Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jewish in Korea

I mentioned the other day the low number of Jews living in South Korea and have been meaning to write about this for some time. How does it feel to be Jewish in South Korea?

The background is that I've always grown up in Jewish communities in Montreal (DDO) and Toronto (Thornhill) thus never fully comprehending my minority status until attending University in Hamilton, Ontario. Even then there was nothing too shocking except for some ridiculous questions posed out of ignorance more than anything.

I'm not a religious person, but I do feel a cultural bond and value that part of myself. I feel like it does separate me from others, especially here.

I've found that my being Jewish comes up a lot more here than I think it does at home, or at least I'm more aware of it here. People constantly ask me my heritage, not only because we're all from somewhere else but because I guess I look relatively ethnic (especially compared to most teachers here who are whiter than white).

A recent conversation:

"Where are you from"


"No, but I mean, what's your background?"

[At this point I can say Polish, and also Russian, but I don't feel as though that is really what people are looking for. It would stop the line of questioning but those places are not something I relate to or consider a part of me. I used to avoid it, but these days I don't.]

"Well, I'm Jewish."

"Ohh, Adam Sandler!"

What the hell?

Some guy was talking about how there aren't enough Jews in Korea (before knowing my religion). I told him and how did he respond? "No you're not." Okay, if you say so. Another guy said that in Thailand there are signs on brothels denying entrance to Jews because they're known for being "very aggressive." What? Can that be true??

So far in Korea I've met three other Jews and that commonality definitely brings us together in certain ways. We can gripe about Christmas and the expectation that we treat Christmas as the only option at this time of year, we can show off our upside-down dreidel spinning skills, and we can not be the only different one for a change.

So how do I feel about it? I feel more different here than I do at home, which is to be expected. I don't mind my being different. It surprises me when people say dumb or completely inappropriate things, but it makes me realize what living in a homogenous community is like. And it reinforces my desire to not live in one. Not a strictly Jewish community nor a strictly anything else community.


At December 07, 2005 5:50 p.m. , Blogger Randi said...

I think when the brothels in Thailand say "no Jews" they actually mean no "Israelis"...There's actually a history of Israelis being troublemakers in other countries (I'll detail it out for you sometime...) and Israelis travel to Thailand...a lot. Just a little something I've learned in this dot of a country :)

At December 07, 2005 6:26 p.m. , Blogger Jessica said...

That thought had crossed my mind.

Isn't it a shame. And then people make the assumption that all Jews are from Israel. Someone told me that too. That I'm from Israel. No, I'm not. Well, somewhere far down the line of history you are, he said. There's a group of terrorists that wouldn't necessarily agree.

At December 07, 2005 11:25 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Jess, there's plenty of Jews in Korea! Quite often, I'll ask my students what they did during the weekend and they will reply, "I went to the joo and saw many many animals!"

Anyways...I hope you're doing well. I'd call sometime this week but i broke my phone:( and you're not online so much anymore.


At December 08, 2005 4:41 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you seen the bumper sticker which says, "my master was a Jewish carpenter?" Usually stuck on cars driven by Christians. Aren't there many Christians in Korea?


At December 08, 2005 5:36 a.m. , Blogger Jessica said...

Dan, how'd you manage that one?!? First you lose it then you break it? Tsk. By the way, you're invited to our staff Christmas party so be there or be square.

I've never seen that bumper sticker before. As for Christians in Korea, yes there are plenty. They aren't the majority but Christmas and all things Christmas does seem to be sweeping the nation. As are churches that seem to be as much as a business here as are schools.

At December 08, 2005 7:50 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...


When's your Staff Christmas Party? I'll call you when i get a new phone...hopefully this evening. Luckily you have an easy to remember number i think.

Oh and the way i broke it, was pulling it out to check the time in class and it slipped out of my hands and the screen go bye bye.:(



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