Letter to John Safran: About the two-headed beast


Dear John,

I get it, I really do. I saw your TV episode about being Jewish and feeling attracted to Asian women. I understand your conflicting feelings.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t approve of ethnic fetishes. My father is ethnic Chinese, and as a teenager I  had a boyfriend who seemed to think that I was “exotic”. Me? Born in Melbourne? I don’t think so! We broke up soon after that.

John, you told Good Weekend magazine, “…in real life, I like being Jewish, I like the culture, the tribe, the networking friendships… I’ve been genuinely brainwashed, I feel I have to be with a Jewish wife.”

I see you value what it means to be Jewish, but you’re wondering if you’ll be able to make a true choice about the background of whomever you marry. If you’re considering non-Jewish women, then you’ve been contemplating that two-headed beast, the inter-cultural marriage. So, let me tell you: I’m a Chang and my husband’s a Levi, and we’re living the life.

Implicitly, I imagine that you’re worried what an inter-cultural marriage might mean for any children. After all, who are the offspring of that two-headed beast? In my case, I know my young son, Balckie won’t be considered Jewish, since I’m a non-Jew.
On the one hand, the reason why our family setup works is that my husband is comfortable with Balckie’s background. It fits with his world view. On the other hand, I think that if you decide that you want your children to be Jewish, then that’s what you want, and that’s ok. We’ve got to honour who we are.

My family’s experience shows that marrying a non-Jew doesn’t cut off your child’s sense of their Jewish background. My husband is solid in his Jewish identity – he simply is Jewish – and we feel that he will be able to give our boy strong sense of identity. But at the same time, he’s not observant. He doesn’t go to shuul for even high days and holy days.

In contrast, I feel strongly that any boy who comes from the Levi clan needs to know the stories of his people: Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses. These are his stories. I tell him these stories at home. In the lead up to Pesach (Passover), we talked about Moshe and the escape from Egypt. And we visited family to share a Pesach meal.

But clearly, stories from me aren’t sufficient. So last week, we visited a Jewish school. This school teaches students that there are different ways of being Jewish around the world. They expose the children to Jewish cultural identity, and teach them Yiddish as well as Hebrew. As we walked around the grounds, we even saw other children from an Asian background. When Balckie starts school, I hope he’ll be happy there, and that as a family we won’t be judged. Because I know that there are some who might look disapprovingly on our marriage, and I can understand their view.

There were also people who disapproved of my parents’ marriage: an Aussie girl marrying a Chinese in 1967, before the White-Australia policy was abolished. People Mum considered to be friends cut off contact. Some were unsure whether to enter the church. As my brother and I were growing up, children from a mixed background were rare. When I was a toddler, a stranger saw Mum walking with me in the street and asked “Where did you get her from?” implying I must be adopted from overseas. My Mum set her straight, “She’s mine.”

So I, too, come from a mixed marriage. I know what it’s like living in shades of grey. And I’m really coming to the view that the intermarriage monster is whatever people make if it. The beast is like an elephant: powerful, majestic and dangerous. Without receiving care and respect, an elephant’s power can trample villages. But care for the elephant, as a mahout does, and you can harness that power to positive ends.

John, you’ve said, “Sometimes I vacillate and think I could marry a non-Jew; then I think I’m too screwed up over it, I probably wouldn’t be happy and it probably wouldn’t work. Culturally it would be too hard. It’s really pathetic, I know…”

I wouldn’t say it’s pathetic. I mean, it’s human to be anxious. But depending on the people, it’s not so hard after all. Sure, parts of my life are difficult (just like yours), but my marriage won’t change that. Parts of my life and marriage are mundane (Will the laundry never end?), and parts of it are joyful and exquisite (like watching my boy run with the 3-year-old gang at playgroup). I’m as flawed and anxious and impatient as the next person, and I make mistakes. On the days when I screw up, my husband lets me know. On bad days, we yell, stomp out of the room (ok, I stomp out of the room) and then later calm down. And mercifully, he forgives me.
He’s a great guy, my guy. I’m lucky to have him in my life.

Sure, he can frustrate me into expletives, but I love that big shtarker. I love the little things, like yesterday when he bought my favorite fruit bread, after he’d noticed I was nearly out. And I love that he’ll sit next to me to cuddle and read, while I watch “What Not to Wear”, even though he’s more of a “Top Gear” man. And I love seeing him with our three-year-old son, holding him upside-down by the ankles, both of them hooting.

Once I get that darn laundry done, life’s pretty good.

So hang in there. And go easy on yourself. You know what’s right for you.

Best wishes,

PS: Great to see Michiko in your show. I went to school with her, and at uni we worked together in retail. Say “Hi”, if you get the chance.

Author: Rosey Chang

Rosey Chang is a Melbourne writer and academic who has lived in Japan. She writes academic articles, memoir and young adult fiction. Rosey has published locally and internationally. Her current project is a young adult novel set in feudal Japan.

1 thought on “Letter to John Safran: About the two-headed beast”

  1. This is a FANTASTIC piece and expresses much of what I think. Thanks Rosey for putting my experience on the web. It feels like it’s been legitimised somehow.

    I hate being exoticised- I hate how it’s just as superficial a judgement as traditional racism. Its still means that someone is being judged on how they look. And before we start thinking about how we all make judgments based on our looks, and the clothes we wear, there is a huge difference between judging someone on the clothes CHOICES they make and the SKIN they were BORN WITH.

    I’m glad someone is writing about this topic, because no-one talks about it, but anyone who was born in Australia to a NWB (non-white background) has experienced this. It’s time to give people a clue about these things.

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