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Lifelines: Made in Taiwan

C. Saphir

“My dad told me before he died that I have to marry a Jewish girl. Is it possible for you to become Jewish?”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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ASIAN NACHAS Each time I received a paycheck, I went out and bought myself something new — an expensive piece of jewelry, or a $5000 designer purse. I had made it. For my parents, it was the ultimate Asian nachas

T he first time I brought my son to cheder, the news spread like wildfire through the school. Within seconds, a crowd of kids swarmed the entrance, gawking at me.

Then, the chant started. “Sinit, Yapanit” — Hebrew for “Chinese, Japanese.”

“Ani lo Sinit!” I replied indignantly, in my broken Hebrew. “Ani lo Yapanit!”

For a moment, there was silence. Then, a couple of kids spoke up. “Az mah at?” (So what are you?) “Ani Taiwanese,” I declared.

Twelve years earlier, I could hardly have imagined that I would one day be a frum wife and mother living in Jerusalem. Back then, I was living by myself in a luxury high-rise building in the San Fernando Valley and working at Citigroup’s Los Angeles branch. With my six-figure salary, I was able to trade in my car every six months, driving a Mercedes convertible for half a year, and then a Lexus for the next half year. When I came home, I didn’t even have to park my own car, because my building had valet parking.

Each time I received a paycheck, I went out and bought myself something new — an expensive piece of jewelry, or a $5000 designer purse. I had made it. For my parents, it was the ultimate Asian nachas. Like good Asian parents, my father and mother worked hard to make a lot of money so that they could give me, their only child, the best of everything. When I was a young child in Taiwan, my grandparents took care of me so my parents could manage and expand their business. At times, my parents were away for days or weeks at a time.

My parents not only wanted to give me the best of everything, they also encouraged me to be the best at everything. From the time I was in first grade, I was always one of the top three kids in my class. I also went for music and art lessons and participated in writing competitions.

In high school, it wasn’t easy for me to be the best, because I moved from Taiwan to Los Angeles at the age of 15, and until then I spoke only Mandarin. My entire first semester in American high school, I ordered nothing but hamburgers and Coke from the lunch cafeteria, because those were the only things on the menu that I knew how to ask for. Until my vocabulary expanded, I would just eye the tacos and burritos longingly.

In high school, I spent five to six hours on my homework each night, because I had to look up practically every word in the dictionary. My hard work paid off, and I graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA. In college, I majored in fashion design, and was planning to join my parents’ textile business. In the end, an opportunity arose in a different company, and from there I worked my way up the corporate ladder, until, when I was in my mid-twenties, I landed a plum job at Citigroup, where I managed 150 corporate accounts.

While I was working in Citigroup, I met my future husband, Jeremy, who was a secular Jew. After we had dated for several months, Jeremy said to me, “I don’t know much about my heritage, but there’s one thing my dad told me before he died, and that was that I have to marry a Jewish girl. Is it possible for you to become Jewish?”

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