, and we both gravitated to Orthodox Judaism. Our learning got more formal and serious. It was very mind-opening and for certain one of the most impactful experiences of my life.


It was not an easy decision to convert. Judaism itself does not proselytize (I was rejected three times even before being considered as a potential convert). Even when one believes in the Torah and the Jewish G-d, there is no obligation to convert. You can live as a righteous gentile and still "go to Heaven" so to speak. My process took about 3 years with lots of learning and changes, both inside (the way I understand the world, men and women, higher purpose, etc.) and outside (the way I dress, I speak, etc.)


For many interfaith couples, the challenge of finding an united way to express their religions usually comes when children come into the picture. I don't think it is typical for a person in an interfaith relationship to completely switch over (although it does happen, as in my case, and many others that I know). Most people find a blended way of doing things. The difficulties are the mixed messages that the children are getting. They may identify with both, or in some cases, neither religion. There are also couples that my husband and I personally know, where one of them become more religious in his/her own religion when they are older (when kids are grown and they are well-established) and it creates trememdous stress in their marriage and families.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Food for Thought

During a humid and rainy week in July, I traveled around Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn to try kosher Chinese restaurants. The amount of work and dedication some of these restaurant owners put in is very impressive, given none are Jewish themselves.

Mike Mo, the owner of Cho-Sen Garden in Flushing, Queens is someone who has given his professional life to the Jewish people. We visited him on July 30, 2009, the last day of Tishah Beav, or “Av 9,” which commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. I arrived at 8 p.m. and was told they cold not serve me until 9 p.m. because the restaurant was under the strict supervision of The Rabbinical Association of Queens. Mo and his staff have to abide by all rules including: keeping the Sabbath, having someone on premise to inspect the food and keeping seafood off of the menu.

Mo has worked in non-kosher Chinese restaurants before so I asked him why he chose to run a kosher establishment. His answer? It’s actually more comfortable and easier to keep a kosher restaurant than a regular one. The Jews have more holidays, he never has to work on Saturdays and the menu selection is smaller so they can better control the quality. Also, there is less competition because not many restaurant owners are willing to put in the extra effort to follow all the rules.

Growing up, he was always told if you want to open up a Chinese restaurant, you should do it in a Jewish neighborhood. We’ve also heard this from Jimmy Chin, owner of Chin Chin restaurant on the Upper East Side.
Jackie Ho, 50 from Eden Wok has a different take. He says having a kosher Chinese restaurant has allowed him to experiment and be more creative with his food. For example, he has a Pastrami egg roll on his menu for $3.25.

Ho says it is sometimes hard because he has to turn away customers who come in with coffee or ice cream from the neighboring Dunkin’ Donut. He is not Jewish himself and does not keep kosher, but he respects his customers and can’t think of a better career or restaurant choice.

If you know of other kosher Chinese restaurants or have been to one that we missed on our Keepin' Kosher map, please let us know!

-Candy Cheng

What is an egg cream?

(Photo via _cck_'s Flickr)

Everyone knows what an egg roll is, but how often do you have egg cream? The first time Brad & I ever tried it was at the Egg Roll and Egg Cream festival on the Lower East Side, so we searched around for the origin of this Jewish treat and found a recipe.

Egg Cream was first created in Brooklyn by a candy shop owner in 1890. The interesting thing is, the drink contains neither egg nor cream - the name derives from an egg white like top that foams up when the drink is mixed up. 
  • 1 cup milk
  • Sparkling seltzer water
  • About 2 tablespoons Fox's U-Bet Chocolate-Flavored Syrup*
To make an authentic Brooklyn Egg Cream, pour milk into a glass. Add sparkling seltzer water until a white head reaches the top of the glass. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of syrup with a little wrist action.

Please share your Egg Crean recipes and stories with us!