Tag : Anna Schnur-Fishman

The Lilith Blog

December 3, 2008 by


While in China this summer, I read as much as I could about the country’s “orphan problem.” I particularly loved The Lost Daughters of China, written by Karin Evans, an American adoptive mom of a Chinese baby girl.

Evans’ book overflows with perspectives personal, academic, and literary. She talks about how the complete unprecedented-ness of this international exchange that brings babies from poor, rural families on one side of the earth to grow up with upper-middle-class families, usually of a different race and culture, on the other side of the earth (30,000 in America alone); shares an adoption researcher’s belief that adoption does important work stretching the notion of “family”; quotes a poet who addresses “these women of the world’s first international female diaspora”; and discusses the hundreds of thousands of women “missing,” scientifically speaking, from the world’s population.

What this means is that in many countries, especially in East and South Asia and the Middle East, there are not as many women in the population as are biologically expected: in nature, a birth rate of about 105 males to every 100 females and a better survival rate for females yield a nearly 1:1 ratio.

I had heard of China’s “gender gap” before, and I knew about female infanticide in China and of gender-selective abortions there and elsewhere (India especially), but I had never thought of the women missing as just that…real, individual people, people of all ages, across the world, who aren’t where they should be.

In China, old women, who were killed as infants in the 1930s and 40s, are “missing”; middle-aged women are “missing,” whose brothers were more likely to get their family’s last bits of food during the famine of 1958-61; girls and young women are “missing” from the advent of sex-determining ultrasound (since outlawed); and females of all ages who have been the victims of poorer health care, nutrition, and basic care than those received by their male counterparts are “missing.”

This is so haunting. I was glad Evans educated me about these women so I could think about them, honor their memory. In hindsight, the idea of not knowing about them made me sick.

I didn’t think until much later that this haunting presence had surely echoed, for me, our phantom population after the Holocaust: the millions, and the millions upon millions that their descendants would now be. They are in our peripheral vision when we look at our own community; to the left and right of us we know, eerily, the invisible branches on our family trees. I think, at our core, we are simply horrified knowing of so many people for whom no one was even alive to say kaddish.

Fifteen years ago, a government-sponsored survey in China showed more than 12% of that country’s baby girls missing, or more than one and a half million babies yearly. In all, about 30 million females are missing there, and worldwide, 100 million.

If we as Jews are the primary remembers of lost Jews, then we as women should – and will – be the primary remembers of lost women. They are an enormous and greatly diverse group that has amassed over the centuries right up to today. How can we memorialize them?

Info about infanticide on Gendercide Watch:

An appropriately angry blog post on the subject with an interesting slant (those articles about how hard it is for men in China to find wives):

–Anna Schnur-Fishman

Continue Reading

  • 1 Comment

The Lilith Blog

October 16, 2008 by

Holiday Season

Last week my father remembered an Orthodox classmate from law school who got an interview at a prestigious Baltimore firm that had no Jewish partners or employees. “How’d it go?,” my father asked.

“I had to tell them about September,” he said.

This came up in a discussion, provoked by a lecture in my Ethnic Studies class, of whether or not retention of ethnic markers important to one’s self-image could get in the way of surviving and thriving in the U.S.A. I was arguing that it could; for example, in a job interview – what if you’re wearing clothes of your home country, giving the unintentional suggestion that you won’t relate to American clientele? What if you eat kosher or halal, and you have to tell a potential employer even before you meet that you can’t be taken out to lunch in any of the usual places?

When I left dayschool for public school, I was inducted into the annual chagrin of inevitable first interactions with new teachers: “Hi, you don’t know my name yet, I’m going to be missing many more days than appear as holidays on the school calendar, and it’s really hard for me to make up the work during this time, especially on those holidays for which it’s imperative that I reunite with the rest of the family in New Jersey.”
In general, I boil a pot of Righteous September Indignation and leave it to simmer all season. Giving a test on Yom Kippur is against school rules! I can’t attend class until 8pm because the “night before” Rosh Hashana is Rosh Hashana!

It didn’t occur to me until this summer – when I was in China, dodging pork, of course – that part of my wide-sweeping indignation stemmed from a personal resistance to coming out as “religious” to people I barely knew. My discomfort with that, I think, stems from a basic disconnect between how I see my Jewish observance (completely normal) and how someone else conceivably could (utterly wacko). In high school, I explored this middle territory in mischief – telling a gym teacher, when I’d forgotten my sweatpants, that a Jewish holiday required skirt-wearing, and so forth – but the motivation for this joking around was a sincere uncertainty. (As, I find, is usually the case.) Am I “religious”? Do I get to decide that, or do others judge it? It’s not a tag with particularly positive associations among my friends and teachers and at this liberal school. No wonder I get all tied up in knots trying to explain it to strangers.

In China, a combination of things – announcing daily, “I do not eat pork, I cannot, my religion”; occasionally professing to be Muslim for simplicity’s sake (Islam being common where I lived); and being in a position of scrutinizing, constantly, another culture’s idiosyncratic, centuries-old traditions – opened my eyes, ta da!, to the fact that other people might think of me as religious. Ergo as weird as other religious people. And that they might be right.

This was huge for me. While I’ve spent, in sum, probably a years’ worth of hours drinking in the spectacle of the weirdest religious elements of my tradition – “In eighth grade, I had an entire test on what to do if a mouse brings leavened products into your house during Passover, ha ha ha,” etc. – I had actually failed to process what it all looked like from the outside…partly because I lacked perspective, and partly because it would have hurt to imagine non-Jews and less observant Jews seeing my observance as weird.

Complicated, eh? What do you think?

–Anna Schnur-Fishman

Continue Reading