Jewish and Korean Americans share many things in common, including great educational zeal and troubled histories from World War II, representatives of the two ethnic groups said at a gathering held March 31 in Bayside, Queens.
U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents the 6th district in Queens, one of the most diverse in the U.S., hosted the panel discussion, which explored connections between the two communities. Many Korean and Jewish organizations participated. The meeting was held at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives of Queensborough Community College.
Meng said the event would be a good opportunity to promote cooperation between the two communities in addressing international and local concerns.
Speakers included Se-joo Son, the consul general of the Republic of Korea in New York, Dong Chan Kim, president of Korean American Civic Empowerment, Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Linda Lee, executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, and Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz of the Torah Center of Hillcrest.
“I am honored to take part in this intercultural dialogue. I was surprised by the Jewish community’s high civic participation and I think the community is a mother community of other communities, including Korean, when it comes to civic participation,” said Son.
“Jewish people are renowned for their creativity. Although the first generation of Korean immigrants struggled to support their families, the second generation is now successful in the U.S. We have to hold tightly true friends’ hands to create more harmony for tomorrow,” he added.
Faskowitz said that when he first heard about the panel, he thought back to his parents’ experience of escaping from Poland during World War II. “We should be brothers and keep this deep brotherhood,” he emphasized.
When the panelists were asked about key issues concerning two ethnic groups, Linda Lee pointed out the growing population of senior citizens and their welfare. “Korean community service here in the metropolitan area has a long history. There is a growing senior immigrants’ population and they are suffering from housing problems and poverty. Since Korean people have a language barrier, they need help from organizations like KCS,” she explained.
Faskowitz agreed on the importance of helping people overcome poverty. He said that the two communities should work together to solve the problem. “Blessing doesn’t feed people,” he said.
Dong Chan Kim brought up an issue of interest to Korean Americans – that the body of water commonly referred to as the Sea of Japan should alternatively be called the East Sea. He also talked about the experience of the Korean “comfort women” during World War II.
“Japan keeps denying their crime [of recruiting Korean women for Japanese soldiers]. And most of Japan-oriented names in Korea were renamed [with Korean names] after the World War II but not the East Sea,” he said. He also mentioned the planned reduction in the allocation of U.S work visas that will be granted to Koreans.
All the panelists concurred with the idea that communities should cooperate in the future. “Blend them together. And we have to look at the same issues together regardless of whether they are international or local ones,” Miller said.
Faskowitz also noted that students from diverse ethnic groups should work together. “That will make a beautiful difference,” he said.
Lee spoke of the stereotype of Koreans in the U.S. “People usually think that there is no poverty and hunger for Koreans, but there is, especially for elderly Koreans. What is even worse is that the government funding has been shifting from support for communities to other issues like health care,” she explained.