My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Whole New Look... (and Some Assumptions Put Aside)

Going to services with the Pipsqueak last year was a kind of experimental adventure; she was still a tiny little thing, usually quiet, not terribly mobile (climbing steps for her was akin to mountaineering for me), and we all felt such a rush at having her with us that her mere presence blurred pretty much any other aspect of the experiences.  This year...

This year, the Pipsqueak is (thank God) an active, inquisitive, verbal little person with her own set of well-defined likes & dislikes and a few (not terribly quiet) favorite games she loves to play with her family. As amazing & wonderful as all that is, none of it is terribly helpful when one is attempting to attend a religious service that can last up to several hours.  She tried really hard, but Miri simply could not stay quiet & still in a (hot!) auditorium filled to the brim with strangers. The result was that on Wednesday night, AJ spent maybe 15 minutes in the room during the 90-minute service... and while the Pipsqueak's Grandma and Grandpa (or "Pop pop" as she suddenly began calling him a couple of weeks ago) were in the room for a bit over three hours on Thursday morning, AJ & Miri were there for maybe 20-25 minutes. (Dude, she's just two... and you haven't been hit by lightning yet...!) I spent a fair amount of time with them in the lobby, or out in front of the building, but I logged only about 15 minutes' more time actually attending the services.

Oh, we started out alright, and were able to hustle back into the auditorium to hear the shofar blown (which delighted AJ & yours truly but left the Pipsqueak basically unimpressed), but we all realized there would be complications when my niece began "reading" the little photocopied booklet of supplemental prayers by herself.

Out loud.

Sometimes in her outside voice.

AJ told her she needed to stay quiet, and Miri carefully shushed everyone within a 12-foot radius, but it all got the better of her in just minutes and, as the saying goes, that was all she wrote.  The people nearby were treated first to the sight of her dragging AJ, then me, up & down the auditorium steps a few times (which most thought was really cute)... then a happy, "HI, GRANDMA!" from the main aisle at a particularly quiet moment.  We thought all was OK after Pipsqueak & Mommy spent some time in the lobby, but (I hadn't realized they had come back in & were standing behind me) all of a sudden there was a loud, "HI, BIYAN!" in my ear and a few moments later it was my turn to hustle my happily talkative (and highly amused) niece out to the lobby.

Oh, well... maybe next year.  :-)

However, there was one moment on Thursday night that I think I'll remember for a long time, and that I'd like to share here because it shows just how much the world has changed in a single generation.  I'm willing to bet that if you hear someone out of sight say, "I'm Jewish," you'll picture a Caucasian individual of European descent. (Okay, some folks may immediately picture Sammy Davis, Jr. just to be different... but you know what I'm talkin' 'bout here.) For generations, there would be no question that such a mental picture of an unseen Jewish person was extremely likely to be correct.

Well... One of the traditions this rabbi maintains is that she likes to have all the little children in the congregation join her (yes, I said "her"!) and the cantor at the bima on Rosh Hashonah eve for the blessing of the wine & bread.  AJ had just brought the Pipsqueak back in from the lobby at that point in the service, and I asked if she wanted to take her daughter up front; she was feeling too tired (did I mention the Pipsqueak's put on some mass in the past year?) but Mom said, "Why don't you take her up, she'll go with you."  I asked my niece if she'd like to go for a little walk and she agreed... and was promptly surprised when I began to carry her in the wrong direction, away from the lobby where she'd been playing. (It turned out to be the wrong direction because is was also away from her Mommy, as I was shortly to discover.)

There was a bit of a pause as all the families in the room debated about going up front or not, so the Pipsqueak and I were almost the first ones to climb onto the stage -- beaten there by a few seconds by one of her cousins (also adopted). We stood there for a couple of moments, and while the rabbi & cantor cooed over the little ones I was suddenly struck by an interesting fact:

In an auditorium full of Jewish families, the first two kids from the congregation to reach the stage were a little Chinese girl and a little Black boy.

While a few other children joined us, I tried to keep myself from laughing out loud; I can tell you that when I was growing up, the chances of that happening were worse than the chance of my winning a Powerball jackpot or being hit by a falling meteor.  Oh, there was definite variety in the kids who'd joined us onstage -- a range of complexions, hair colors, and behaviors -- but they were all generically what most people would expect a Jewish person to look like.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay through the full blessings; I was quickly distracted from my musings by the need to desperately bargain with the Pipsqueak because she'd lost sight of Mommy in the crowd -- and then had to beat a hasty retreat, stage left, when the bargaining broke down and she began to demonstrate her ample lung capacity for all to see & hear. (AJ had realized what was going on and came zooming down the aisle to meet us just as I reached the bottom of the stage stairs... and I was persona non grata to my niece for the next 20-odd minutes.)

There was a fair-sized crowd on Wednesday night, but the place was SRO on Thursday. Despite spending most of my time in the lobby or outside, I had several chances to look at the congregation as people came & went... and by the time we decided it really was time to go, I come to the realization that the crowd included a goodly number of interracial couples, many with children who were bi-racial or who represented a collection of ethnic backgrounds.

So, remember, the next time you hear a voice behind you saying, "I'm Jewish," don't be surprised if you turn around and find, instead of a brown-haired Caucasian of European descent, my Zhuang(?) niece... or our cousin N with his wonderful dark chocolate complexion... or someone whose biological parents don't look the least bit alike in skin tone.

Score one for the Big Guy upstairs; maybe we all really are learning to look past the differences, one family at a time.

Happy new year!

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