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Meet the New Jews

Not quite the same as the Old Jews

Marc Tracy
February 25, 2010

Generally, articles about Asian-Americans as “the New Jews”—the ethnic group that works hard, is academically successful, and generation-by-generation is realizing the American Dream—are written by Jews (see here and here, for example). So it’s cool to see Jeff Yang, writer of the San Francisco Gate’s Asian Pop column, discuss the connection from the Asian-American perspective.

Yang’s piece is about education:

nowhere is the shared arc of the Asian and Jewish American journey so clear as in the area of education, that paramount priority of both communities. The story of parents toiling to create academic opportunity for their offspring (and using guilt, bribery and punishment to ensure that those kids take advantage of it) is the same whether its narrator is named Josh Li or Joshua Leibowitz.

He bemoans informal quotas at top universities, of the type that targeted Jews a half-century ago, and notes that admissions policies that favor legacies inherently work against Asian-American advancement, instead instilling “demographic inertia” (great phrase).

Yang is equally keen on the differences between New Jews (Asian-Americans) and Old Jews (Jews). It’s not just that Jews, having had more time, are now less the ethnic group being kept out of the mainstream and more in the mainstream (as many as 30 percent of all Ivy League students are Jewish). The stereotypes of the two groups are also different:

The caricature of the one-dimensional, passive, hard-working but personality-free Asian American is indeed hard to reconcile with Jewish stereotypes; as one Jewish friend commented, “Even the most anti-Semitic depictions of Jews never make us seem boring.”

So best of luck to the New Jews. (And to the Old Jews too, of course.)

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.